Sergio Pitol on books

The book accomplishes a multitude of tasks, some superb, others deplorable; it dispenses knowledge and misery, illuminates and deceives, liberates and manipulates, exalts and humbles, creates or cancels the options of life. Without it, needless to say, no culture would be possible. History would disappear, and our future would be cloaked in dark, sinister clouds. Those who hate books also hate life. No matter how impressive the writings of hatred may be, the printed word for the most part tips the balance toward light and generosity. Don Quixote will always triumph over Mein Kampf. As for the humanities and the sciences, books will continue to be their ideal space, their pillars of support.

 

Pitol, Sergio, trans by George Henson. The Magician of Vienna, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas: 6. 

Pharaoh and servant

What can I do for you this night, master? asked the servant, kneeling before his Pharaoh.

The master paced the tile in shadow, free of headdress, as he preferred.

Arid breezes and swirling garments.

On cloudy nights they ceased their disciplined adjustment of mirrors that

sucked moonlight deep beneath the pyramids

where men and women worked tirelessly in deep chambers

and bacchanals flowed like wine through the night,

poets dawdling by candlelight, observing all.

 

On clear nights, servants were assigned to each mirror station.

The poets admired their discipline but not their fawning

or their status as servants.

A subterranean culture of nocturnal diggers, morticians, freaks, insomniacs.

Most worked through dawn, a manic colony of human ants

exploiting the desert

meeting it, absorbing it, becoming it.

Darkness and mystery deep as history and tradition.

 

Bring me a wife, said the Pharaoh.

His eyes burned in the half-light. The servant departed.

Myrrh and cinnamon on the breeze, hot as day.

Moonlight battled cotton clouds of aquamarine, gray, white.

What will become us, wondered the Pharaoh.

hunter/hunted

Lakeview

I hauled twenty-three loads this week, he said. I’m drinkin til I pass out.

We hefted oversized mugs of gold beer to our faces. The manager and bartender eyed us. A racist-sounding country singer drawled from the overhead speaker.

He said: Worst of em was Reno to Chicago. I rode a storm the whole way. Truck blowin this way and that.

His name was Nick and I met him at this shitty bar one hour and two mugs ago. Truckers are a lonely bunch. Nick came here to drink. I walked over from the stop because I was bored.

I said: I did twenty last week, so I feel you.

We’d started to settle into a drinking rhythm, a locomotive just catching full speed.

My wife’s asleep by now, he said, flipping his phone on the bar top.

We don’t ask after another trucker’s family, even if there’s something we want to know, even if we freely offer those details about ourselves. I looked at my watch.

Where you from? he asked.

We drank. I said: I’m from everywhere but right now I live in Vermont.

Vermont, he said, staring into the distance.

I noticed he was near done with his beer, so I gulped mine down. I motioned for the bartender to pour us another.

Nick said: Thanks.

You got the last one, I said.

Let me ask you, he said. You ever do time?

I thought it an odd question. Because I’m black? I wondered.

I made no expression, no movement.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m just fuckin with you, man! he laugh-shouted, smacking my back.

I drank and nodded. This beer would be my last. Darkness at the windows kept me from seeing night in Spokane. It was almost closing on a Tuesday night. Only a few other losers wasted their time in the place. Most of them worked there.

I fuckin did time, he said, humorless. Then he distracted himself with the monitors above the bar and drank down half the mug. A minute passed and he turned his head toward me, his eyes shiny and unfocused.

He said: We should get a hooker and tag team her.

I smiled. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

I can get us something young, he said, drunk, looking over his shoulder, then mine. I know a guy here in Spokane.

His eyes reached for mine and landed. The skin on my back rippled to my shoulders, riding a wave to my scalp. Again I made no expression. I nodded solemnly and drank.

Young as you want, he whispered, looking back to the TVs above the bar.

I must have misunderstood him. What we talked about after that is blurry, indiscernible. I don’t know how I got back to my rig. Most of the trucks were gone when I woke at dawn.

I saw him again ten months later in Colorado Springs. I’d thought about him every day, wondering if I’d imagined the episode. I saw him refueling at a hauler station and reintroduced myself.

Oh yeah, he said, eyeing me suspiciously before shaking my hand. Snow and cold swarmed us.

Yeah I remember you, he said.

You need a coffee? I asked, motioning toward the cafe next door.

I said: I’m buying.

He nodded.

Once seated at the table we layered down and thawed and danced around small talk before he leaned in and whispered to me, his breath smoke and coffee, cold sores, rotten teeth.

Last time we talked, he said.

He squirmed in his chair.

In Spokane. I mention anything to you about —?

I looked at him and sipped the coffee.

He said: I don’t know how to put this.

We told each other we’d both done time, I said. That’s what I remember.

Yeah, he said, relief refracting about the asymmetry of his eyes.

He leaned back in his seat.

I said: We said to keep in touch and I never gave you my card.

I plucked a business card from the back of my iPhone and handed it to him. He handed me his card and I put it in my pocket without looking at it.

If you’re ever in Vermont, I said, shaking his hand outside the cafe.

I pulled his card from my pocket once back in the cabin of my truck.

Nick McKesson. Address in Louisville, Kentucky.

Weeks passed and I couldn’t forget him. His odor. I trained both body and technique with him in mind.

Negotiations with crew mates and surreptitious questions to office personnel yielded nothing to Kentucky. When I finally landed a shift to Louisville, the load was light as the spring rain and I drove as long and hard as law allowed. I arrived at dusk and took a cab to three blocks away from the address on Nick’s card. It was hot and humid on foot, but breezy.

I knocked on the building door, unsure of my purpose. It was a trucker warehouse with no lights on. I waited. Footsteps, then the door cracked open. His eyes: squinty and hard and uneven.

What’you want.

Nick, I said, my voice as non-threatening as possible. My body language was bad.

We don’t want none, he said, and closed the door.

You gave me your card, I said to the door. Vermont. Remember?

I waited and the door cracked open again. A fly wandered in.

He sent a hard, suspicious look.

Sorry, he said. Round here don’t get a lot of.

It’s cool, I said. Just stopped in to say hey. I was in Louisville and remembered your card. 

He nodded once, eyeing me.

Want a quick beer? I’m closing up.

Sure, I said, walking into the darkness after him.

Crazy you got me today, he said. I got in last night and I’m leavin in the morning.

The shop was empty of people and machines except one truck, likely his.

I said: I didn’t think anyone would be here.

He opened the refrigerator. Budweiser cans. I took one.

Just me, he said.

I don’t remember our conversation over the next several minutes as I drank the Budweiser. I was too far into my head. The can was empty and fragile in my hand.

Hey, I said, and paused.

I lied to you back in Colorado.

What? he said.

In Colorado, I said. I wasn’t honest with you.

What happened in Colorado? he said.

I remembered our conversation from Spokane, I said.

He was suspicious.

What’you talkin about, man? he said.

Then I hit him. All the attempts in my mind, all the square shots and the misses, the temple grazes, all the scenarios I’d played and replayed over the past eighteen months were nothing compared to the pulpy sensation of his nose and left cheekbone meeting the fist at the end of my right arm, bent slightly at the elbow as I leaned in lighting quick from the waist, a solid strike in any storm, any war, under any circumstances, just or unjust.

He staggered. He could take a punch. Adrenaline rocketed through his body and mind but mine was already in orbit. I pounced atop him with the other fist, then both. My physical shape and training made quick work. I knew what he was going to say when I arrived at the door, about not getting a lot of black folk around there. I thought about pissing on him but hit him once more instead. He lay there like the little girls he — I thought. Then I left.

Notes from Asad Haider

libro

On Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

McIntosh writes “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tool and blank checks.” The knapsack is carried by an individual navigating an entirely open social field. It contains tools that enable the individual to navigate this field with greater effectiveness than those whose knapsacks are comparatively empty. The resources contained in the knapsack constitute whiteness as privilege, because the knapsack is carried by an individual who belongs to the white identity.[1]

[It is assumed that] If the knapsack of privileges is carried by an individual already identifiable as white, then whiteness must be understood as a biological trait. The falseness of this notion is evident: the people who are currently described as white have a wide and complex range of genetic lineages, many of which were previously considered to be separate “races” of their own…In reality, whiteness itself is constituted by the contents of the knapsack. The constitution of whiteness as identity and its constitution as privilege are simultaneous: the knapsack’s provisions confer not only advantages but also identity upon its bearer.[2]

On the “white race”

This racial phenomenon is not simply a biological or even cultural attribute of certain “white people”: it was produced by white supremacy in a concrete and objective historical process. As Ted Allen wrote on the back cover of his The Invention of the White Race: “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no white people there.”

Allen was pointing to the fact that the word white didn’t appear in Virginia colonial law until 1691. Of course this doesn’t mean there was no racism before 1691. Allen’s argument was to show that racism was not attached to a concept of the white race. There were ideas of the superiority of the European civilization, but this did not correspond to differences in skin color.[3]

The historical record quite clearly demonstrates that white supremacy and thus the white race are formed within the American transition to capitalism, specifically because of the centrality of racial slavery. But we must resist the temptation, imposed on us by racial ideology, to explain slavery through race. Slavery is not always racial…it is a form of forced labor characterized by the market exchange of the laborer. There are various forms of forced labor, and the first form in Virginia was indentured labor, in which a laborer is forced to work for a limited period of time to work off a debt, often with some incentive like land ownership after the end of the term. The first Africans to arrive in Virginia in 1619 were put to work as indentured servants, within the same legal category as European indentured servants. In fact, until 1660 all African-American laborers, like their European-American counterparts, were indentured servants with limited terms of servitude. There was no legal differentiation based on racial ideology: free African-Americans owned property, land, and sometimes indentured servants of their own. There were examples of inter-marriage between Africans and Europeans. It was only in the late-seventeenth century that the labor force of the American colonies shifted decisively to African slaves who did not have limits on their terms of servitude.[4]

The Euro-American ruling class had to advance an ideology of the inferiority of Africans in order to rationalize forced labor, and they had to incorporate European populations into the category of the white race, despite the fact that many of these populations had previously been considered inferior.[5]

[1] Haider, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. Verso Books, London, 2018: 45.

[2][2]Ibid, 46.

[3]Ibid, 51.

[4]Ibid, 53.

[5]Ibid, 56.

Library, by Roberto Bolaño

Wreckage

Books I buy

Between the strange rains

And heat

Of 1992

Which I’ve already read

Or will never read

Books for my son to read

Lautaro’s library

Which will need to resist

Other rains

And other scorching heats

— Therefore, the edict is this:

Resist, my dear books, 

Cross thy days like medieval knights

And care for my son

In the years to come

 

 

(From Two Poems For Lautaro Bolaño)

Eviction

WWDNW

The writer who does not write arrived two days ago at dawn. He did not call ahead. He pulled a choking white pickup onto the driveway, unleashing a sonic assault from the neighborhood hounds. Into the house he skipped with his baggage and distractions. From one bag of tricks he pulled a television show designed to arrest two dozen hours of my attention. I told him to leave, that I didn’t want him around. He showed me a new engaging hobby to try. I told him to never return. He forced me into social obligations, he reminded me to exercise. I escaped to a secluded room in the house to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I hoped my sudden and prolonged absence would drive him away. But he found me and interrupted my solace, he filled the room with balloons and feral animals. Finally I’d had enough and picked him up by his bloated habits and tossed him out to the April snow. Fuck off! I shouted, or he shouted.

the poet sleeps

NotebackAlways another page to fill; the size and shape of the page is inconsequential. I keep my pen in my hand and my hands on the steering wheel.

*

The poet sleeps

while driving

during live broadcasts

the poet dreams

of the future

with folded hands

cigarette dangling

no one speaks to the poet

fearing fire in his eyes

the poet takes note

as always

to return to sleep

deep as abandoned mines

and dream across

landscapes of horror and delight.