Tortillas Yay or Nay
I love that somebody didn’t like my exchange with Bobby Byrd about whether the tortillas were good. Is it tortillas they didn’t like, our friendly exchange or whaa? I rarely use a question mark. Gertrude Stein said if the sentence doesn’t contain the question you didn’t write it well enough. Though whaa is a cartoon Americanism up there with #@%!!! and all kinds of swears. If you’re getting baroque you might as well go all the way and throw in an excessive punctuation mark at least one. Paint your sign! I’m looking forward next time I’m online (maybe tonight) to tell whoever that I didn’t like him not liking my exchange with Bobby. Not only will I say not like. I’ll say Phew! You stink.
Just before I bought the tortillas Bobby and I went to the gallery at UTEP and saw part of an amazing show called The Disappeared. It is work by fourteen artists from the Americas on the subject of the extensive tortures, imprisonment and political murders of dissenters in South America and Mexico in the last quarter of the 20th C. The show is accompanied by a succinct statement by an American academic about what exactly the plan was country by country in terms of our country’s support for these murderous regimes. A state department dude calmly explains in 1948 that it’s time to cease talking about “vague and unreal objectives such as human rights” and that a lot of the world wants what we have and we are going to have to work hard securing a future in which THEY will not be able to get their paws on OUR stuff. And as usual a lot of our stuff happened to be underneath the ground or in the trees of their land. So in this show we have a Chilean flag made out of human bones (Arturo Duclos) a swastika made out of light called “Joy Division” (Ivan Navarro). The wall text of the show and earlier readings from the poet novels of Roberto Belano will help remind us that the transmigration of the Nazi ethos to South America during and after World War II contributed to the style and effectiveness what South Americans refer to as “The Disappearance.” These recent artists’ (who themselves grew up in the wake of these events) work has strong resemblances to Holocaust art. I’m thinking for example of Christian Boltanski’s 80s photographs of kids. Class pictures here are enlarged and “the missing” from someone’s high school class are circled. Class reunions in South America thanks to the Monroe Doctrine are very different affairs from our own American ones.
A stained and mottled child mannequin is obsessively photographed until its plaster dents and abrasions stand in for a real kid’s wounds. In a like manner poets and readers of my generation have found Roberto Belano. His fictions are changing my own past. When I think that while I was sitting in workshops at St. Marks Church (1975-77) poets in Chile were having rats forced up their vaginas and electrodes attached to their testicles for attending the wrong poetry reading, having the wrong friends, going to a demonstration against our government and its puppet dictatorships. It really is as simple as that. Some countries (Uruguay) had only small numbers killed but thousands tortured and imprisoned. Others (Guatemala) had more like 200,000 dead. Because it was good for business. My generation likes to tell younger poets how different it was when we were coming up with our cheap rents and free government supported art classes. When I backpacked in Europe after college it wasn’t with the memory of listening to the howls of agony in other cells that I couldn’t know for sure wouldn’t soon be my own. I’ve faulted myself for not being wilder, not staying in Europe longer after college but I didn’t have enough to run from yet. I wonder if knowledge, eventual knowledge is enough to make one turn against their own country for good. I’m at MacDowell tonight and a filmmaker showed a bunch of clips from his films including one about the Weathermen. He kind of laughed about how little he knew about that bunch of 60s weirdos, middle class kids, who wanted to do something drastic in response to the killing going on in Southeast Asia. His films got funnier and funnier until the final one was about a giant mall in China, the biggest in the world that was such a failure it was going to get knocked down. It was really his best film because his own ambivalence had found its perfect subject. I gave him a hard time, not for his work but for his attitude. I felt that he got funded for his project because he seemed a little dumb. Not that he was stupid. He was obviously a smart man. But there’s that American way we have where we’re always just kids, not really understanding at all what’s going on. That’s where we start. For that boyish tone we will get the big reward, and the promise that the show will go on. Until it falls which seems to be happening right now. Finally we have brought it on ourselves. There is nowhere to go since we have exported our product everywhere. We are pulling the covers up tight tonight. Hey where’s MacDowell’s money from. I mean really?!
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. They gave their first reading at CBGB's and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where they studied with Ted...