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NEWS:

My story “The Next Best Day” is forthcoming in Intima.

NEWS:

My non-fiction piece “36 Eddy Street” will be published in Litro.

(It was published on the site but currently down due to a link issue. Full piece below until it’s corrected.)

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NEWS:

My essay “Last Chemo” will be featured on Hektoen International’s Facebook page on August 31. https://www.facebook.com/HektoenInternational.

TRAVEL DIARY: THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF ZAPATA

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A cool night in San Cristobal de las Casas. A walk in search of a place to eat. Looking ahead, I saw lights, then the activity on the zocalo.

Men and women were gathered, maybe as many as a thousand, some holding candles in one or both hands. The wavering flames they held out made it appear to be a religious ceremony more than the political one that seemed its intention according to the posters and banners that made the point the anniversary of the birth of Emiliano Zapata would not go unrecognized.

On the sidewalks, Civil Guard in khaki uniforms watched the procession. Squads of them were stationed at even intervals with rifles in hands and handguns in black holsters fixed to their hips. Four armed vehicles protected the Palacio Municipal, where the offices of the local government were located. In San Cristobal any pubic gathering required the strongest defensive display.

The dinner I was on the hunt for would have to wait. The gathering continued to build. People pressed toward the makeshift platform stage with a single microphone and four large speakers. A man in a white shirt, with graying temples, stood at it. The metallic squeak of his words didn’t disrupt the steady power of his voice. One of his hands drew pictures in the air. The message I fought with myself to understand had something to do with history and land and Zapata’s legacy, which would include both.

I stood by a bench. The lights along the perimeter and interior walkways cast long shadows across the concrete and grass. On the other side of the zocalo lights burned in the windows of the city’s most expensive hotel, The Villa Real. Human silhouettes stood behind the protective bars.

I had no doubt the Zapatistas were in the audience even if there were no black hoods with eye, nose and mouth holes cut in them. Nothing threatening or secretive was going on. It was a public event, hoods weren’t required.

“Zapata’s cumpleanos?” I asked a man with a thick mustache standing by himself a few feet from the stage. His hands were buried in the pockets of a washed-out black sweatshirt. He looked at the camera in my hands and then back up at me.

“Si,” his head made slightest nod and he took two steps to the side.

I snapped pictures as the speeches went on. The microphone was passed to the next highest authority, I presumed, a shared mechanism to relay Zapata’s message. The crowd was attentive, not noisy or effusive. There was little clapping. Emotions were felt within, a kind of resolve, I thought, that didn’t need to be expressed with excessive enthusiasm or cheering. It was more like a meeting. This was business. The people’s business.

A sharecropper and horse trainer, Zapata was born in the northern state of Morelos. He served seven years in the Mexican army and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. As president of the village council of Anenecuilco he campaigned for village lands that were confiscated by the hacendados (colonial landowners). His slogan was “Tierra y Libertad.” Land and liberty were the reasons so many people had come here on this night.

Between 1910 and 1919 Zapata continued rebelling against anyone who interfered with his Plan of Ayala, which called for the seizure of all foreign-owned land, all land taken from the villages by the government, confiscation of one-third of all land held by friendly hacendados, and full confiscation of land owned by persons opposed to the Plan of Ayala.

On April 10, 1919, Zapata was tricked into attending a meeting with one of President Carranza’s generals, whom he had thought wanted to switch sides. (Carranza had done little to implement the far-reaching reforms of the 1917 Constitution.) The meeting was a trap. Zapata was killed when he arrived at it.

I took more photos with the intention of using up the remaining film in my camera. They included: (1) near the back of the gathering, the cart of an ice cream vendor selling HELADO in many varieties: Fresas, Coco, Manzana, Caramelo, Pistacho (2) the front of the stage where the speaker stood behind a poster with the words NO A LA REPRESION and VIV EZLN (3) the side of the Municipal Building where a man stood next to his three-speed bike listening to the speaker (4) a man selling balloons in the shape of giant hearts.

Later on, the rally ended peacefully. Just what was to come for San Cristobal between now and the next anniversary of Zapata’s birthday? was the thought that came to me without any clear answer.

(2000)

WORD OF THE DAY

– improvisational response to a word received in my In Box from Dictionary.com

chary, CHAIR-ee, adjective
1.  Wary; cautious.
2.  Not giving or expending freely; sparing

Since October 5 is my wife Geraldine’s birthday it’s best not to be chary on this particular day. Better to be incautious, unsparing, profligate. A bit over the top. Not recklessly wasteful, but leaning a tad to the extravagant side of town will do no harm. Will continue the domestic bliss we reside in. Wary with my funds I will not be on a day of this great magnitude. A big bouquet of fresh lilies coming in the door with me will be a good start. But not all of it. Chocolates, of course, will have to make an appearance. And I don’t mean one of those 3-packs of bon bons from the corner grocery. I mean a 25 piece selection from Jacques Torres of nutty pralines, pure ganaches and others with exotic spice infusions. A little time with those, some hugs and kisses for sure. Then the main event, the removal of a box hidden behind a bunch of books in my studio with the hand knit sweater from Canadian Sweater Company I know she desires but doesn’t want to spend her own money on. Hint. Hint. (Took it this time!) It costs a couple of bucks, as the saying goes. But so what. What’s a few President Grants to keep utopia running another year? Seriously. It’s a small sum indeed. Eight bills of dead President 18, in fact, before tax and delivery. And while my pen skipped a bit of white space as I was writing that, I’ve already given in to it, acceptance being Step 1 in recovering from my sparing ways. It’s like walking in the rain in that once you stop being cautious, when you finally accept you’re going to get soaked, you can just enjoy it. You can skip along in it, sing and dance, kick your way through the puddles. Just have fun. You get home, you stamp your shoes on the mat, you take off your wet clothes and bingo, you’re back to being your usual dull self. And this day is much like a rainy day. It’s a day to give it up and splash some cash around. To spend freely. It will make me a little lighter in the wallet for sure, but hey, like I said about keeping utopia running, it’s not for the chary.

(2015)

NEWS:

My travel piece “Juan Andres’ Collectivo” is published in Coldnoon.

TRAVEL DIARY: THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (CHIAPAS 2000)

With a jolt I awoke to the sudden change of speed. In the middle of the night the bus I was riding in from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas braked to a stop. The lights over the narrow aisle blinked on as the driver turned in his seat to make an announcement in Spanish, that he repeated in a struggling English.

Men will be coming on, he said. They will only take a moment. After that, we will continue on our way.

My neighbor in the next seat, a man in his 50s I’d made the evaluation earlier, separated the curtains. We were quiet looking out at the small canopied station of logs and canvas, with a desk a soldier with a camouflage cap on his head sat at. Next to it, two green jeeps and a transport vehicle were parked. More soldiers, I counted six of them, with helmets on their heads and black automatic weapons trained at the ground, stood around a man wearing a white shirt that was tight over his shoulders and pants that had a fine crease in them. Further ahead, a swell in the road had the fluorescent name of the state we were about to enter spray-painted on it.

Chiapas was on the other side and we needed military clearance to pass into it. It was another amendment to my travel guide I’d mention in my notes, a guide that was more like a gloss of reality compared to what I’d been seeing with my eyes. This was one of the checkpoints set up after the 1994 armed uprising that had the intention of stemming the flow of arms and Zapatista sympathizers into the state. Plan Sur was an immigration control program that advanced military occupation along the border.

With an air-compressed whoosh-splash sound the door opened and the man in the white shirt stepped up. He was heavy but not fat, a bulk that exuded strength. Someone, it appeared, who wouldn’t be shy about using the authority he’d been given to prove there was reason his superiors had entrusted him with it. In the third row of seats I read the photo ID hanging from his neck. The General de Inspector seemed alert despite the early hour, as if he was some extraordinary being who didn’t need sleep. Two young soldiers with rifles came up behind him.

A burst of Spanish with the driver ended with a smile and a laugh. Then the Inspector General started down the aisle in a slow, menacing way, his gaze penetrating the eyes that looked up at him long enough to build a paperless dossier on what he saw in each. He was a believer, I was sure, that eyes would tell you everything. The lawbreakers and anti-government rebels carried a look that would show you they’re covering up the thing you’re looking for. It was his job to find those people wherever they were. Everyone was under suspicion until they weren’t.

The Inspector General checked a few IDs, but not mine. I was a tourist, not a threat, and he must have seen that affiliation on my face. The affiliations of my fellow riders showed they weren’t rebels or lawbreakers either.

Reaching the back, the soldiers about-faced and came up the aisle. The Inspector General came up behind them. He was done with our bus. And that was the meaning of Plan Sur, to get the word moving around: Don’t dare fuck with us or you’ll be caught and arrested.

At the front, the Inspector General and the driver exchanged another burst of Spanish. After that, the Inspector General nodded and stepped down. The driver waved. The door closed, the lights went off and there was a shift of gears. The bus continued along the dark highway toward San Cristobal.

I did as my neighbors. I closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep.


Plan Sur

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(2000)