polvo magazine

essays, reviews, poetry, short stories, everyday observations, contemporary art

The Italian

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By Megan Rodgers

“Are you Italian?“ she asked.  He seemed surprised.  That was the best part about being right.  His accent wasn‘t that strong — just the lilt up, the over pronounced final consonant, the short “i“ that slid into a long “e“.  She knew it though.  She had tried to mimic its every variation.

“How did you know?“ he asked.  She had ambushed him.  She had had time to listen, to check all the clues so as not to be wrong: the shoes, the glasses, the jeans, the backpack.  For Italians, the backpack is always the easy clincher.  If it says INVICTA, they‘re Italian.  His mustard messenger bag didn‘t say INVICTA, but it didn‘t scream Midwestern America either.  His jeans had loopy yellow designs stitched on the back pockets.  They seemed homemade.  The shoes were very American, too American, in fact, the kind of American that Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, covet.  She checked him for Balkan signs: the hair, longish with a little gel; the glasses, heavy, square, maybe Armani.  No, the glasses ruled out the Balkans.  Nothing screamed out Argentinean or Colombian and there was a curve to the lilt that was not Spanish.

“Where are you from?“

“Cecina,“ he said as almost a question.

“I think I know it,“ she said and then immediately regretted it.  She wanted to know it and there was something familiar.  But she was thinking of Chechnya — in Russia.  Was he kidding?  It‘s true, she had forgotten about Russian.  The mouth placement is the same in a Russian accent, only the closure is different.  But then why would he say he was Italian?

“Not to be confused with Chechnya.“

He pronounced Chechnya and Cecina almost exactly the same, though the Russian name had a stronger accent on the “y“.  She had no idea where Cecina was and considered switching the conversation to Italian to, at least, show him how good hers was, especially “for an American.“  But then she thought he might take it as flirting (he was awfully good-looking).  He didn‘t want to draw attention to himself, or his Italianness.  He had been trying to blend in.  She had hated the strangers in Italy who came up to her to practice their English, adding “a“s to the end of all their words and invariably saying “fuck you“ a few times.  That‘s what they know.  He, too, had surely heard his share of New York-ized, “Grease“-ified versions of “Va fa un culo“ in his time in America.  She left him feeling an unearned sense of connection and unwarranted sense of rectitude.  It was a parlor trick afterall.

Megan Rodgers is a Chicago artist now living in Basel, Switzerland.


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March 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

Posted in Short Story

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I am the fosse of living limestone:

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The surreal goddess Izpapálotl in “Obsidian butterfly” by Octavio Paz
By Olivia Maciel

It is interesting to note that the lyrical voice in the prose poem “Obsidian butterfly” by the now deceased and prominent Mexican poet Octavio Paz appears to be that of the pre-hispanic  Chichimecan goddess Izpapálotl. This goddess, which to the ancient Mexicans embodied qualities equivalent of their own Coatlicue, was represented with both human and animal features, including eagle’s wings and sharp jaguar paws which took the place of human hands and feet. In his Historia de la literature Náhuatl, (1956) Angel María Garibay already stated that this warrior and mother goddess was also associated to mother earth in its mortuary and sacrificial aspects, as well as to women who died during childbearing, being their sacrifice a manner of nurturing the birth of new lives.

A fragment of the poem “Obsidian butterfly” by Octavio Paz, published in his book ¿Aguila o sol? (1951) captures this voice:

Siémbrame entre los fusilados. Naceré del ojo del capitán. Lluéveme, asoléame. Mi cuerpo arado por el tuyo ha de volverse un campo donde se siembra uno y se cosecha ciento. Espérame al otro lado del año: me encontrarás como un relámpago tendido a la orilla del otoño. Toca mis pechos de hierba. Besa mi vientre, piedra de sacrificios. En mi ombligo el  remolino se aquieta: yo soy el centro fijo que mueve la danza. Arde, cae en mí: soy la fosa de cal viva que cura los huesos de su pesadumbre . . . Toma mi collar de lágrimas. Te espero en ese lado del tiempo en donde la luz inaugura un reinado dichoso: el pacto de los gemelos enemigos, el agua que escapa entre los dedos y el hielo, petrificado como un rey es us orgullo. Allí abrirás mi cuerpo en dos, para leer las letras de tu destino.

Seed me among the executed ones. I will be born from the captain’s eye. Rain me, sunshine me. My body plowed by your body will become a field where one plants one and harvests a hundred. Wait for me on the other side of the year: You will find me as a thunder laying on Autumn’s shore. Touch my breasts of grass. Kiss my womb, altar of sacrifice. In my navel vertigo quiets downs: I am the motionless center that animates dancing. Burn, fall upon me: I am fosse of living limestone that heals the bones of sorrow . . . Take my necklace of tears. I wait for you on that side of time where light unveils a joyous reign: the pact between the enemy twins, water that escapes between the fingers and ice petrified as a king in his arrogance. There you will pry my body in two parts, to read the letters of your destiny. [My translation]

In an exhortative tone, the warrior goddess encourages amorous coupling as well as speaking of her desire to be fruitful. This suggests that from the fierce force unleashed on the ‘executed’ and from their sacrifice, it may be very well possible to transcend toward a fertile era in which joy and harmony reign. Characteristic of surrealist aesthetics, Paz personifies parts of the human body, ‘in my navel the vertigo quiets down’, and juxtaposes images of distant semantic realms ‘breasts of grass’. It is clear however, that the ancient Mexicans, in the conjured visions of their dualistic gods such as the “Obsidian butterfly” goddess Izpapálotl, had already entered into the surrealistic realms to be pondered upon, many years later by the French poet Andre Breton. Through this poem, Octavio Paz unveils what could be called the Pre-hispanic Surrealism of the ancient Mexicans.

© Olivia Maciel, August 31,2005

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March 4, 2010 at 2:01 am

The Corporate History Of Slavery in Louisiana, 1700-2004

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Parody by Patrick Lichty, 2004

America’s compulsory service sector has had an impressive history, starting in the early 1700’s.  The first to serve the labor market in Louisiana were Indians. That was because, in all the vast territory claimed by the French, there was no one who could fill customer service positions except the natives. Many of the more challenging administrative positions were being filled by the French settlers, and unskilled manual labor was in high demand. So the French tried to offer the Indian population the exciting possibilities of working in this rapidly expanding field.  In 1704, eleven young Indians were involved in this new growth industry. Four years later, the total had risen to eighty.   However, Indians frequently had human resource issues, such as the desire to secretly relocate without prior employer notification, and efforts to correct these challenges resulted in inefficiencies such as workforce attrition and occupational health concerns.  If a steady, dependable supply of labor was desired, it would have to be sought elsewhere.

However, early efforts to appeal to African workers presented similar challenges.  In 1708, Bienville suggested that through African-Indian worker transrelocation between Africa, the Caribbean, and Louisiana, these inefficiencies could be lessened. This would be achieved through the inability of the Indians to spontaneously relocate, and through the intercultural challenges presented to the African worker by the Indians outside the workplace through the potential of early retirement. Innovation in the Louisiana workforce were not achieved until John Law’s landmark contract with the French that quickly offered 6000 unskilled French and 3000 African workers the exciting opportunities of labor in the burgeoning New World Economy.  Further advances in the service sector were also achieved by the Spanish, who codified compulsory customer service not only to Africans, but to any person ‘of color.’

Much has changed since the 1700’s, but advances in America’s service sector continue to flourish.  Labor expenditures continue to be streamlined as cities bid for the opportunity to offer tax incentives for the rapidly expanding consumer service market.  The greater efficiencies of privatization offer excellent possibilities for educational reform through voucher systems and  advances in entry-level labor expenditure streamlining between 25 to 46 percent, thus creating the potential for greater profitability. Such forward strides have created an environment in which work is abundant; service employees have the opportunity to engage in several simultaneous career paths to support their families.

And we’re all working together; that’s the secret. We’ll lower the standard of living for everyone, not just in America, but we’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to have a better lifestyle, a better life for all. America is proud of what it’s accomplished; but we’ve just begun.  Today, consumer product distributors and manufacturers employ millions of associates
worldwide. The American service sector has thousands of stores, offices and factories throughout the world, and continues to offer the promise of being part of the global labor market. In addition, the Internet has allowed us to promote our founders’ dreams of fulfilling the exciting possibilities of service throughout the world.  And today, those dreams are the American Dream.

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March 4, 2010 at 12:42 am

Spring Fever

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A former California stripper,
becomes the poster girl for (excessive) motherhood
—a litter of eight , now totals 14 that suck tax-dollars.
Octomom! Her mammaries twirl gallons of amasake
as the state’s water and cash run dry,
but why is it no one recalls ENRON?

At the same time Obama mon flew to Mexico,
our man drops in to el DF,
where people go deaf in the opera of 20 million.
He, takes a museum tour with a dying Mexican,
who died, the very next day from a virus –H1 N1– swine flu.

One, two, buckle my shoe, three, four –close the door,
Five, six –pickup sticks, all they did was bump fists and
Our Prez, took notes as dead man offered insights on Teotihuacan prophecy,
seven, eight, lay them straight, both were stationed
in the shadow of ancient Cuauhlxicalli
=( Cuahtli =eagle, caxitl = bowl).
Nine, ten, don’t risk it again,
Mexico is the Narco-war epicenter,
where the Calendario Azteca stands 12 feet in diameter, 25 tons of
hand-carved glyphs and symbols, (yet, few ever know what they’re looking at)—

In Chicago
on El Cinco de Mayo I say:
oyes mi cabra, abra su boca, el vino es tinto,
and it won’t make you tan loca,
plus you’re all horny, so let’s have some .

While sharing a plate of various quesos,
fresh miel y apricot mixed with figs
we listen to the laughter at
the neighboring table
where gray –haired gay seems to have some young friends.
They’re just so happy to spend time and
his money here at BIN 36.
For entertainment, Elvis whisker man another nearby customer,
accidentally buries the waiter under an avalanche of wine glasses.
No one was supposed to get hurt, just get our attention.
I tell Cindy that’s another reason not to wear
moccasins or sandals when traveling outside.
She removes her surgeon mask
Slips into her best Uni-bomber voice,
Wake up and smell the thermite!

Carlos Cumpián 2009

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March 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

Posted in Poetry

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El silenci trenca la calma de la nit
L’absència de la teva veu
el sospir embriagat
cigarreta en mà
fum que fuig
del deliri ególatra.

Les mans que un dia es varen aferrar als teus braços
han quedat buides
i es perden tremoloses
a la foscor del meu cos nú

Rememorant l’excitació
d’una nit d’estiu
quan els teus llavis vestien el meu sexe
i els nostres halès es confonien
en una tremolossa passió.

Em sento empresonada
en aquest llit que un dia
va ser nostre

Víctima de la pròpia melangia
em sento caduca
ha fugit el somriure perenne
i el fred de la solitut
cobreix els somnis
que un dia varem compartir.

-Rakel Delgado

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February 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

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At an exhibition of Felix Gonzales-Torres
black and white
clouds on paper
bleed to edge
the slow drift and pull
of clouds soaring across the horizon
weather forecast
over Stieglitz’s Lake George
overcast with breaking
poster sheets
stacked half a foot high
the removal of cloud layers
from cube
the whole –
What you touch,
with you
a piece of hard green candy
` gathered from a spill
on the gallery floor,
portrait of a friend
the qualities he gave those
he loved
transposed into sweet pile,
please keep
with you
this sweetness,

– Shin Yu Pai

Shin Yu Pai is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has published poems, translations, and photos in several small press journals such as her poetry collection EQUIVALENCE (LA ALAMEDA, 2003) and her chapbook of Chinese translations “Ten Thousand Miles of Mountains and Rivers” is available through Third Ear Books. She currently resides in Watertown, MA .

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February 26, 2010 at 1:21 am

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Chirurgi: Lindsay Obermeyer

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Suture – a joining of the edges of a wound with stitching. One’s skin is essentially a living fabric, a leather of sorts. The surgeon and the embroiderer skillfully mend the tears and cuts in their respective fabrics with needle and thread, leaving behind little
evidence of their activity.

Both surgery and embroidery have histories that are thousands of years old. A brief look at linguistics illustrates their link and intersection. The Greek root for “surgery” is chirurgi, which translates to “hand-work.” In contemporary times, this phrase refers to embroidery.

The voice speaking in my work is female. The embroiderer has practiced the traditional stitches of darning, but educates herself in the craft of surgery. She studies medical manuals. She records the patterns she sees under the microscope. She has no patience for sentimental hearts and flowers, but finds beauty in the body’s interior landscape.

My investigation into the intersections between the surgical and textile crafts began with my own struggles with cancer. I returned to this work in 2003 after an emergency appendectomy. The surgeon used a vertical mattress stitch to suture my abdomen. As an embroider I could not help but admire his needlework skill.

Photos by Larry Sanders

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February 26, 2010 at 1:11 am