Tuesday, July 09, 2019

A different paradigm...

A Meeting By the River
Michael Sedano

The landscape has a familiar feel to it, though one I've only imagined in myth, or bad dreams. Now I'm floating above formless terrain that undulates like viscous fluid. Worn paths converge into a single track that makes its way to a river's edge.

A looming black fog clings to the glossy surface of what must be a mighty river but I can see only a few inches into the cloud. My view corkscrews wildly toward land giving me glimpses of details, columns of oily black smoke rim the horizon, an abandoned dock, obscuring mist, I am on my knees crawling in complete silence though there should be sounds of the river, of the winds that swirl the looming cloud bank.

I remain accepting, reasoning. I had been in the hospital bed, the pain drove me to darkness, I woke floating into this landscape. Below,  the Styx, beyond the fog, The Other Side. The shore the dock are empty, the boatman nowhere to be seen, only that rope stretching and relaxing, pulling and yielding. I can't see what's it's tied to.


A voice comes as thought, not sound. I look around for the speaker. The tide laps against the shore, rippling around a pair of pointed stones, but no speaker.

"Not Charon. Not the Styx." The voice emanated from submerged rocks. "The river is the gambi bolongo. It’s the Han. It’s a nahua name that doesn’t fit your mouth. It’s the Santa Ana River like it wishes it were.”

Then the shallows began to boil and the stones to vibrate. With water churning into a tan froth, the stones gathered into themselves to form articulated joints. Knees. Elbows. Neck. A massive chest sat up from the waist. A figure rose and walked out of the river and stood towering above me. I felt puny and vulnerable standing before the magnificently armored figure of the Mexica guardian of the underworld, the Lord of Mictlan, Mictlantecuhtli.

It was July 2014 when I met the Mexica guardian of the underworld, five years ago this week. I've been processing that meeting ever since. It was the second time in three days I crossed over. The first gentle and comforting, this one not at all.

I've been picking apart the experience ever since. Was this second visit to the Other Side an hallucination mixed up in the Near Death Experience? I remember it with the clarity I remember most experiences. I'm not terrified at rethinking it, reliving it, writing about it. It is what it is, so far as I know.

Vignettes of the meeting by the river flash through my dreams, defying setting them into a coherent narrative.

Snatches of memories emerge with sweat-drenched precision only to dissolve into garbled metaphor when I set pen to paper or finger to keyboard, or open my mouth to talk about it.

After five years however, memories begin to coalesce, take form. Today, I'll share a fragment of what I struggle daily to remember clearly.

It was the second emergency surgery in three days. This one cut deep into my innards, took the spleen and left an agonized hole where the organ had lived. I lay alone in the hospital room, pumping morphine to no avail, thinking of the pain, visualizing it but it overwhelmed me. I escaped into the nothing.

At first, Mictlantecuhtli inveigles me to choose a destination because everything is lovely. "Here," Mictlantecuhtli invites, "look across the river."

I'm not surprised nor perturbed at the layers of perspective, simultaneous and distinct. I am standing on the shore. I am flying above, looking down on myself. I stand at the edge of the far shore where it's a bright sunny day. Blue skies and fluffy white clouds above, a worn road ascends a gentle rise, leads into the distance meandering around a gentle green-hilled landscape painted by Grant Wood. From an open window a radiant woman leans out to wave her man in from the field. Her voice rings with the sweet timbre of pure silver bells. Randy Lopez sinks his spade into the hillside and turns to go back to the homestead, wash up, do whatever happy people do forever.

That’s as far as Randy will ever get, Mictlantecuhtli explains. “He’ll never change, always have his mujer, his tierra. Her story could have been different. All that waiting by the river until Randy found the crossing to go home. This is how it pays off now for both of them. Not the Other Side but the far shore. Limbo. They’ll never see what lies up the road. Wouldn’t you want to see where that path leads, your path?”

Mictlantecuhtli and I argued. It started when I told him I had to get out of here, there was a mistake. I didn't belong here, at the edge of Mictlan, because I didn't believe in him nor his Azteca cosmogony. My gente are Purépecha, the Aztecas never conquered my gente, "so I don't have to believe in you," I averred.

Suddenly Mictlantecuhtli laughs uproariously.

"You had a plan, que no? Make a sincere Act of Contrition and straight to purgatory, right? You think the Church is going to save your ass? It never fails with you Chicanos. All westernized y todo and you think your Euro-genes and fancy college degrees and pieces of paper make any difference with that nopal en la frente, pendejo?"

Mictlantecuhtli pointed at the ground, discarded Obolus everywhere, pounded his barrel chest and stomped his foot. "DIFFERENT PARADIGM, PENDEJO!"

I had to admit, Mictlantecuhtli had a point. But I wasn't conceding the argument, especially when the god bragged, "No one returns from the underworld, puto. Punto final, that's it, ya stuvo, end of story."

I ran a handful of coins through my fingers and hummed some Offenbach. The guardian pretended not to recognize the tune of Orpheus descending into the underworld. I switched to the more obscure theme from Black Orpheus, then back to the Can-Can theme. I could tell Mictlantecuhtli knew what was coming: The Chicano English Major.

"Polytropos," I pronounced, using Homer's name for Odysseus.

Mictlantecuhtli cocked his head. His black eye sockets glowed with dull anticipation.


Flustered, Mictlantecuhtli claimed these are literary creations people make up and I can't give credence to mere mortals when he says otherwise.

"Rodolfo Anaya wrote Randy Lopez," I pointed out, "Rudy made that shit up, and Randy Lopez is your most persuasive example!" I laughed out loud, a rude mistake that sent Mictlantecuhtli into a rage that he made me atone for in the depths of the river with unparalleled measures of pain.

In between our initial encounter at the river's edge, and Mictlantecuhtli torturing me on the bottom of that river, a lot of weird wild ofttimes bizarre memories took place in that hospital bed. I escaped to tell about it. I have to open the flood gates of those memories five years ago, let them pour. Wittgenstein commented on how fortunate people are that our language cannot truly convey pain, otherwise next time you thought about it, you'd die.


Daniel Cano said...

Michael, literally and metaphorically, what a trip, right. Be glad that "I first came to Comala," didn't slip from your lips.

jmu said...

Old Bones would be mad because those aren't the words. It is "Vine a Comala porque me dijeron que acá vivía mi padre, un tal Pedro Páramo." Maybe He would prefer to hear the original than some translation because tradutore traditore, you know.

But I think it would have been worse if Michael had said "Yo despierto... Me despierta el contacto de ese objeto frío con el miembro..." But maybe He would have laughed.

OTOH, who knows what el Huesudo hubiera dicho if Michael would have echándole ganas and belted out "no vale nada la vida! la vida no vale nada! Empieza siempre llorando y así llorando se acaba, por eso es que este mundo, la vida no vale nada."

I'd pay to see that. :-)

Jesus Trevino said...

Michael, you grokked quite a lot from our Anaya visit. Your writings deserve a novel. But in the interim remember Wittgenstein also said, "If it can be said, it can be said simply." Your words and metaphor
es are right on! Choo