from Ma(i)ze Tassel Retrazos

Swallowing on the Way to the Gallows


There was no geographical destination within my head. The trap door was slipping away under my feet. Corn Tassel was Marsha, the girl three rows ahead of me in geometry class. She was three years older than me. The ‘a’ at the end made her feminine in her tongue, but the rest of her was a boggy marsh. Her father owned the only movie theatre in town that subtitled movies in my language. I swallowed whenever I thought of her. This was the effect she expected.

It didn’t matter who she was. In the backseat of the traveling bus I projected Corn Tassel from one girl to the next. The same Corn Tassel ‘I’ would wear on graduation day, if it ever came down to that. I swallowed. It was expected of me. ‘I’ became aware of a large woman hovering over me. She wasn’t showing and was wearing too much eye shadow to be pregnant. I got up anyways to take a standing position in the aisle. She didn’t thank me, not even in her mother tongue.

Back home, the swallows darted in and out from under the eaves of the courtyard. The chickens ran loose between the rows of corn. When ‘I’ closed my eyes to picture them, heads were rolling away from the ax swung by my hand, the eyes still rotating back at me to get one final look. My mother made me do it to become a man. I swallowed every time, seeking recognition from the fast-twitch muscle in the eyelid over the closing eye.


Still Life: Lingering in the Lymph Nodes of the Pan-American Panther

They used the rest of the goat for lunchmeat. The hide they used for ornamental notch drums and vanity soccer balls. These are the things the town on the other side of the lake was famous for. Before this, to me, it was just a junction on the map labeled Fer-de-Lance. Now, amidst the crumbling adobe and ramshackle signs, it was a plaza to switch busses and get food.


There were no namesake pit vipers now, just goats. They boiled them down right there on the street. They used all the constituents except the hide, hoofs and horns. They slapped the stringy meat between pan and called it lonche de lomo. In my language this meant loin lunch. I could see this all for myself, but the words are what Manuel told me. Manuel was with me in the Monkey House.


We ate our loin lunches and watched a zero-to-zero soccer match on a dirt field. The goal didn’t even have a net. This side of the lake was dry and barren, and Manuel said it was on account of the goats. Back in the time, when Fer-de-Lance was the capital, they raised the goats to sacrifice to Dark Jaguar and Puma Noche, but these species had since been turned to stone, leaving the goats to multiply and consume what was left of the living landscape.

“Even if the goatskin notch drums aren’t in tune and the vanity soccer balls aren’t useful for playing soccer,” Manuel said with his mother tongue, “they are still useful for ceremonial purposes.” The score was still zero to zero when we boarded Monkey House to continue onto our destination.

The above work is from a collaborative collection entitled Ma(i)ze Tassel Retrazos, forthcoming from Calamari Press. Materials used include ink, magazine cutouts, and found textiles (‘Retrazos’ is a Spanish term meaning ‘retrace’ or ‘stencil’, and refers to the remnants left behind by a seamstress).

Derek White lives in NYC and edits SleepingFish. Carlos M. Luis is an artist and visual poet from Miami. He has exhibited his work in a number of galleries around the country and world, and his work has appeared in numerous publications including Word for/Word, SleepingFish, Zunai (Brazil), TSE TSE (Argentina), and Manglar (France). Recent publications include Walls for Finnegans & Palimpsests for Beckett (Anabasis press), Dysfunctional Texts (Luna Bisonte Press), and O, Vozque Pulp (Calamari Press).