neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which promote questions rather than godly edifying in the faith, so do!
St. Paul, King James Bible,
1 Timothy 1:4
He or she is a mystic who cannot stop walking and, with the certainty of what is lacking, knows of every place and object that it is not that; one cannot stay there nor be content with that. Desire creates an excess. Places are exceeded, passed, lost behind it. It makes one go further, elsewhere. It lives nowhere.
Michel Certeau, The Mystic Fable
For me, writing means having to deal with the death of others, but it basically means having to deal with others to the extent that they’re already dead. In one sense, I’m speaking over the corpse of the others.
Michel Foucault, 1968 interview
“The only paradises are those we have lost”
It’s 2015 as he boards Google Earth and levitates from Atlanta. He gains altitude, viewing the whole of the southern United States of America. As he heads west, moving slowly over the thin silver line of i20, he can see the varied marbled green patchworks of farms and small towns. Chartreuse, Mantis, Asparagus, Olive, Pine and more. He knows these names because he briefly looks up ‘Green’ on Google. So many of them, other than the national forests and preserves. Did it look like this decades ago when he made the trip from Mississippi to Georgia with his family? Surely not. Just getting from one place to the next then took travel over two lane blacktop, winding though small towns, maybe ten hours to make the trip.
He begins to make his virtual descent over Birmingham, following a back road that his family even now takes, over the Tenn-Tom waterway, a fabulously carved straight as an arrow channel which barges ply with goods. Or do they still? None are in sight from above. Passing over the lock and dam, he descends even further but now beginning to be beset with a peculiar double vision. (It is this way no matter which way he goes, whether through Meridian and then onto state route 19 or in taking this back route.) He begins to be overcome with the sickness of nostalgia and melancholia. This happens no matter how many times he makes this trip and no matter in what sort of conveyance he makes it in, either actual car or the ethereal and anti-tenebrous sky balloon of Google Earth. No matter. A certain darkness still manages to assert itself, a certain uncanniness seems to seep from the very borders of Mississippi as he makes his way in, a feeling which maybe Joseph Conrad would be more disposed to elucidate. O.k., he knows it’s all in his head, right? To him, that doesn’t make it any LESS real, it makes it more real but in the same kind of confusion when you see pictures of ectoplasm : real or not? Or something in between. Yes, he thinks to himself. It’s this something in between, or the thing seen out of the corner of the eye, or those floater things apparently inside the eye. Real but not. Or not but real. Depends on which way you want to go.
He feels like the occupant of some UFO as he passes over Scuba and Decatur and Moscow (Yes!), now hovering over Deemer Road outside Philadelphia, where the old clapboard unpainted farmhouse stood, now long devoured by ravenous Kudzu, pulling down any revenant into the depths of its green wake. Now his ectoplasmic craft slowly meanders up the road, alternating between street level view and overhead view. It was dust and gravel when he used to make that three mile trip on his bike. The sepia-toned flipbook starts up in earnest now, one virtual snapshot after the other beginning to tumble out, lathered up on each arrival. A Proustian disease for sure. He felt himself approaching the edge of a precipice of abyssal memory. Yet at the same time, he strives to find new ones but no, it’s always the same set. And how could that be otherwise? There are no, there can be no new ones, case closed. Or has he lost some and gained others? No way to know. That’s just the way memory is, a volatile superfluid, like ectoplasm oozing its way over everything. Like the blob in that old Steve McQueen movie, moving at first slowly up the stick then in the blink of an eye it moves all the way to the hand and you are lost in another reality, one you can’t escape from. But wait a minute he thought: that’s the way everything is anyway, always the ooze coming slowly up the stick then it’s all over. Instead of from space though, a preferable option in many ways he thought, it’s from the past, a territory that is exactly equal to what is in front of us, even if it seems like we are gobbling up what is in front of us and disposing of it…or even drawing something nearer. (He wondered: did anybody still believe that Something was Coming? There seemed little dispute that many arcane and mysterious things were now past…but stuff coming toward us? Even that way of putting it many would argue with. The only thing coming was Progress, more good stuff, more Better-ness, the very Best-est of what we have now. But there was no mysteriousness, that opacity which was and is always tenebrous in the eyes of Progress. What that implied were those ‘endless genealogies and fables’ which so concerned Saint Paul, and perhaps even the bad infinity of Hegel, a road to hell paved with good intentions. Or something like that. He was beginning to confuse himself. But the point here is that you gotta cut bait at some point, move on up stream where the fishing is better and the water is calmer. It was like there was, or is, a weak messianic power coming out from the past but it was so weak that it would take a supercollider of a brain to determine how such redemption would work. Certainly the hailing power of the voice of the technofuture smothered over all other voices. It resulted almost entirely, he thought, from the glorious housing developments on the Shining Hill of modernity and the clear-cutting that was necessary: the faith of the future depended on the eradication of the past.
“Our time, the present, is in fact not only the most distant: it cannot in any way reach us. Its backbone is broken and we find ourselves in the exact point of this fracture.[….] Contemporariness does not simply take place in chronological time: it is something that, working within chronological time, urges, presses, and transforms it. And this urgency is the untimeliness, the anachronism that permits us to grasp our time in the form of the ‘too soon’ that is also a ‘too late’—of an ‘already’ that is also a ‘not yet.’ Moreover, it allows us to recognize in the obscurity of the present the light that, without ever being able to reach us, is perpetually voyaging toward us.”
Giorgio Agamben. What is The Contemporary? In Nudities., p 15
The name Mississippi, perhaps the most onomatopoeic of any state. It is known that it is of Indian provenance; but which tribe? It is said that it comes from the French Messip, the French rendition of the Ansihinaabe , that is Objiwah or Algonquin, name for the river : Misi-zibi, meaning Great River. Another rendition can be traced through early French records to the name Malabouchi, from the Gulf Coast Indians. An early French writer attempted to explain the Indian name, Mechasipi as a contraction of the words, Meact Chassippi meaning ancient father of waters.
My choice would be story of the Choctaw and their kinsmen the Chickasaw, ‘migrating from a far western country long, long ago.’ When the wise prophets of the two tribes first saw and contemplated the great body of water they exclaimed “Misha spokni!” Misha in Choctaw meaning ‘beyond’ and spokni conveyig the idea of something ancient. Yes, an ancient beyond, the pine barren flatness of much of Mississippi, especially along the delta like the Appalachian Mountains, older than the Himalayans, but lower.
Now it thundered and it lightnin’d, Lord and the wind, wind began to blow
Now it thundered and it lightnin’d, Lord and the wind, wind began to blow
Lord there was thousands and thousands of poor people at that time didn’t have no place to go
Big bill broonzy
For better of worse, there is no therapy in Mississippi (and very little modern and no ‘postmodern’ — or perhaps it’s all postmodern now) and no therapeutic strategy to eradicate Mississippi from memory because Mississippi the state (of mind, of psychogeography) rides the great primeval wanderings of the river bearing its name, a bent, curling, alternately placid and then tumescent wand of the gods overflowing floridly towards abundance and catastrophe, an unending sentence of destruction and creation, our very own Shiva, puffing out watery alvioli in flooded lungs, first gasping and then shouting, epithets and field hollers, it floods itself then somehow the rest of the state but simultaneously hunkering down and ebullient at the same time, laying waste while sending up/down roots (you forget which in the storm), confluence of red Indian, black African, white European. Mississippi you are Legion.
“Time stands still in the Delta. But
the dead go on opening doors in our mind”
Taking the back river road out of Vicksburg somewhat parallels the river, meandering for a bit before it begins to stretch out and straighten, shotgun level for miles and miles and miles, even as the river itself coils through bayous and oxbows; at one point early on out of Vicksburg it even turns into a one-lane road, elevated around 30 feet above the cotton and corn blooming into the distance. This back road ride down state route 453 is intense: high heat, no cars, passing through small ‘towns’ (scare quoted because even though they are on a map they consist of nothing more than a church, a gas station, a couple of houses and a row of new stainless steel grain silos) in which not a single soul can be seen.
In 1932, Walter Benjamin wrote (and read on-air) one of his radio plays for children, his last surviving radio play in fact, on the great flood of 1927 (“Der Mississippi-Uberschwemmung 1927”)
The county of Philadelphia called Neshoba, gray wolf in Choctaw. And outside the township of Philly, the ancient mound called Nanih Waya (Inholitopa iski), meaning productive mound or mother mound. “When they emerged from the mound, the first Choctaw were still damp from the Underworld. Aba iki, the Father Above, who had brought them forth, laid them out along the ramp of the mound to dry. The scene unfolded ages ago, according to one origin story, deep in a Mississippi wood. In other versions, the Choctaw and Chickasaw entered the world from a cave near the mound. Yet another variation tells of a prophet arriving from the west followed by an entire people.” From limited archaeological evidence it is likely that the mound was part of the very large mound culture consisting of many sorts of mounds and mound related structures numbering in the thousands in the Mississippi valley and that the Indians were late comers and simply made use of the area. The Cheatham clan most immediate to him had its start though Dick Cheatham in a community nearby, emerging wet as far as he knew, laid out to dry in the southern heat, maybe not completely dry due to the southern humidity; it was often said by the elders of MY tribe that there was Indian blood in the clan and I have reason to think that true. I’m still waiting for my ‘indian money, ’ as my grandfather put it, to come in. however the Indian money came in another way in the form of casinos bilking the white man the Chata preference for an unbrokened language flow now transferred to dollar bills.
The last of the eight sibling Cheatham clan died recently, a life for the last one, Bobby, lived almost entirely in Mississippi but not the case with the other four brothers and three sisters, all but One sister and Bobby having lived just about there whole life in Ms (The abbreviation not only for woman but also manuscript), the others fleeing to Georgia and Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee I think Bobby lived in California for a year or so he always wanted to go visit his cousin there mainly to go to Disney Land which had just opened when they were there, due to his Sunday night viewings of the seven pm appearance of Disney’s Wonderful World of Color but now Florida has one and things are different anyway and that ALSO is where my uncle Willard, who looked just like a real Indian moved to Fl and who, when he had returned with his family from Ga, abbreviation of which looks like sound for throwup, would always go on every holiday up to the “house on the hill’ where momma and daddy cheatham lived and was greeted one time by Willard with “Well, if it ain’t the Yankee and his hermaphodite son” I guess because they were wearing Bermuda shorts and his hair touched his collar but now that he thinks on it his uncle Jack never really left Mississippi either but since he was the most educated and smoked cigars (which he could always smell from a distance) and seemed more sophisticated because he seemed to be always eating out in Jackson) and did something at the University of Mississippi and was superintendant of schools for awhile, being known for shooting a hole in his front driver side door and then claiming his opponent did it but was found out somehow and discredited, causing the diaspora of the teaching Cheathams, Willard, Norman, Bennie, Jack to other states but come to think of it Jack stayed and moved to the delta, a little town called Rosedale, almost not there I’m remembering now and from Google looking down on Rosedale it seems perilously close to the great twisting serpent Itself, flooding looking like it is all too probable, swirled, all the surrounding lands swirled wildly like the bleeding Madras patterns on those shirts and fabrics popular at one time, there in one of those swirls in 1964 was where his cousin Ricky was killed while camping out and frog gigging with a companion, shot while his companion was mutilated (I never knew what that meant exactly: where? How? No details were ever forthcoming but lurid and impossible comments made the rounds about the family, which even to this day he can’t articulate and even the FBI came down to investigate but never at least known to me, ever left any word as to what happened) although he will never forget or forgive the time that, much later, on a visit back to the home place where Jack had moved after retiring from whatever he was doing in Rosedale, caused his father to sputter incoherently in his rage while Jack, who always smoked cigars and always reminded him of Edgar G. Robinson, continued to goad him, like he did generally at Daddy Cheatham’s but this time he was older and all he could do was sit in amazed and embarrassed stupefaction and silence, he still feels the pain of that moment and in fact the stories of the whole lot of them continue to swirl around his head with least provocation, an eight headed hydra or Medusa maybe pulling him backward, the stony face of the dead dragging back to the set-scenes, a primal grittiness of reality holding forth over all of it, yes maybe Ricky was gay he remembered a time when all the boy and girl cousins were herded by Ricky outside to the side of the house where their pants were pulled down and amidst cheerful threats that their penises ( or what was it then surely not cocks, maybe dicks since I remember we made fun of cousin Richard for having the nick name Dick so yes it must have been dicks that were threatened) but did this happen or did he imagine it there was no way of knowing it but it seems real enough—and what is the south anyway but some engorged memory chamber from in fans-without voice- to muddled piece meal adult recollections, starling in their juxtapositions to where-ever in the hell we are now, even now in remembering this, in putting the members back together he feels himself sinking into an almost swoon, back to the ur-years of ’63 and ’64 when national and local collapse together into a syncope, dead faint—or feint maybe, tumbling bodies of Kings and Kennedys, omnipresent hysteria rising on the gorge, on the verge of something; revolution?)) and oddly enough he remembers two Cocker Spaniels owned by Jack that was frozen outside and around the corner from the dick threats but surely that is some kind of fabrication but he swears he remembers it like giant dog sickles while the little white Cheatham house, built in 1946 by all the brothers, the ‘dick wall’ was less than forty feet from the Methodist church where Daddy Cheatham was a deacon for many years and where from his house down below the hill old man Brennan’s voice could be heard bellowing out Rock of Ages on a Sunday morning, the same church where Daddy Cheatham’s final service was held but the year is still 1964 Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman the first casualties of the civil rights movement, killed by the sheriff and buried in an earthen dam outside of town and his grandfather is still lying in wait to this day he can see now The pews of the small church packed with relatives and friends The preacher coming forward at a certain point and allows that Richard ‘Dick’ Cheatham had a special friend Willie who would like to come view the body Dick Cheatham worked in the sawmill a few miles from his house, some sort of foreman and Summer nights I can remember Willie, a black man, coming by and sitting in the back yard with my grandfather, talking till the fireflies came out on soft honeysuckle evenings but now all the fireflies have gone out permanently and Willie is visiting again Was he not allowed to sit with the others his confusion is rampant and then some peculiar sort of rage as he sits there in the stone silence, maybe a little organ music, Willie walking down the isle with his hat in hand This image haunts him to this day, not knowing what to do with it and what does one do with ghosts anyway And what are memories but ghosts, hauntings that can’t be exorcized except by penalty of losing part of one’s self The deep well of remembrance sears and scars us simply by its diaphanous nature, it’s inability to be easily pinned down, constrained by what we want, what we desire, what we think is best The ectoplasmic stuff of remembrance never quite getting frayed into nothingness, but slayed into somethingness this weakness its very strength, it hangs on though its own externality, posing as pure internality … but who is to say about that, about what is purely inside and what is purely outside? Surely there is no purely, but an enfolded complexity, various types of Mobius strips, Klein bottles that ceaselessly shuttle back and forth, in and out, matter becoming conscious becoming memory becoming matter becoming earthworms becoming plants becoming energy becoming life, becoming face, maybe to the ends of the universe — and back Who is to say Ghosting knows no limits It simply shifts and squirms in its liminal constraints to another form, another race, another gender, another life, another species, the traumatic gossamer crinkling of its edges perhaps simply threshold phenomena, portals signifying other entrances and exits These halos, thresholds the very epitome of Benjamin’s description of aura as the inchoate perception of the greatest distance in that which is closest to us.
Skin: the thing that is closest to us, yet betrays the most distance, distances of galactic proportions (but even the word galactic sustains this duality of skin, meaning from the ancient Greek, milk, as if the stars were poured out into a thickening skin in the sky, white on black) Skin as boundary marker and threshold delineating, separating, folding together; even a sacrament which opens the inside to the outside in Eros as well as in wounding even a sacrificial threshold the only one a person ever has really, a singular offering, continually deferred even while daring all others to avoid the breach of the skin.
And what is more ghost-like than skin Never announcing itself (except when it becomes visible at the borders of the socius, of races — still, visible but invisible), yet subtly holding together, holding out for, but surreptitiously so, an invisible boundary between self and others —and when it comes visible trouble starts, just as ghostly manifestations announce their own traumas, delays, deferrals, returns of the repressed, the mobiating of black to white and white to black and the sacrificial halts in between, the black and white stills from back then, alternating with technicolor, then technical color, then nothing.
Ezekiel 37:7-9 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ “
1. [41.20] Until when they come to it, their ears and their eyes and their skins shall bear witness against them as to what they did.
2. [41.21] And they shall say to their skins: Why have you borne witness against us? They shall say: Allah Who makes everything speak has made us speak, and He created you at first, and to Him you shall be brought back.
3. [41.22] And you did not veil yourselves lest your ears and your eyes and your skins should bear witness against you, but you thought that Allah did not know most of what you did.
Sitting in dark in the yard ‘out back’. No one home, lights out, door locked. Still stiff from driving. There, etched by moonlight, edge of woods, beyond which the ‘ancestral shack’ as he had always affectionately called it, of his grandparents–a small white asbestos sided 2-story house with two small gables in front and back, stairs. A banister. At the top of which as a kid he watched, uncomprehending, family dramas and squabbles unfolding… Cousins, aunts, uncles, moved on, died. And now it was filled with an unspeakable event, Something which made its presence known even through the copse of trees, vague glimmer shifting past the window he could barely make out. And that smell again.
But now, a strident, stritchy thing in the oak tree to his right pulling regularly on some demented violin, rising to a crescendo then sawing down to a rasping stop. Then the response from things in the other trees…silence…then sawing in the far distance, then building again nearby. Some crazy sonata by Xenakis maybe, called ‘Chorae‘. But contained in that seasonal, rasping echoing call-and-response spoke the whole history of a world, constant and consistent in its choral inevitability and commentary on the doings down below, the tablature of the trees providing the appropriate genealogy: a few pin oaks but mostly pines. Pine trees. The other signature effect (and affect is the landscaped truth if it could be told which it can’t, only alluded to) vertical lines for the cleft and treble, wind soughing, giving way to stridulating bugs. A life lived–did everyone here not see it, hear it? –In an electric soup of communicating trees, insects, and wind. (And god knows what else. Maybe it wasn’t all a one-way street, nothing but bulldozers, pulpwood trucks, mowers at dusk. Maybe these things, this landscape, was orchestrating it, flowing, seeping into the unconscious, pullulating thoughts, like those large white eyeless grubs hidden in the old rotten tree he saw yesterday, blindly pawing through the soft fibrous wood till the Energies overcame them and they began to stiffen, harden, darken, becoming other than what they now were, becoming another life connected by only the slenderest thread of DNA to life in the dark. A new creature. Maybe there was such a beckoning here (and not only here): human grub embedded in a giant fallen log, etheric signals passing wraith-like through the great Body of the world, into the flesh, time spans measured in millennia condensing in the DNA, precipitate of falls and pupae of catastrophes, signals passing though the amber of flesh, dammed (maybe even damned) at the flesh for a spell in the wood, then gushing forth–O great glamour of spells cast! Cast in resin, bug spit long since hardened (stritching passing over how many millions of years?) then bursting free, frothy expirations condensing yet again for another ride through time: worlds composed of nothing but condensations and explosions falling as debris on the great Plain of the Now and suckered through with runners –kudzu like–penetrating it with this cosmic collapse, this darkness at noon, unceasing, against which the Machine toils endlessly, itself not capable of being so penetrated being rather nothing BUT this penetration, the pure form of the wood grub, the grubbing of the grub minus the grub.
Nothing but burrowing through the debris, grub turned to angel flapping furiously, backward…