Joyce James in the Yucatan
A letter appeared. It was written on a single sheet of stationery, of a high rag content, deckle-edged but without watermark, headed in the upper right-hand corner of the page: Hacienda UXMAL, Uxmal - Yucatan Mexico, printed in red, a capital color. Across the bottom of the page, printed in red caps, was the phrase: AT THE RUINS OF THE ANCIENT MAYA CITIES OF UXMAL, KABAH, LABNA, SAYIL. Respecting the essentially aesthetic concern for precision and thoroughness, we should describe yet another imprint on the page, of the sort the eye practiced in reading modern written communications often overlooks, subconsciously associating such marks with indications of a formal nature--page numbers, printers' sheet marks, union seals and so forth. In tiny type at the extreme left lower edge of the page appeared: a b c 2160, also printed in red.
The text of the letter was printed not in black, as impressed through an ordinary typewriter ribbon, but in green--and where the green and the red came close to each other, a chromatic illusion of oscillation flippety-flopped in imaginary time/space, within the perceptual consciousness of Joyce James.
She relaxed in her raffia-backed tropical chair, reflecting upon the red/green coloring of her own semi-divine corporeal being: bright red Irish hair in a curly aureole surrounding her light ivory and very faintly freckled forehead, and her eyes Erin green, deep and cool as cenotes sunken through the limestone surface of the jungle in Yucatan.
"There are pages in my files," Joyce pronounced to herself and to a hyacinth macaw perched on the wall of her vine-shaded porch, "that may never appear in print. Not anyway, ordinarily," she thought, then realizing that certain formal properties of appearance, such as the color of ink, and the font type, and the particular graphic array of each page were intrinsically, and perhaps on several, subtler ways, tied to the subject matter content of the text itself. No great surprise this, in a world of deliberation, in which some say there simply are no accidents, and no crossing without motive.
Joyce James worked in the world of commodities and commerce as a correspondent for Tantradine International, a multinational food-based conglomerate. Her office suite, with its thickly-plastered creamy pink-colored walls, overhead Blue Parrot Cafe style fans, and tiled floor verandah opening on a garden of lianas, palms and wild orchids. Through a lush curtain of herbage a gleam of light sparkled as a glassy wave swelled and curled in the distance beyond the beach grass and shimmering sand. She looked past the little rise of headland and the tumbled stones of what was once a tiny but elegantly sited Mayan temple, across the sun sparkled waters of the Gulf to the low shoreline of limestone cliffs and low scrub jungle green. Rolling, trackless miles of dense swaths of vegetation spread out as flat as fans between low, scrubby ridges, or without any ridges, curiously arid although laced with slimy surprises, lay between the seacoast isle of San Dimo and the ruined site of Uxmal in the center of the vast peninsula of Yucatan.
It's the night letter from the Yucatan, bearing a date of August ninth, 1980. Tragedy three times over. The Wrath of God moils in the Gulf of Mexico, a vast, wheeling weather system, one of the storms of the century.
The fourth estate, the Standard Press or daily news of Shaun's bleating as Joyce would have it, decides to make a grand show of transcending its psycho-sexual bias, and so calls the hurricane by a male name! "Allen." No, storms are not male; like ships of the sea, they possess an intrinsic quality so deeply associated with human understanding of the sexedness of nature that merely calling them by a male name will not make it otherwise. In our English and American languages we loose the sense of this, as distinctions of gender are repressed. True, other languages frequently present contradiction. In German the sun is female (die Sonne) and the moon male (der Mond), as it might have been in ancient Babylonia and Japan, but not in France (le soleil) or Spanish (el sol, la luna). Space is female, time is male. And space is prior, deeper, more important in the strictly technical sense of the word, as the formal terms of mathematics substantiates. Just so, "el hurricán" is female, her name, if we like, may be "Allen." Her lineage of tragedy, death and destruction, a whirling swath of weather's wrath, vibrations of vengeance were pointed at the Texas coast. She is an angry earth, with jowls blood-drenched like the Kali of India, the fierce chthonic spirit who consumes the bodies of her own children. But this same cannibal mother who wears a necklace of skulls cut from the egos of her victims offers the teaching key, the letters of language set down into the marked state, real knowledge as to the functions and forms of the words themselves.
So the Angel Gabriel said to the Blessed Prophet Muhammad, three times--"Read!" as he protested illiteracy, may peace be upon him and upon his true family and upon all those who follow his path of the heart. The reading comes first. We all know this by rote from the ingrained litany of the so-called 3-R's. Reading is the first of the three, and the only one that is properly, orthographically an R at all. Readin', (w)ritin', and (a)rithmetic. Clearly we must lead to read before we can write. We must proceed however, upon a sound basis, which, although it is unsaid comes from listening to the music of language on our mother's knee--before that, while still at her breast hearing the lullabyes, and before that even in the amniotic ambiance of reverberating sound while still in the ocean of her womb. There are many who so soon forget to listen, after nine months in the insulated organic tank of our mothers' tummies, to the white noise, the voices of angels. Even so, one of the great natural necessities that have become luxuries today is silence. Well, silence is really rather severe; mere quiet is bounty for being beyond the price many would-be princes are prepared to pay. Little wonder Ezra Pound in his eloquent extended critique of the attempts at letters by both ancient and modern ladies and gentlemen, sadly, recurrently noted the dysfunction of Melopeoia, capacities for music of the tongue.
Therefore we read, when inspired in the deepest sense that which we have first heard through the vibrations of sound. For sound is the substance, the way the world came into being according to the Hindu cosmologists, or cosmogenetics of theory and lore. Beneath this, at the lowest possible frequencies, there is only the subtle, subsonic sensibilities of vibrations so low and so slow, from such vast distances (for the highest frequency transmissions fade out first in space) that we have now come to associate them with the presumed Big Bang of the creation of temporal being, having been counted by two Bell Telephone Laureates at 3-degrees Kelvin (above absolute zero). Lower and slower and older and further away in space/time apparently we cannot go. It is a nice numerical barrier, mystically trinitarian, that the astrophysicists associate with a bleak wall of information space, the background radiation of the entire perceivable universe, one time around in any direction, quite possibly the residual consequence of the material formation of Hydrogen.
It is indeed amazing that we human beings are constructed in such a way as to be able to imagine such things, just as though they were contained within the very fabric, structure and rhythms of our own being. Were they not, how then (we are also able to ask) could we project these imaginings upon our worlds of space and time so cleverly as to convince ourselves of history and objectivity? And yet it appears that we go to sleep first at these very levels, at the levels which are deepest--that is to say, most divine. But we sleep so as not to die, but to some day awaken: seeds in the dark ego earth to sprout and flower bud.
And so within such a suitably cosmic perspective, it can be said how the sound of the Letter spiraled into the pair of delicate shell-pink ears of Joyce James in her San Dimo secretariat. Outside, the winds whipped a passion of spindrift, spewing from welling waves. A deceptive peace broke as the storm's eye passed into the atmospheric physeter, drenching cauldron, and blasting ferocity, against which Joyce re-shuttered her slatted hotel windows.
Local power generators evenly maintained service, and the hurricane was now quartered, so within all that wildness Joyce blocked a space of gentleness and calm. She languished a fingernail, stirring in a tall glass three tinkling cubes unmelted with a lime slice in the Penafiel and grenadine. The hyacinth macaw sheltered on a cane perch above her chair back. Her emerald green eyes cascaded again to the tiny printed figures on the page bottom:
Here was, her intuition said, the apparently innocuous key by which the cypher text typewritten in green ink could be read. Entranced, her associative mind sang to her listening internal analytical ear the sounds of the signs the red ink indicated.
"A, ay, eh. Bee. Cee, see, si si skinyurita, come sail with me on the beautiful sea. I say see, C.C. Rider, now see what you have done...."
Joyce indexed the rock reserve on her tabletop terminal. She flicked on the video display which listed an extensive set of entries for the rock and roll time bracket of 1954-1964 of recorded tunes with titles anything like "C.C.Rider."
The side by Chuck Willis was the one she had heard inside...the classic rendition. She called it up, but held off play, amused by a listing for Cher of Sonny and Cher, and included in her call also the disc by Bobby Powell.
"All the real truths are in the tunes," is a motto drummed into her brainpan like Pistol playing behind the Four Tops at their Ambassador opening in L.A. The chorus reverberated from out of the past: Liz, Deckside Debbie, Robe and Carlos, Buddy Meier, herself, Michaelangelo Byrd and Jose Que. From real music and phony coconut groves in sixteen years to memories of tunes and real palms. But the truths in the shared psychic constructs we call culture remain. And like we say, all the real ones are in the tunes. Here Joyce James shunted a contact to the heart space of intuitional research. The history, the archaeology of rock was still in its infancy...no one had yet definitively said what it was that song was supposed to be about, for its roots went deeper still into the blues. Perhaps, indeed, they were lines from the train blues, as some say, riding the rails on the Chicago and Central. C.C. Rider. Others say the song is out of New Orleans, and that the text originally read "Easy Rider," as in the Dennis Hopper film about graveyard acid, flag bikers and Mardigras. But "My brother's in the army, my sister's down in New Orleans...," and she could have either a hard or an easy rider for her pimp.
A.B.C. Abel, Baker, Charlie. 3 R's and the ABC's. It's easy as ABC...although the marks strictly show these letters in lower case: abc. The daily newspaper in Madrid of that same title. Oh, how many book titles were to be found under the easy abc's of this or that?
The red and green letter from the jungles of Yucatan came by canoe, rowed out from the shore on the rough waters a day before the hurricane struck. One of the boys who worked at the garden plot on the mainland beach brought it to the hotel with his load of fresh fruit from the wild region and cultivated vegetables. News travelled faster through the jungle network than airmail letters or reports published in Mexican news media. It is widely recognized that the people of Yucatan, Belize and eastern Guatemala, all largely of Mayan extraction, know more about what happens, say, in Guatemala City--and know it faster, sometimes several days faster--than do readers of daily newspapers. The vehicle is an organic communications net, speedy, accurate and thorough, an astounding but as yet unappreciated model for contemporary designers of complex electronic information systems. When the Spanish sailed into the Bay of Campeche and put the native nobles to the sword, they also sought out whatever they could find of the written word to set to flame. A tower of Mayan codices were torched, while the priests shed open tears. Centuries of transmission about the Diaries and powers pertaining to the lords of the soil turned to ash. And as we know very well from the documents of General Sepulveda, the hard Spanish line was to have the indigenous populations regarded as less-than-human, without souls and therefore not fit for conversion to Christianity, but rather to be enslaved as draft animals and beasts of burden. That this wicked motive might not be impaired by cries of compassion, all vestiges of literacy and other indications of high civilization were ruthlessly extirpated.
With inutterable, heartbreaking sadness a few saintly apostles of a self-righteous and power-crazed church argued for the so-called Indian's soul and thus for the promise of a dubious path to salvation. Wherever the military or spiritual authority of Spain was challenged by native traditions, annihilation was the consequence. Toe-to-toe battles, eventually, inevitably swept the invader to victory. However, in the lands of Mayan heritage, outright confrontations seldom occurred. The resident opposition to imported European insanity, greed and ravaging cruelty simply dissipated, melted, disappeared into the jungle, blended into the soil. Like a community of Aikido masters, an entire population practicing Tai Chi Ch'uan, there were no Mayan armed forces, no battle lines after the first few encounters--just clouds of dust, gusts of wind, retreats of waves along the shore and a rustle--then stillness--of jungle leaves. But to this day, all over the greater part of the peninsula to the isthmus of Tehuantepec, descendants of the Maya speak their own language and live unobtrusively but in constant swift communication with other families in all directions through the network of mattoral. And in each typical oval house there is some water and food, and fire, and a gun.
Joyce James pulled the file on Jose Que. She drew out an article from the UCLA Daily Bruin, reviewing an "Experimental Arts Festival," produced in 1967. At that time Jose Que was an artist in absentia, thought to have been conducting a furtive rebellion in the nearly impenetrable mountains of Chihuahua and the Sierra Madre in Northern Mexico.
Kurt von Meier