Stop straining. Don’t talk and calm your heart…down, down, down…along the spine between the shoulder blades and then upwards, into the chest.
Destroyed buildings in remote parts of the world were better than five-star hotels. I was here to scout for a narrow stretch of the river suitable to construct a footbridge. The old bridge had been cut by the military and the rusty cables were dragging in the current of clear mountain water. The banks had been eroded by the rains and on the other side I could see a few Indian huts and a line of smoke in the trees. I was just north of the Ixil Triangle in Guatemala. The war was sputtering to an end, but try telling that to landmines or people disappeared by the military or potshot by some grim band of the EGP.
Breathe evenly; otherwise the hyperventilation will start.
My masterpiece, the thing I was evidently born with, was imbued in the burned out mission hospital. Eduardo and I had come upon the place over a little rise. I’d marked it on my map and the Captain of a newly revamped Ministry of the Interior had told me the story. Seeing children die is one thing, but being in a place where children were massacred and walking upon the mass grave is another. These are important distinctions to make. Watching children die is cause to drive the memories deep within, but imagining them dying gives rise to uncontrollable ghosts and ghouls. Nightmares mix whisky with water and sometimes the water can kill you. In this sense, the real enemy is the imagination. Terrible events leave marks upon the ground and old wood and broken walls come to life. The process of painting a masterpiece by calling forth unknown traces is not for everyone, yet I am burdened with this emotion, this torn gift from a stranger.
Imagine the heart beating in a good rhythm.
Our footsteps were like questions as we listened to the compound explain. The fire had leapt through the windows and climbed the white stone to the roof. Black soot had hardened into the decayed plaster. The color of rain was on the walls and over the years the emptiness and silence had turned the patina into the rainbow signature of a horrible night. The children were in their beds and the flames had moved rapidly. There was confusion and I watched the little forms fall and twist upon the root-infested tiles. Others were shot in the courtyard. Why would men kill children? This question is part of my masterpiece; my way of dropping away from the planet in a stationary trail seen by the telescope of some distant eye. It is who I am.
Where is the doctor?
We walked along the mass grave dug in a stand of trees. Rocks were piled up to mark the spot and the vines were in a large tangle that extended into the trees and everything was thick, healthy, and green with the nutrients of bodies sucked dry. Flowers were everywhere. Eduardo sat at the base of a boulder and smoked a cigarette while I searched around for a good place to piss. That night we slept in hammocks on the veranda overlooking the river. Eduardo snored and I felt the mosquitoes biting me until dawn.
A few days later we came down with malaria. I called my doctor in Australia. He told me to take chloroquine since the malaria in the Ixil Triangle was not yet resistant. I was thankful for that and Eduardo and I eventually got over it.
I will not tell you about the archaeologist that I followed into the jungle to one of her periphery sites and how we had sex beneath a tree. She had been arguing with her husband when we came upon them a few muddy kilometers away from the mission hospital. They were both filthy, but she wore her dirt well upon golden, tight skin. Despite the heat, she let her black hair fall down and I could see the sweat beads on her face. They caught the light and twinkled along the lines of her sun damaged face. Perhaps one day she would develop skin cancer, but for now she was defiant and using me for her own purposes.
This bit of detail is not part of my masterpiece and so I have painted over it with a dark shade that provides a background to the mission hospital and the genocide carried out by the military forces of Guatemala.
Forget about nitroglycerin for my heart. No chance for an angioplasty and I will sink down inside of myself to the place where my masterpieces hang. They are in a long hall within my mind. I view them where memory and imagination mix and in the end they are all I have.
Who can I talk with now? There is nothing but echoes of my own voice and then even that goes silent.
Are you beside me? Are you watching all of this? Have you clicked on Tin Hats to read my poor words? Fuck it…and I feel complete in the music and everything that is left unwritten: my secret verse in your eyes.