“There is nothing newer than that which is forgotten and leaves the mind.” The last words of my Cherokee brother Colonah or Sam Houston as he’s known in the quick world.
Days die on the sharp edge of things. You cross this life in a twisted line and you dream apart, on your own, and things come in a different way. Deep inside are the thoughts and sounds dragging though the mud and staggering beneath hot spells, and they always go deep into the night. Sometimes the vision is a pile of shadows, but then the candlelight makes it smart like the eyes of a crow seeing everything for miles.
The calendar of memory has no meaning when time borders a primeval path.
I don’t know, maybe I’m wasting my years in the wilderness, with the Indians and the animals, but I understand that everywhere is nowhere. That’s an idea that keeps me going. My Cherokee mother thinks I’m from the borderline and that my lips are an impending spirit. I hear things, words that stomp around. I mouth them and scare everybody. The words are for unwritten songs and stories without names. My village lets me sing at night beside the glowing window into the other world.
Just now I have a bunch of fresh lyrics wading through my blood, inside my chest, trying to cut my heart open and it’s irritating. I don’t know where they come from, these eight strange marches infecting my flesh. They speak about something in the future. I have named these feelings, these words, Wild Mercury, in honor of my grandfather who was an alchemist. He used to trap animals in the Tharandt Forest and pour quicksilver down their throats and wait for them to turn into gold.
I have scratched these new words on the back of a dry buffalo hide that’s to be my warmth for the rapidly rising winter. A Cherokee girl made it for me. We’d make love beneath it on cold nights. The hide is my song book and it undulates on my back like I’m riding a gentle mare across waves of green grass toward the soft line of my lover. She calls me to enter her horizon and we both go down with the sun.
Being a natural-born lyricist of incomprehensible songs, I learned how to play the guitar, flute, and drums to expand my curious universe. That’s how I met Colonah, or as the Texicans call him, Sam Houston. His Cherokee wife and my mother were good friends. He’s the reason I’m here making camp inside the Alamo, trying to work out these songs. I’m the chef for the Texican army. I conjure Indian food. Colonel Travis is a food critic. He doesn’t like fat in his beans and I can’t cook beans without fat. Jim Bowie is sick and doesn’t eat much and stays drunk a lot. He and I are the only two people in the Alamo who can read Rousseau in French. If one wants to understand why these Texicans are ready to fight the Mexicans, they need to understand what Rousseau has to say. Of course, I don’t mean the men from Tennessee and Missouri would ever actually read Rousseau or listen to what I had to say about him, it’s just they act like he formed them in the womb.
I have a musket ball wound in my belly. Not bad, it’s on the side and it went through nice and clean. A Mexican shot me when I was running on the Military Plaza a few months ago when Milam and Morris kicked General Cos out of town. Milam got it in the head and fell dead. I was at the back, since I don’t believe in fighting for the gentiles. You see, I’m a German Jew, but most people think I’m an Indian. I was born in Dresden, around 1805, although I’m not totally sure. I speak a bunch of languages. I can quote different philosophers and no longer believe in the bible or god since I’m free in the authentic way. My polyglotism, atheism, and anarchism help with my songs. My belief system goes beyond the setup gods. When it’s still and the moon stops in the sky, I travel back and forth from the origin of the gods to me standing straight as a tree.
I enjoy my emotions and consider them to be level stones in the stream of my thoughts. I lived with the Creek and Cherokee for 20 years. My uncle, Isaac Asselstine, brought me from Dresden to South Carolina and then he started trucking with the Nations. On one trip, the Creek killed him and kidnapped me. I became a Creek slave at 12 years old. During the Creek War, Colonel Pathkiller caught me and sent me to live with his Cherokee wife. She named me Atohi, which translates as He Talks Strange. That’s where I learned to cook and play my instruments. When Colonah took refuge in the Nations, I helped him learn our language and make a new face. We became brothers. When I heard he was in Texas I came down. He’s not like the rest of them. He’s a cut above.
I live for the hidden ear in my head. Sometimes it’s a burden like I know things that others don’t, but when I go to tell them, they just laugh and call me off the mark. Sometimes there is only static in my head as if the words are trapped in a bank of thunder clouds, but then everything finally settles down and the words start flowing again with an eerie voice telling me to pick purple rocks out of the limestone bed and turn them into a new set of footfalls that will explain everything. This particular group of words is very odd, even for me. Most of the songs I hear inside are fast and for dancing, but not these. No, these are more like a cold wind through night frames: everyone frozen in missing colors.
One goes: “West seventy-six in a vacant lot we cut the throat of decency and left it to rot.” I thought this had to do with shooting buffalo out west somewhere back in 1776. Yes, maybe a buffalo hunter running away from the war…but I really don’t think so, I know it means something else, but what? Other words go like this: “I knew we couldn’t survive because I glimpsed those empty swimming pools on rodeo drive.” Well, I know what that means. There are plenty of Mexican rodeos in Texas and the little pools and ponds are good for swimming. That’s an easy one. There are other things my big ear hears, about making the best of hell and a big hotel in California, but when I put it all together, it comes and goes in my visions of people sleeping on the ground or maybe they’re dead. Don’t know. I wonder if I can sing it so people can understand. I call the song, “Scout’s Dirge”. I don’t know why, it just came to me. It’s a sad song and I play it slow down and sometimes people turn to stone when they hear my voice.
We wait for the Mexicans and the men are looking for some kind of entertainment beyond dirt. They say Santa Anna is marching toward Bexar and the Alamo. He’s mad and calls the Americans illegal aliens. He says some of the Tejanos don’t speak Spanish and have not adapted to the culture of Mexico. He wants to either kill us or send us back to America. I hate politics and war. I’m just not cut out for it. So when I’m not cooking, I practice my songs and the men come close. I got Davy Crockett to play my little drums and a fellow German, named Henry, the flute. The men like “Creature” which is about living with a woman on the second floor of a saloon. That is a fun song for them, yet it is also sad. They like the melody to “2nd and Honesty”, but they don’t understand the words. Nothing new there, but I try to explain as my eyes roll backward in my head. “You see,” I say, “victims don’t have to pay anything to get hurt and when you start to bleed badly, well, all hope is gone.”
Most of the men in the Alamo understand that hope is always leaving out the back door, yet they get up each day to scan the horizon and cuss their lot with laughter and rough wisdom. The lyrics of “2nd and Honesty” talk about red lights and I have tried to tell the men that in the future red light shining though glass will mean that everything must stop. When the red light hits us, we will think about where we have gone wrong. They nod in the firelight and then begin to discuss the idea with increased agitation. “I ain’t stopping for no man, much less a red light.” Of course, they like the line about drinks with ice, but most of them say that ice in the summer is virtually impossible unless you live by a mountain and are willing to carry ice down to the lower levels, but then some of the mountain men point out that even with a pack animal, the ice would melt before you put it in beer or whisky. Big George Washington says he heard they are sending ships filled with ice to the West Indies and selling it. Everyone laughs at that one.
Our days go by slowly as we build redoubts, balustrades, and log platforms to position the cannons. The men start singing the chorus to one of the songs called “Last Minute Plans” which goes “I need a change, I need a change” over and over again. Yes, things change and unfortunately for us, it’s going to be like an epic poem come to life in the molecules of a stain.
By February the fort looks pretty good and I am feeding about 200 men with mostly Cherokee corn soup and spit burned beef. The men respect my cooking ability and nobody talks much about how I don’t believe in god. In this sense, food is greater than god. Travis gave me some men to help with the cooking. They’re black slaves and good cooks. One is a Mexican deserter who escaped from a military jail. I understand them very well due to being a former Creek slave. One thing about an army is that a good cook is as important as a general even if the cook is a black slave, a deserter, or even a Jew mistook for an Indian.
I got into an argument with Colonel Travis the other day. We were talking about how emotions, like hate, fear, and love, were really at the core of human existence. I said that those sorts of things, taken together, were the authentic fibers that compose a person. A coward and a hero are made from the same stuff: emotions. The only difference being the way others interpreted the shining through. I told Travis that emotions come out of the eyes and mouth; they were in the hands and should be considered as the defining elements of existence. Travis thought the Bible was the key to understanding what a human truly was. Of course, I knew the Bible by heart and so Travis was at a disadvantage. You should never debate the Bible with an atheistic Jew. You can’t win.
Travis pretty much hates my guts which are, of course, filled with emotions. He yelled at me and somebody inside the mission yelled back that he shouldn’t be so hard on the cook. I think he felt shamed. While we were arguing a lot of Mexicans arrived. That afternoon, Travis drew a line in the sand. I didn’t cross over since I was suspicious of the collective will, especially if it was overly influenced by an authoritarian leader. Travis said, in a rather loud voice, that my authentic fear and independence of god was showing and that I needed to leave the Alamo. That night before I left with a courier, I changed my mind, and went down to the courtyard and found what was left of the line after the men had marched all over it. Mrs. Dickinson was watching me as I got down on my hands and knees and crawled over the line. She started to cry and reported to Travis that I had crawled over the line. He said he didn’t know if that counted, but she convinced him it was the same thing.
I stayed in the Alamo because I wanted to hear the Mexicans play “El Degüello”: when armies play that song, no quarter is given to the survivors. The Mexican soldier helping me wash and clean up, said “El Degüello” sounded a lot like “Scout’s Dirge”. He said it shared the same movement in the air and both songs were about cutting throats and leaving things to rot on the ground. That night around the campfire, the men said maybe when Santa Anna ordered “El Degüello”, we could all sing “Scout’s Dirge” in response. We practiced for an hour inside the church which had pretty good acoustics. Afterward, we rested as best we could with the Mexicans making noise outside the Alamo’s walls.
Sure enough, in the morning the Mexican troops began to form up as “El Degüello” sounded and a horseman rode up and down the line carrying a red flag: no quarter. Well, we got Crockett on the drums and Henry on the flute and a bunch of men from Tennessee and New Orleans sang “Scout’s Dirge” until Travis gave the order to fire the 18-pounder and within a very short time we were overrun. Everyone was killed and piled up and burned to ashes.
When the Mexicans busted into my kitchen, they found me with the slaves and the Mexican deserter, some of Bowie’s younger relatives, and Mrs. Dickinson. Maybe because most of the killing was done and I looked like an Indian and the Mexican deserter kept yelling that I was an Indian slave, they let me live. I went to the town of Gonzales with Mrs. Dickinson and met with my old friend Colonah Houston. He was commander of the whole shooting match. We talked philosophy and I sang him some of my songs from Wild Mercury and then I made my way to New Orleans. I got a job as a sous chef in a French restaurant near the waterfront. Eventually, I moved back to Texas and became an abolitionist on the Brazos River. Most of the white Texicans didn’t know what it was like to be a slave. Riders would come around and make trouble. No, I wasn’t very popular, but I didn’t care and when I heard Colonah Houston was against slavery and the Confederacy, I went to live with him in Huntsville.
I cooked for him until we both died in 1863. Of course that kind of history and projection of the future means I am writing “The Alamo and Wild Mercury: a Contemporary Band Sings Old Lyrics” from beyond the grave. You can catch me daily, in the past, on XER Ciudad Acuña. The high school kids like my show and have made a video using “Scouts Dirge”. I posted it for your enjoyment and the words are still incomprehensible, but it’s less of a problem for me since I’m dead.
Remember, enjoy your life since it is new for you, yet old, and most of us never take the time to figure that one out.