Javier Taboada: Two Poems from 'El Niño de Varas' (The Whipping Boy)
Translation from Spanish by Scott Ezell & the author
[EDITOR’S NOTE. In his new gathering, The Whipping Boy (El niño de varas), Javier Taboada fuses all his resources as a poet (investigative poetry, translations, total transcriptions, news excerpts, etc.), in the great tradition of his avant-garde & modernist predecessors, at once broadly international & markedly American (both north and south). In the process he uses the procedures of extreme collage to create a narrative, brilliant & foreboding by turns, of the modern & ancient ways-of-the-scapegoat as an instrument of political, social, & religious overreach & cruelty. His is a world, in short, in which present & past come together to stand as images of our own time & of the real dangers that we face & will continue to face as we try to move forward & evolve. (J.R.)]
1/ Pharmakós event
Choose 10 bums.
Feed them and keep them clean.
Place them at 10 points in the city.
Force them to beg for one year.
Collect the money
put it in a common treasury.
Gather the 10 in case of these calamities:
d) foreign attack
selection and dress
Select the ugliest. Name him pharmakós.
Dress him in special clothes.
Give him a backpack with cheese
bread barley and dried figs.
Wreathe his head with garlands
a headwrap or a conical cap.
Flog his testicles 7 times
with fig tree branches.
Give masks to the other 9 and undress them.
The pharmakós and the 9 will set off from a public square
directly to a river
lake or stream.
no wells no ponds
If there is no water,
go to a road or train tracks.
The 9 will escort the pharmakós.
Spectators may line both sides of the path
and cast stones curse spit
or beat the pharmakós.
If they do (and as a sign of repentance)
they should scratch their faces
or rip out their hair.
The 9 may beat and intimidate the spectators
while theprocession lasts.
After crossing the city:
1. If there is a water flow
the 9 will beat the pharmakós
and try to drown him
2. If there is no water flow
the 9 will beat the pharmakós
tie him to the first tree they find
and try to burn him
If the pharmakós survives
he may never return to the city
If the pharmakós survives and reaches another town
he’ll be greatly honored
and considered a god.
Give the common funds to his relatives.
Elect a new member for the following year.
2/ Pit of Bones, cranium 17
the perimortem fracture
or exit wound
the shape a bat
(rorschach’s fifth card)
half an inch apart
from bregma / or fontanelle each
at oblique angles:
the chopper’s (fig. 1)
a beam repeated
high-energy concentration the first maybe
lower than the second
an opening towards light
and its four pebbles
the spirit dwells in the forehead
he knew it?
te cavero le budella
he maybe said or thought(in his tongue)
looking for a glance
between the curled fire
maybe he mumbled the name
(and with it the cause of death)
maybe he rehearsed his moves
maybe he rehearsed lying down
and dreamed his tone of voice
his scream between each blow
maybe he considered an hour
the waning shadow
of the second sun
the old sun bending on the mountains
maybe he planned a hoax
it’s certain he was right-handed
and pre-Neanderthal cranium 17
a young individual (male or female)
whose third molar attests
to recent passage
and they were face to face
430 thousand years ago
“the earliest clear case of deliberate, lethal
interpersonal aggression in the hominid fossil record”
Sala N, Arsuaga JL, Pantoja-Pérez A, Pablos A, Martínez I, Quam RM, et al. (2015) Lethal Interpersonal Violence in the Middle Pleistocene. PLoS ONE 10 (5).
dragged the body to the pit
maybe he misjudged the weight
and had to ask for help
maybe just that noise
its slight delay
(what is the speed of a body
in free fall?)
made him feel something akin to joy
. . . . . . .
SOME NOTES ON THE PRECEDING
Pit of Bones, cranium 17 is about the discovery of “the earliest case of lethal interpersonal violence” in the hominid fossil records. I’m trying to recreate/elucidate the cause for that murder (its motivations, planning, corpse disposal), since there are no evident “ritual” tracks in the cranium. Maybe the murderer just wanted to get rid of someone annoying, or just different.
Pharmakós event is a reconstruction of the “scapegoat” ritual (called pharmakón, with its double meaning: illness and remedy) in ancient Greece. The old polis need of purge leads us to a present in which a certain ethnic, religious or political group (always marginal) is thought to be a threat to the safety of the city.
Javier Taboada (Mexico City, 1982). MA in Classics. Poet and translator. Among others, he has translated the full works of Alcaeus of Mytilene (Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010), Jerome Rothenberg’s Testigo & Milagros (A Further Witness & A Poem of Miracles, 2017), and Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and other stories (upcoming, 2018). He is the author of Apothecary Poems (Poemas de Botica, 2014) and Nacencia (2017).