Parable del Payaso

Dark Mountain: Issue 9, our brand new collection of uncivilised writing and art is now available. Over these past couple of weeks, we've been sharing a little of what you'll find in its pages. Today's extract is a short story of clowns, copper mines and the ecstatic loss of self by Nadia Lucia Peralta, with an image by Andrew Phillips. 
is a poet, writer, songstress and lover of plants, territories and peoples. Nadia lives in Awaswas-Ohlone territory (Santa Cruz), California, where she is re/membering, re-membering, remembering.
It is a foggy morning and there are oranges in the street. Calloused hands pick them up, one by one, to take them home. Abundance. It is September. It will rain between midday and evening. There were birds singing at dawn this morning. The clown, el payaso, sleeps on a pile of garbage from the festivities the night before. All who pass can smell the rank garbage that has piled to a level as high as the waist: avocado pits and skins, orange peels, cornhusks and soda cans, candy wrappers and bones. El payaso has made herself comfortable in the excrement. El payaso has made himself comfortable in the excrement. The flies are neighbourly, the smell does not gag his throat, and his back muscles, if you could see them, are completely relaxed into the mound of rubbish; her mouth is slightly parted, his tongue just barely resting beyond her painted lips. His breathing is steady and calm, palms up towards the sky that is brightening now.

The night before was chaotic, and the owl who sits in the church arches stared down the petty crime. The general, who last night was bleeding from the nose, now sleeps alone, dreaming of jaguars and low-hanging suns. Two fathers are in the local jail, two mothers’ arms are wrapped around their daughters and sons who are dreaming of a soft blue mist. Just a few nights before, around a table with their lamps of stained glass ship scenes, there were stories being told in the kitchen of the couples’ homes: old stories, grandmothers’ tales of water that remembers and has eyes that look back, of eagles that fly all the way to the edge of the sun and return to kill their prey and lick the blood from their talons. The fathers, inspired by the stories, woke up yesterday morning feeling something different than they had felt the day before. The mothers had seamless dreams of gold. The children, now asleep, laughed merrily throughout the day while crafting at the children’s day activities – cornhusk dolls and balloon animals, or just waiting in line for corn with cheese and mayonnaise on top. They are under the stars when the stars appear, they are under the stars in the light of day.

Around midnight the fireworks go off and the dogs howl and cry. Sometime when the mist of morning still hung around the cobbled streets, there came word on the radio that the United States had officially begun another war east of the Mediterranean Sea. Things are looking not-so-serious here in this ancient, volcanic crevice of a town; drink more aguardiente, chicha or Coca-Cola, turn up the boom box, invite your neighbours inside to enjoy a drink. When the sun is directly above the town, the residents of Muápulo borrow a vecino’s worn, pale, yellow truck and load the back with oranges. The fathers sit in the truck bed, and a mother drives around the neighbourhood playing the chicha music loudly while fathers throw the oranges into the street. Abundance. El payaso was on the southern corner of the town’s church when the truck went by, already dressed and listening for the birds’ evening tune. The birds did not notice the payaso as he passed under their melodies – we would have known, because their song would have changed if they had, as it does when a person without sufficient lucidity walks past.

After dark the parties begin. The children go home and the people from the lower parts of the city climb the ancient Andes crater into Muápulo looking for the festivities. It is September; it rained in the afternoon but now the streets are mostly dry and filled with oranges, and the birds have sung the day’s evening tune as the sun sinks westerly. Abundance. The generals arrive to the festivities to calm the crowds down after midnight. Upon their arrival, el payaso found herself back on the south side of the church square not far from where the general’s speech was given at dusk, for fatherland and country. She spanks a young woman’s backside who is walking backwards and laughing with friends. The mother turns, startled, and el payaso laughs into the near-full moon. The woman glares, upset at first, and then lets go the need to respond – it is el payaso after all – and so she lets out a soft giggle and releases the tension that had built up in her legs.

Stories are being told around the kitchen lamp at home. Grandmothers’ stories, stories about the stars and how they have become nestled in the sky. The crowd is drunk and rowdy; after all, it’s time for festival, and whether known or just felt, not far from here, thirty-three indigenous mothers and fathers have been murdered trying to barricade the copper mine that is destroying the water they and their children drink. The festivities de las Marías are well underway. Everyone has gotten off work and this is the last weekend of the week-long carnaval.

Outside, in the crepuscular minutes, the generals try in vain to pacify the mob of students, artists, actors, workers – beautiful mutants all of them. El payaso arrives to the scene of a rowdy crowd dancing to music in the church square, the time is unknown, but autumn’s constellations are well-set into the eastern horizon. The fathers are in the thick of it, their musk mixes in with the musk-scent of the geraniums growing from the pots around the square. The generals are sneering, and now the tanks have been brought out and the tear gas might be fired. El payaso growls but no-one can hear her. She grabs some mud that has been decomposing the cornhusks on the side of the street, and under the orange light of streetlamps throws the husks and the mud, with startling precision, into one of the general’s faces. Splat. For a moment we wonder if time has stopped; space collapses, and eternity presents itself for a second. Nothing dissolves: the silence simply swallows what once was loud. This is only an instant. Time then revokes its peace, and the general is angry but the crowd has erupted in laughter. In the commotion that follows there is pushing and shoving and yelling and the tension has reached critical capacity and erupts into song. Chaotic song. Even the general is now laughing. The fathers, inspired by the eagle who carried the bull to the sun, take it further and lunge out of the crowd, fists raised, and begin to lead the mass toward the tanks. No a la mineria!and para nuestros hijos!, they shout. The moment of song becomes a moment of fear and the generals, in a panic, fire the tear gas. Screaming ensues and the fireworks crescendo. The figure of the Virgin is burning in the pyre in the centre of the square. Death’s hand is sewing a needle through the garbage heaps at the edges of the streets. The fathers, identifiable and bold, are rounded up and taken to jail. The people, with chemicals in their eyes so that they are made to cry, disperse in search of water. El payaso, lucky to have escaped the gas without damage, is whistling low and walking towards the pyre. A garbage pile that smells of piss and rotten oranges has built up on the southern end of the square. Later, she will sleep there, dreaming of stories, grandmothers’ stories, stories of eagles and the blood that drips from their talons.

Image: Blood of the Earth (Ink and pastel on paper) by Andrew Phillips. The Earth contains the rich mysteries of both the creation of life, from the unmanifest to the tangible, and subsequent processes of decay and rejuvenation. The soil becomes the record of everything which has failed to live forever, a physical embodiment of deep history. The extraction of raw materials is not only damaging to the Earth, but also a disturbance to the psyche. Bringing unprocessed ‘prima materia’ to the surface disrupts the natural processes of transformation by exposing these dark substances to the light.

Andrew Phillips is a visual artist, musician and art psychotherapist, residing in Edinburgh. It was whilst living in Wales that Andrew first became aware of the Earth’s innate propensity for healing, apparent in many of the spoil heaps which were slowly being reclaimed by grass and animals as part of the landscape. This began an exploration of the inter-subjective experience of landscape through visual art. Presently Andrew is developing a form of group work termed Creen-Craft, combining communal sharing and discussion with image making. Creen is a Scots word meaning to cultivate a lament, and this work is about exploring experiences of both grief and wonder in the context of rapidly changing social and ecological circumstances.

You’ll find more where this came from in our latest book.


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