Gargoyle 27
cover photo Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Hannah Schygulla publication date 10/13/1985

Slash and Burn

Ron Weber

1. Paradise Island

In Paradise the sky remains cloudless and
blue as the mantle of the Virgin Mary,
although the barometric pressure has been
dropping all day. At evening the wind picks up
off the sea, and the palm trees resume
their unfinished conversations. The road winding
into the interior is lined with Spanish
bayonets. When the dry goods salesman drives down
a dusty country lane, his lips are moist
as the thighs of the field woman
in her soiled cotton skirt. Crickets skirl
in the brake beside the road
as the sedan streaks by and the man hits
his horn, The woman smiles and waves
her machete. Tired from chopping cane,
she keeps walking home under the flame
trees at sunset. Ahead, beneath huts
in the old slave quarter, dogs slowly uncurl
from the holes they dug in cool earth
at midday. Stretching their backs,
their bodies are musty with the smell of hope
disguised as sexual tension. Indoors
behind shutters, the fingers of the faith
surgeon enter a lovesick girl,
palpating her heart. In the garden of the sun-
splashed house on the hill, beads of sweat circle
a pitcher of iced water on a wrought-iron table.
In the parlor, a young wife is lost
gazing into the Cezanne landscape
on the wall. Her eyes are a parched wetness.

2. The Inspector

In such a place nothing happens
by accident. Naturally the Inspector is high-strung
as an overbred bulldog. With the incessant whine
of the air conditioner, he remembers
his grandmother dying of summer
influenza. He knows it is his business
to track the sinister felicity of each passing
breeze. Now, the hair on his neck always rises
when guards repeat how the convicts beg
to spend hours by the sides of roads in darkness,
combing saw grass for tin cans. This Sunday,
like last Sunday, he will visit friends
in white Panama hats to sip rum coolers
on the verandahs of sunlit haciendas. Again
the men will complain that even the plumbing seems
unreliable. Whole sections of piping zip
off into thin air!
And with the rainy season
not yet begun, what will happen when the ground
water begins rising? On Monday
the local distributor for Coca-Cola will report
that bottles are no longer being
returned for deposit. Driven home in his limousine
after midnight, the Inspector will note
how today, children playing in the mud
wore even fewer rags and think: Who lights
kerosene lamps anymore?
The moonlit night,
split open and sharpened, would make
excellent knives.

3. Carnival

All week, field hands filter into
the city for Carnival. Their necks are bound
with red bandanas and their voices
trill brightly like the brilliant
parrots some carry in wicker cages
to sell in the market. Anticipation
builds each afternoon like a thunderhead
over the capital. When a young man leans
against a store facade and
tips his head back, a beer bottle
shimmers. Seen from afar, he is breathing
fire. Across the way
peering from the window of her second story
flat, a faded streetwalker arches her lips
like a spitting cat. On Saturday night
following the fireworks, visitors and townfolk
parade past the Governor’s Palace.
When the mayor’s niece lights up
a cigarette, the guards throw open
the gates to the crowd. The gay eager mood
erupts and a mob pours onto the grounds.
Bursting up the staircase they break
into the governor’s study, finding
a blind dessicated man—Borges,
the governor’s secretary. As an afterthought
(before the serious searching for
secret passages and hidden compartments begins)
they strip, castrate and hang him.

4. No One Else

No one else is found. The Treasury contains
only tin cans, copper pipe and cases of
empty soda. After all those years of endless
toiling, who gave the orders? General Paresthesia.
The men’s brown shirts feel woven from the legs
of live insects. In a side room, a girl
is repeatedly raped. The banging of a single shutter
ricochets across the plaza. When the wind dies down
off the sea, spray from the fountain has darkened
the whitewashed facade of the Palace.
Inside, the bodies strewn on hardwood
floors are partially devoured. From their wall niches
in the cathedral, the blue painted eyes of plaster
saints stare impassively, The dawn of the new
day breaks, and the sky encloses the earth
with the mantle of the Virgin Mary.