23 April 2006 | Vol. 6, No. 1
Echolalia Four: Brazil
[Echolalia One: Gathering in South America]
[Echolalia Two: Peru]
[Echolalia Three: Colombia]
A blue bee-sized insect is caught in Sarah's hair. The men have just loaded the cargo. They are waving from the dock, sweating still, necks & arms.... Kathar holds her finger just above a tiny yellow flower stuck between the insect's wings. Sarah's hair is dark, like the underside of the railing. With one hand, I clasp a few strands tight, then pluck the blue shine. I am from Germany, Kathar tells us. The yellow flower zizzes out over the water.
The hammocks are every shade of color, woven. Fastened to bars that run the length of the ceiling, parallel. Fastened with every version of a knot.
Up front, a few private cabins.
Toward the stern, a walking space & its rail wrap around the dining area, the kitchen, and five bathroom stalls that arc around the back of the boat. Beyond, below, the river and the engine's chop. A small boat is tied at the lower level and ruts around in the wake.
Sometimes, it is taken to shore. To pick up a worker, or to fish.
Dozens and dozens of hammocks:
Next to us, the beautiful family... gentle parents, always smiling at each other—curious, calm kids. The littlest boy is naked waist down, napping with his mother. He kicks her hand for a foot rub, then rolls face-down into her side.
Watching. Being watched, nudged
by people ducking ropes. Children crawling underneath. We swing into neighbors. Reading, watching,
there is an association between his ukulele, the shine, and the two of them together.
To Todd's right, Kathar, her bright red hair. To Sarah's left, a boy from Israel, reading a novel in spanish. They are twenty. They play cards on the deck, and speak to one another in spanish or English.
—from The World of Christopher Robin:
One of the chairs is South America,
One of the chairs is a ship at sea,
One is a cage for a great big lion,
And one is a chair for Me.
today sarah and i took a little fast boat across the rivers, the rio solimoes and the rio negro, which meet here to make the amazon—and it's pretty fucking big, wide, whatever...and we went to the other side or to an island or something, to a village anyway (we just kind of end up where we end up, speaking no portuguese and using the public bus and boat system) to look at some victorian lilies (i'm not joking), which was wonderful. and when we were leaving, or not leaving, just waiting at the dock for a boat, sarah pointed out a huge snake dead and floating in the brown water near the shore. i pointed out the giant turd that was floating next to it. we both noticed the dog drinking from the water, and a man on a floating house was pouring buckets of the river over his head... well, I don't really have any more to say. that's about as good as it gets. sarah and i were just talking about going to the boundary waters. clean air, clean anything sounds so nice after watching kids throw plastic cups and wrappers and one kid threw his shoes, which is a level of absurdity i can appreciate anyway, into the river for four days on the boat from leticia, colombia to manaus, brazil. a kind of hell-state, as it turns out, with televisions blaring constantly, mostly fuzz, and a concert speaker on the top deck blasting whatever dvd show they had, eight feet from whatever was on the other television. cramming hammocks over, under and between the two foot space of my own was actually sometimes enjoyable, and bumping around in the night i actually got a few good reach-arounds and reachdowns.
peace winnie mandela. enjoy the retreat.
of reciprocity. Our boat's name is Oliviera, and we've a leaf-green hammock.
We've a turquoise towel... these miniscule-goodwills
Darwin's sea turtles stored alive in the hull for years. Rainbow-light-
cerebellums into the water, spitting out of the engine.
On the top deck, under the café's patio overhang, a television, on top of two giant concert speakers, blares constantly. A few feet away, a second TV mounted to the wall:
Fuzz... fuzzy cooking show,
On God's channel,
the Brazilian version of Tammy Faye Baker, as made up as those grocery store birthday cakes
with the thick frosting and hard sugar asterisks.
The carefully squeezed colors of a dirt bike in the air, motion-lines trailing like exhaust,
or a pony at the fence, Garfield.
or a princess....
The men & boys rotate the satellite handle like a periscope. The saucer on the roof is strung with triangular plastic flags and Christmas lights, soft white corneas
passing like the princess' gown at night.
To say that every child threw garbage from the boat would be an exaggeration.
Like saying, "the women helped children
with showers in the afternoon"—open pipes over the toilet, a hook for clothes, towels.
Moths and butterflies in the stalls during the daytime, spiders at night.
Portions, twice a day: meat, rice, buttered noodles, hardened-manioc flour (pills to sprinkle), large bowls. The families share beneath their hammocks; mothers nurse.
The kids in hammocks above mine toss q-tips over their shoulders into the water. Wrappers, chip-bags, plastic cups—he threw his flip-flops into the river. Really? Sometimes irregular, sometimes irregular. The purpose
of rhythm's to prolong the moment of contemplation. Yeats found patterns in the rhythm of a place, changes in pitch, the boat is a song—it is locations.
THE FIRST CHAIR
When I go up the Amazon,
I stop at night and fire a gun
To call my faithful band.
And Indians in twos and threes,
Come silently between the trees,
And wait for me to land.
And if I do not want to play
With any Indians today,
I simply wave my hand.
And then they turn and go away—
They always understand.
Resplendent, light-brown water. Slow slow, tipping eastward.
The flat-bottomed clouds were stamped & lifted
like hooves whose fetlocks have ruptured into pillars of... stamped & lifted, blown
between strides, earth-wise. The split cannon-bone:
an alabaster bluff rising, marble-gray storm clouds.
The bluff rises like cement blown out of its diesel-sprayed forms, cleats
Lightning opens white pits; trees
on the bank, like black paper cut-outs... shoebox diorama,
each flash foreshadowing the North star, which will be low
on the river's horizon. Kids still throw their trash from the boat—
every few moments. Where do we put the things we've made to outlast us? Plastic cup to the piranha, flip-flop for the pink dolphin, instinct to contribute.
THE SECOND CHAIR
I'm a great big lion in my cage,
And I often frighten Nanny with a roar.
Then I hold her very soft, and
Tell her not to be so frightened—
And she doesn't be so frightened any more.
I have been told that wrinkles under the eyes
are a sign of magic for the smiler
and that a bird stalled on the wind overhead
a sign of luck. The point goes. Sand bar, a spit you won't see, catches boats. The boy from Israel sits against the boat's wall. His fingers stretch.
stumps down the brown Rio Solimoes. Stumps and trunks. He'll play four more days to Manaus,
city-mouth of the Amazon.
Where the Rio Negro meets. Pinching the frets—
There is an association between his ukulele, the shine, and the two of them together.
Stop to load. Men from the beer boat slide hundreds of cases down a metal chute onto our cargo deck, sacks of flour to shade their heads.
The task is recovery, to recall the shine across the water—what I've seen, and say it.
choppy water at my window's wood-grid panes.
THE THIRD CHAIR
When I am in my ship, I see
The other ships go sailing by.
A sailor leans and calls to me
As his ship goes sailing by.
Across the sea he leans to me,
Above the winds I hear him cry:
"Is this the way to Round-the-World?"
He calls as he goes by.
There is some fear I must have of waiting too long, inhabiting or never leaving my now.
I have experienced this as death. As static basin. I'm not sorry I repeat myself, return
to common ground, our place of agreement—saying I love you,
loving you. My impulse is to find
what else we can feel together, or what feelings love has—
circumstance beyond its inception.
Not I love you, but how. Alongside, that we already know. Clouds
smashed like second-hand synopses, squandered... we hope
you fall in love and get married.
The reason is that simple—a shuddering whirl-a-bout. Flown off
like a floor sander gone batty into the wall.
Now repair the sheetrock.
Locution. Don't blink at all.
The leaves are big enough to turn inside-out, umbrellas on their branches.
Obrigada means a girl's saying thank you—she's obligated,
much obliged. Waking to the storm, you wash
your handkerchief in the rainwater blowing from the boat's eave. I toss my butterfly earrings
to the trove, that brown water. Contraband, pidgin...
heartstrings, you're hushing me. Behooves me
to win back the things that are mine, washed from
that river's impersonality.
Find the nearest thing to praise
Quiet Heap of Blue Rope
Cloud shadows on the brown water, dark spots, the color of the river before the rainy season. We sneak over the gate on the upper deck, to the private cabins. To be in the headwind, to read and rest, just the two of us without the noise of the televisions. We lean against a mattress propped against the front cabin's wall. Here, it is bright and unvisited. A few pages turn. It is too beautiful, too much temptation, too much quiet, to read "efficiently"—a little girl diaper-toddles around the corner. She stares at us and he, alarmed by his daughter's pause, arrives in his boxers and picks her up. "You cannot be here." For a moment, we pretend not to understand. She is staring at us. He waits for us to stand, to pick up our water and books, then carries her to their cabin.
Strawberry-red doll. Canyon of pink rock—we point out our dissatisfactions
with ourselves. I prefer 'the negative-constellations.' Cement christs, clement-
christs—megaliths that break the geometry of the holy-route. Be careful
when you travel on a river—what you think about on moving water becomes your path—three children
cuddle in their hammock.
Behind a motorcycle on the bow of the cargo deck
We've sent them out like market missionaries—we'd have to use every modern transmitter against itself. Televisions advertising against themselves, to promote the river's health. It is true, we've made things to outlast us—glass & plastic, containers for thousands of years, hundreds of thousands, useable for days. We collect trash. Consolidate, but not where we live in irreducible structures.
There is nowhere in the remotest world that does not know about the power of acquisition, of cargo, the U.S. concept of holding-out. Because we have changed their lives, some want ours.
Well-being is different than health; our good health, our long living, dilute us.
But what is introduced must be exhausted.
It's hard when it's there, but not there. Just below our hotel room, the asphalt calves under our steps—spider night,
the two of us lovers in Manaus. The ghosts of rubber-bust suicides,
hundreds of thousands murdered for rubber, minerals.
The sign behind the hotel counter requires identification for children.
The human trafficking while wishing for sleep in the hotel bed, dream
of both parents dying. I dream of firecrackers, just before they startle us awake.
You'll be disappointed by morning, the sun like the ship
mounts the horizon, any horizon—we have to wait to go home, have waited this long already
in the hour of lady-dreamers,
in this house of lady-dreamers: cradle-blankets,
cradle-cap. Morning's the last of the royal-highnesses, fingering her violet belt. Uranium's
violet-bell, agitating—are you sleeping
are you sleeping?
Ghosts kill themselves to be in the world.
For out legitimate expeditions please:
Fishing: natural methods for fishing.
Visits to Yagua Indigenous.
Locution. Distance as needed.
Soft slope. Pulse, pulse, pulse... away from the canoe.
Rain on the leaves, the flooded forest—every branch, leaf, hanging moss doubled,
diamonded on the water-floor.
The ruffled edge of the tree, where we strike the paddle
if we are lost, the echo chamber.
A mark on the thin saturated bark where the canoe has scraped past.
Dead brown leaves hang from lianas, like discarded field rags.
Termite mounds plaster-bind the joint of trunk and limb,
casts as large as three human heads.
Water, nocturnal and sensitive to the touch. Tourists alligator-watch—hit
a baby on the head until its mother comes.
Leaching tannins, decaying leaves...the image that arises from nowhere
is strangely prophetic:
The sound of a monkey falling through the branches, splash & screech.
Bad swimmers, squirrel monkeys, with their bat faces, webbed paws.
Lone ant scouts at our table. The leaves fall when we jump
& constantly—scrape, scrape. Sharpening machetes.
Somewhere on the flight from Manaus to Salvador, bites along both of my legs—
behind my knees. Ankles.
Around my feet and thighs—I'm bitten along its path. The sign held up in the airport: Todd and Sarah.
Our driver speaks no English. We arrive at a house on the ocean, the smell of dogshit,
bright red ceiling tiles. The driver disappears with our backpacks under instruction.
In a dirty white captain's hat on the turquoise faux-leather couch, us in the chairs. He is writing an opera. And over forty books published, he tells us. A sick dog, bones and
eyes, shivers in the corner of the patio.
The kennel door swings against the high cement wall surrounding the house, wind from the sea.
The solitary bark, plaintive and descending,
of a dog with a dying partner.
The captain's willful construction of reality, of cause & effect,
how to set up simultaneity—playing
soccer in the old opera house,
setting up goals with posts of wrought-work, art-deco, floral windings.
Or a blue church.
Looking for a comfortable place to die, the dog, whose name means Heart,
pisses on the floor of our room. Snuck in,
head cocked, as from a stroke, eating stones on the patio.
Trembles to push up from forelegs, face on the wood floor.
Sand stuck to her oozing nose, oozing ear sores—the flies like
friends that have wandered the same square of lawn
so long they do not recognize one another.
Ribs show through; stumbles sideways, circling like looking
for comfort. You're as confused about being here as we are...
salt-corrosion, our proximity to the sea. We arrive at another time.
by his own account, pro-nepotism, anti-abortion, anti-monogamy, anti-child support
former guerilla fighter, cocoa plantation owner, only child, Indian with a European varnish,
poet, lawyer, professor, seer, percussionist who taught Paul Simon in Vienna ("he knows only melodies, nothing of complex rhythms"), capoeira dancer, member of the national critics society, keepers
of criteria, father of six children, whose twin girls lived in a stairwell
("I had to sell one of my apartments to support them for two years") ("their mother at my doorstep
on her knees": why he has told us this story), sons he has split his plantation with, another daughter's mother a black beauty queen, Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus were employed by his family, character in a Jorge Amado novel—dog-lover, slept with over 1000 women, ("her mother was number 127 of women I have been in love with.")
There is enough evidence to learn how to hate,
there is ruthlessness pointed towards beauty.
The boy eats our leftovers on the rocks after we lunch at a seaside restaurant.
The boy washes his hair in the sink at the bus station, dries it under the hand dryer.
Perhaps you are a tourist looking at the surf-casting, the quaint beach house a color of blue between sea and sky behind its wall,
red oil, crushed grains tasteless heart of palm delicacy
remembering the Gold Coast.
Surf rushes into the little tunnels and spouts from the rock's surface
like details examining some greater consistency, refusing the summary of a being—foam and bubbles race underneath—landing place and get-away. Retreat—
leaving pools fresh; lunar pocks on petrified inhalations. The sea's exchange:
lakes of antiquity, undried salt. A rationing of centuries.
Figurine: a souvenier yemanjá.
She's pearls. She's the mermaid-mother, the virgin of the forced-conversions, driven
to the pietà. She's princessly, not the queen—with a quantifiable
resolution—how many tropical fish. How much oyster shells. Where the shipwreck, the kingdom,
her coterie... and how can she laugh most sincerely? Familiar, to over-familiar,
she twaddles the catchpenny. Lax
sweetheart in a blue swimsuit! sanctifying the wave. May the lord
be praised—her underpinnings, the undreamed-of
gentleman to the wave.
Between Rio and Sao Paulo
The sea creeps in. Or the mountains
have marched on the sea. Africa's latter half.
Monolithic intrusions on the desert horizon,
like ships, pass immovably beyond us.
Bare branches of the Witches' Tree, vultures
perch-hop-peck flop in the draft, first spots of rot
on a lettuce leaf. Coil, spiral...
against an equal, blue sky.
Slate is broken loose onto the roadway.
A car passes
and the spirits go back to the hill, back up
to the tree nearest the sky.
White cows are asleep underneath...
watching the rope spin out—anchor drop over the high metal gunwale.
To not just make sense of change, but to enjoy it.
Staring at the backs of heads, lines of transportation. Isn't it easier
for someone to suffocate than to apologize. Try to say why.
I buried my fingernails on the shore—eyes drawn to the water.
Light draws the eye—so that I might have this place as an option next life....
Mirrors and televisions, reflections, watching ourselves; as if water wasn't enough, was too much.
Trill of orgasm, like a baptism bird that goes cat-cat
Coughing in the hallway, like a fish
searches for black fish underwater—
one person can't be everything, lovers leave cold.
Best bets, enzymes, why you end up alone. Enthusiasm and temporariness, we can hear
all six floors, windows open to the building's central atrium. Why don't we just walk away
from Room 306? Thin walls, copy-cat moaners
in sexual competitions, force-moaning (too soon, too long). Making that man feel good, keep him
coming back... same couple arguing, coin drop, ping
ping ping—metallic shudder on tile, its own little orgasm. These lives, staff- phone in the hall rings
early in the morning, televisions sing down the hall, doors catching on their frames, slam!
Toilet flushes water down the wall behind our sink. Hot, hot shower.
Sao Paulo: Bem-te-vi Bem-te-vi. The sound the bird makes is also its name—means I can see clearly...
I can see clearly.
More than seventeen million people, and where we end, across the pedestrian street, a diaphanous shroud, an apartment building under construction, like the building's bridal veil.
Graffiti on the balconies underneath, black derring-dos
planing out after the initial reverence.
The homeless are draped in advertisements, buy gold!
paid enough to eat lunch on the glaring white stones.
Racks of shirts, jeans, Joy-Sport,
not Jansport, backpacks. DVDs, CDs,
beanies, fingernail polish, eyeliner. Telephones
in the center of the pedestrian street. Buffet-Eateries, pay-per-kilo.
Women make yakisoba in woks after 10 p.m.
on the sidewalks across from Praça de República, the park.
Later, a street fight, fourteen police in riot gear.
Tomorrow, a young woman shitting in the bushes of lot by an intersection;
a corner park, benches for squatters, graffiti on the walls to photograph.
Crystals, artisan sweaters, cotton pants, original paintings!
BINGO casino, Buttman porn video, SEX SHOP
Self-service churrascuria (live bands weekend nights),
THE FOURTH CHAIR
Whenever I sit in a high chair
For breakfast or dinner or tea,
I try to pretend that it's my chair,
And that I am a baby of three.
Shall I go off to South America?
Shall I put out in my ship to sea?
Or get in my cage and be lions and tigers?
Or—shall I be only Me?
About the author:
Todd: "Sarah reads a lot. Is a very fast reader (and walker). Sarah likes watching adorable children, innocent creatures, really. She leaves cupboards and drawers open--this refusal of closure is a form of delicacy. Which she also practices very early in the morning, via Ashtonga yoga. Failed handstands often disturb the neighbor downstairs. Her cat, Iris, however, is strangely attracted to the borderline recklessness and settles in on the mat where sarah's feet must inevitably land. Sarah shares a gift-ledge between apartments with Mary Kay Zeeb, a middle-ground for unseen kindnesses, the sort of objective tenderness Sarah learned playing faux team sports as a child (relay swimming and showing/riding horses)."
Sarah: "Todd Alan Fredson is both massive and precise. As a child he dreamed of playing soccer in the Olympics, and watching a Mike Tyson fight live. He would tell you he's sixth generation from Mason County, Washington. Todd thinks about his family, and Mason County, always--and they're present to him though he's not there right now. He served in the Peace Corps in west Africa--the Ivory Coast. He is currently at Arizona State University in the M.F.A. program for poetry--though this summer he is traveling around South America with me. (Sarah.) He has won many prizes, and published many beautiful poems... but that's only a small part of his greater wonderfulness.
"Todd's an enthusiastic actor, a voracious eater, a complicated dancer, and is magnetic... he is approached by anyone everywhere about god knows what. In the past few hours he has given a man an apple, been asked to buy Valentine's Day cards, drugs, and some mysterious proposition including Playa Blanca (White Beach). Also, Todd notices things. For example, driving past the amusement park north of Bogota, he pointed out an enormous statue of a naked man, green like The Hulk, with a crown and a torch... the Colombian naked-man statue of liberty.
"Todd's a host of angels, a gam of whales, a mob of daffodils and a covey of thoughts. He's titillation, kindness, and magic."
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Todd Fredson & Sarah Vap at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 6, No. 1, where "Echolalia Four: Brazil" ran on April 23, 2006. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, travel writing, collaboration.