Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts
Benjamin A. Saenz
"so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens."
-W. C. Williams
The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine was born in a debris field of violence, of conflict. I write mostly from an autobiographical place and a debris field is the perfect way to describe the careful stitching together of my experiences, taking a memory and extracting the emotional boom it left behind. I take the piece and spin it in zero gravity, carefully examining it. For this reason, writing an Ars Poetica without "I" would be an impossibility for me. So, after scoffing at the notion of third person objectivity, I proudly and without apology impose "I" into this body of text, this Ars Poetica describing the context in which The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine incubated and grew.
Writing fiction, for me, is the art and science of transmitting a human experience by means of symbolic code, functioning through metaphor, of recreating an experience within another human's consciousness. It is an energy transfer. I strive to spark within the receiver's mind, the same level of emotional energy the experience gave me to evoke the right frequency.
The first person voice of Johnny Leadfeather speaking throughout The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine seeks kindred spirits. Johnny does not want to be emotionally invisible - he seeks a higher state of energy, of conscious and connectivity. He wants to know the experiences of others - even the dogs that run through his beloved El Paso, Sunset Heights haven - and to share his experiences with others, even the old dog living across the street. The language, the code, the metaphors exchanged between himself and his daughter, girlfriend, crazy animal liberator Remy, Mida the baker/ aquaponic art maker, the shop keeper America Tirado - all these exchanges create, when different forms and ideas of speaking come in contact, mutations and novel forms. The following conversation between Johnny Leadfeather and America Tirado shows how the language they employ builds on itself to open up new meanings:
"...America's shelves contain amazing paraphernalia. Pipes and hookahs, vinyl records of early Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Eddy Valence and The Ramones. Candy bars. Ramen Noodles. Books titles such as On the Road and Naked Lunch and Carry Me Like Water. A coolerator filled with soda and TV dinners.
You appear to be a fan of Americana, I say, pointing at the objects, carefully placed with calculated randomness within this room's space.
I collect things, she says.
It's a fine collection a memorabilia you've amassed.
It helps me remember where I've been.
You're much too young to utter such talk!
Maybe, but time is a relative thing.
The ambiance you've evoked takes me back to a time when an American, not America, but an American could craft something and offer it to the community. A unique something because it came from an individual's hands, breathed in the air of a particular neighborhood with all its idiosyncrasies. Terroir. The taste of the soil in which the sassafras in a root beer comes.
I admire your passion. And I know you pretty well. What are you driving at?
Might you consider selling hand crafted American soda, if the opportunity were to arise?
That sounds exciting! I would certainly take a keen interest.
That, Mrs. Tirado, makes me most happy to hear. The opportunity has arisen and stands before you.
I know you're the neighborhood tambourine man when it comes to booze and hooch, but I didn't know you were the Pied Piper of soda pop.
I'm not. Can't even play the Kazoo. Though I did once sleep in the Das Hotel Stadt Hameln.
Did you enjoy the jail party?
Got too drunk to remember.
When people communicate and share experience and language, it is mutually liberating. When reading the Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine, I say to you, "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" (Ellison, ??)
I exercise a high level of disclosure. I must offer myself up to the reader, open all the closets and bedrooms, open the pantry doors, even though it might reveal a forgotten apple core, a cockroach standing victoriously atop a black seed, happily munching away at memories I'd rather forget. Open up the bathroom, it's all right, I've learned to deal with it, don't be afraid of my father. It's true, he looks menacing holding the belt, but take a walk with me and soon I'll find a knife. Turn around. Look into my bedroom: I'm grabbing breasts - she rides, moans and calls for more - harder - don't stop. I'm very insecure when standing nude in front of a beautiful woman. Stop looking and judging me. Wait, don't go. It's all right. I'll stand naked. Fill out this scorecard. Take it. Look. Through the kitchen window- yes, the one with the long crack running crooked, that's my daughter throwing snowballs at me under blizzard skies.
I offer up the truth for your consumption: I'm a coward. The truly crazy-brave write straight autobiography. They tell the truth? The truth presented and explained in facts and figures, dates and achievements, curriculum vitae. I'm too frightened to ever reveal so much of my life. I might get audited and the incoherency of it all would disinterest you. It would be fractured. Maybe you would think it all a fiction anyway. I prefer to tell lies. It's a more honest technique. Keeps us both straight. I strive to be as honest as the magician who promises to trick you with sleight of hand and legerdemain. I still want you to look and I'll still offer myself, but only in pieces. The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine is me in a million pieces, scattered and strewn about a battlefield, me as a pixelated cult of personalities. The evocation of fictional landscape is an act of exorcism on the progenitor's behalf. I want you to look inside me. I'm desperate to exile the demons, send them beyond the wires emplaced carefully so as to cut you with razor wire if you come too close. Is my work informed by paranoia? Surely it is.
I'm a confessional writer wanting you to understand me, and not the idea of me. I say me because my work is me. Mapping my footsteps will not lead you to an understanding of my work. The map is not the territory. I submit that meaning does not reside in structure or ideas, rather in things. Following this dictum, I wrote The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine in splashes of imagery, from stitched together memories of the jump towers at Fort Benning, triple canopy jungles in Panama steaming in the morning sun, a violent marriage, women I've loved passionately and without reservations, living out of a Geo Metro (at least I got great gas mileage) and, for many years, the feel of an M-16 in my hands. I illustrate my point in the following passage from my novel:
"Now we're moving again. This time, at a slow jog. Ahead, the trail lets out into a field. The tunnel widens as I'm almost sprinting and lets out into a field of flowers. In the prime of spring the colors splash beautifully, like a Kindergarten class gone crazy with acrylic paints while the teacher stepped out to piss. Mad colors- and then I hear the pop of smoke grenades and see beautiful red smokey mist fill the area of contact. They smell like Turmeric and a slight hint of Cardamom, powdered up and inhaled through a rolled up dollar bill like a berserker mad blow fish at her last rave."
These paragraphs use imagery to convey the emotional truth - the experience as I felt it - of moving under direct fire across an objective, towards a force in opposition of one's will.
The imagery of flowers and the smell of smoke grenades is true to life, but the associations they trigger in Johnny Leadfeather's mind reveal much about where he lives. I mean in the temporal sense. He does not stay attached to the moment in time in which he finds himself.
On the one hand, this functions as a survival mechanism - enabling Johnny to escape the prison of a miserable moment - and on the other hand, Johnny is simply possessed of a stellar imagination; both traits common to myself as I served the US Army. Carefully crafted imagery is the key to revealing deep psychological undercurrents.
While a semi-autographical author, as I've already confessed, I refuse to completely reveal myself: Johnny Leadfeather, the speaker of The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine, is a collage of my consciousness, memories and experiences - and memories and experiences are not the same. Memories twist about and change. Experiences haunt you like demons. They never change willingly. Like the memory of my first trigger squeeze while moving under direct fire:
"I turn in, moving around Andesino and free fall to mother Earth, the weight of my ruck slamming my body into the soft fertile soil, which you don't think of as soil when digging a hole to sleep in, but as I roll to the right and readjust while my finger rotates the selector switch from safe to three round burst, I notice crushed blue, red and orange flowers beneath my body armor.
And I think, as my breath escapes my lungs and only after my lungs are empty, still and quiet do I squeeze the trigger, not anticipating that beautiful metal click and the supersonic booming hellions that follow, as I hang in that eternal moment of weightlessness, unstuck and out of time, free for a moment - I think that I am laying in soil. Not dirt. Soil. That which gives food that nourishes the body.
Click. Bapbapbap.Three rounds travel down range."
As the novel continues to reveal the sequence of events surrounding a firefight, the reader realizes that Johnny was firing blanks and not live bullets, despite the fact that he mentioned
three rounds traveling down range. Again, I say that the emotional truth far outweighs any obligation to be factual. It felt like live rounds the first time I fired in a realistic training exercise, and that's how Johnny speaks about the experience as well.
I followed the aesthetic of bright imagery interlocking within a stream of conscious type flow to form a coherent novel. I launched fragment after fragment of imagery into a debris field of many emotions. In this manner, The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine began. I allowed my mind to wonder and play, build onto the imagery, until it became necessary to choose an end point, which, for the novel and myself, was the final image of Senay drawing pictures on the sand by the sea.
I opine that the best novelists are also good poets. In writing The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine, it was essential to learn when to linger in a moment and when to move the novel along towards some type of landing. For me, the term ending does not apply to my work. I could go on for a much longer time, weaving together imagery, playing with language, revealing different aspects of myself, and sometimes revealing nothing of myself - many characteristics of Johnny Leadfeather may represent what I'd like to be, but am not, or things I admire or abhor in people I've known. For me, a novel is a field of infinite play and exploration - a monster wearing big baggy clothes with many pockets - so much to explore. Must all the fun come to an end? I suppose so. The novel must come down and land, must crash to the ground in a controlled manner so as to leave the author intact. I feel that it is the novelist within my poet counterpart that takes the control of stick and rudder, brings the novel down along a steady arc, to a landing. Not too fast, not too slow, least we stall and crash hard.
No artifact of art is born in a literary vacuum. The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine reflects my love for authors representing several literary traditions. Not only authors of literature, but also musicians and film makers. Musicality is an integral part of certain texts. For instance, Martin Luther King's most famous speech employed musicality as part of the technique making the text work and as part of the text's strategy in reaching a target audience. Dr. King said:
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today."
I love revisiting these passages. I've even pulled down my Navajo drum while chanting it. These stanzas or paragraphs read more like verses to a song, which makes perfect sense. Dr. King
composed the speech in such a manner, given the importance of music in the transmission of slave culture from generation to generation, right down to the audience to whom he addressed this seventeen minute speech in the year 1963.
Musicality comes through in The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine most prominently when Johnny sees rushing an objective as a rhythmic orchestration of bodies and supersonic metal jackets. Rifles fire with rhythm, talk to one another, synchronize. It's not a cacophony of sound, rather a symphony of supersonic booms. I think the following passage illustrate these thoughts well:
"The rifle and machine gunfire ahead sound a bit distant. Whole companies engaging in close combat sound like far away ocean surf, at a distance. The first time you hear it, you don't realize that such a soothing and hypnotic sound can shift from a melodic incantation to acid metal played out by meth fiend Goth dudes, break into the mechanical sounds of tracers spinning out of barrels at supersonic speeds. Little hellions bent on breaking open skulls and spinning through gray matter.
I hear machine guns and rifles talking.
Machine gun and rifle talking shop about death and the shredding of flesh and snapping of bone. They converse with rhythm but the tone is all business. They do this for a living. It's not really personal or anything.
BapBapBap BapBapBap Bap Bap. An M-4 Carbine searching carefully. It targets and takes aim at a specific silhouette, a specific entity.
BapBapBapBapBapBap BapBapBapBapBapBapBap. Faster clipped M-249 trying to make the guy with the M-4 Carbine miss. The 249 is meant to keep enemy heads down for a few
Received from ProQuest
Byron W. Cross
Cross, Byron W., "The Big Green Mama-mind-fuck Machine" (2012). Open Access Theses & Dissertations. 2067.