..First Glyph

March 15
12:35 p.m.

I just watched a man put his face in a cake. It was a television commercial. Watching this commercial showed to me again one of my first experiences in Mexico. My Mexican girlfriend and I had just crossed the border at Laredo, Texas. We were driving her Volkswagen Rabbit all the way from central Kansas to Puebla, Mexico. Freshly graduated from Abilene State, she was moving home. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. We entered the restaurant to find a child's birthday party in full swing. About the time we sat down to our trays of food the children started chanting "mor-di-da, mor-di-da, mor-di-da." I asked Sonia what "mordida" meant. She told me it meant "bite." She told me to watch. Not a minute of this chanting passed before the kid nearest the birthday boy reached for the birthday boy's head. A second later three other hands reached for the birthday boy's head. Together the four hands pulled the birthday boy's face down into the cake. The kids burst into laughter and applause. The birthday boy's face rose from the cake covered with white icing. More kid laughter. More kid applause. The first "bite" had been taken. The cake could now be cut and served.

The middle-aged man in the commercial I just watched was a little more restrained in his mordida, but not much more dignified. His was an actual bite. In other words, he got icing just on his chin, and on his nose, and in his mustache. But the laughter and applause of his compadres was just as childlike in its revelry. As was his wide-eyed guffaw. I viewed this commercial in the small Hermosillo restaurant where I now sit. The television is perched atop a tall bookcase against one wall. Below the television leans my bored waiter, eyes raised, watching. I am the only customer in the dining room. I've finished my chuletas de res and my beans and my rice.

It appears I will make only one daytrip from Hermosillo. I wanted to visit San Miguel de Horcasitas, that remote Spanish mission town east of here. But, while there are departures from Hermosillo to San Miguel tomorrow, there are no returns from San Miguel to Hermosillo tomorrow. To visit San Miguel de Horcasitas, I have to stay the night in San Miguel de Horcasitas. I cannot do that.

Today I work in Hermosillo. Tomorrow I daytrip south to Guaymas. The next day I will continue on to Tijuana.

Some graphic television footage just aired of an accident today at Mexico City's largest bull ring. One of the picadores there was charged by a bull. The bull gored his horse from beneath, rolled the horse over on the picador, and then savaged them both.



The announcer said the picador sustained a broken neck and extensive brain damage. The injuries were called "gravísimo." His state is critical, doctors say. The picador lies at the very threshold of death.

The waiter and I exchanged uncomfortable grimaces at this horrible scene. The bull tossed the unconscious man about like a rag doll. It was really hard to watch. It was really impossible not to watch.

The Hermosillo sun stabs. It cuts at your flesh. And your blood the Hermosillo sun beats to a drum-tight simmer, and then keeps it there. But it is still now early spring in Hermosillo. And early spring in Hermosillo means an occasional breeze bringing a touch of relief. The breeze is cooler in March than is the Hermosillo sun. Sometimes the March breeze even carries on it the scent of jasmine, or creosote. A few weeks from now that scent will evaporate. A few weeks from now that breeze will lose its freshness. Hot as the sun then the air will become. And the sky will be white with dust.

5 p.m.

I took in some art for the first time since Mexico City today. The murals of Hermosillo's governmental palace are very nice. Their showpiece, the one dominating the staircase wall, recalls Orozco. Fiery colors engulf it, a huge clenched fist. Both of these elements refer to Orozco's famed Miguel Hidalgo in Guadalajara. The mural on the lower floor suggested Siqueiros to me in its sweeping line, in its abstract circularity, but also, strangely, Seurat. I enjoyed these murals very much. I enjoyed seeing in them painters who inspire me. But then came the third mural, the last. And here I paused. For a campesino was buried in this one. The campesino lie in his traditional white rural garb with his great sombrero hiding his face. The campesino was buried but not crushed by the earth, as if cocooned in it. I was stirred by the image. But I am always stirred by the image. It is familiar to me. It is Diego Rivera's image. The campesino is stiff but noble. His hands are strong and determined. He is a seed. He is an embryo. He is something germinating. For one artist to borrow so powerful and singular an image from another artist, I think, is to depend on him too much. It is one artist leaning on another for meaning. I felt this as I looked at the mural. It seemed to me a great weakness in the work, almost a mortal one. And as I realized this I looked again at the showpiece mural. There was Orozco. And I looked again at the second mural. There was Siqueiros. And, again, there, Rivera. And, yes, I realized, there are so many painters who paint like Siqueiros, or Orozco, or Rivera. But Orozco painted like no one but Orozco, and Rivera like only Rivera. What makes them great, what elevates them above the rest is their singularity, their trueness to their own way, their integrity. And I paused here. I soaked up this realization. For in it I gleaned the answer to all of my questions. Yes, here. Here is what I have come in search of: Genius looks only to itself for direction. It finds its own way to capture life. So if I am to capture life, truly, in my own way, with integrity, as the greats have, I will have to stop looking to the greats for answers. I will have to stop looking to them for their secret. I will have to start looking, instead, to myself. Yes, this is it. This is what I have come in search of. And so here, here in this Hermosillo hotel room, my journey finds its destination.

Shakespeare says it in Henry IV part 1, I think. The truth is the truth but our perception of it is relative. We cannot escape that. So I cannot try to define truth or life the way Siquieros did or the way Orozco did, or Rivera. I have to perceive life as I perceive life. And then define that perception. There is no escaping this rule. To try to define the truth through someone else's eyes is, by definition, to fail before beginning. This does not mean that others cannot help me, I suppose, that I cannot let others teach me, as I have--as these Hermosillo muralists did today, and the greats--but that there has to come a moment when I turn from others, when I make my own singular effort. I have to define that life, that energy, that tension that I see. And I have to define it for myself. To do this I have to make my own effort. I have to reject these masters of mine. I have to turn away from the greats. I have to leave them there where they are and blaze my own path.

But to reject them! These geniuses to whom I have looked for guidance! My very gods! To reject them! It feels like sacrilege. Heresy. Apostasy. And a hollowness, I feel already. A loneliness and aloneness. And effrontery, too. Who am I to reject them? It's daunting, fearsome. But I think about their work and I see that they rejected their masters. This, I think, is their one great lesson. It seems the one characteristic even that all of them have in common, the unspoken constant in all of their works: Their singularity, their solitude, their independence, their trueness to their own vision. And this, yes, this must be the secret! This, the mystery unhidden! The enigma solved! Here, at last, that how of what they did. That plaguing how I've not been able to define. Life. They recognized Life. They found a balance with Life. And then they expressed it-- In their own way. That's why the pattern has defied me! The pattern is in the absence of a pattern! They were true to their own visions! So I have to begin there, right? With my vision.

But trueness to one's vision. Not so easy. Honesty about one's vision--surely difficult. And a dedication to that vision. And a willingness to sacrifice for that vision. And a willingness to conquer every weakness that countermines that vision. And a willingness to build one's strength in order to seize that vision. And an unwillingness to compromise it. All of this must be necessary. This must be key. And how little it seems to do with art! But genius is not technique, I am seeing suddenly, or some trick of the wrist. It is not even art, or the product of the artist. Genius must be instead a process. For it cannot be contained! It cannot be accomplished! It can never really be finished! It must always be growing, be progressing, en route. Always beyond our grasp, genius must be, a glowing grail leading us that one step farther, the beautiful Dulcinea that draws our second step that becomes our journey. The artworks that happen, I am thinking now, just happen along the way. Artworks are milestones. They are not the road. The greats I now believe are not doers, so much, not even artists, really. The greats are seekers! They are on a quest, a quest to define with truth how they see life. Along the way they produce these jewels, their works. They admire them for a moment. They rejoice maybe in their beauty, in their trueness. But then they set them down. Then they leave them behind. Then they continue on. One great work is not a whole vision. And all of their works together cannot complete their vision. The search neverends. It begins in some forgotten place long before the beginning. And it continues on long after the brushes and palettes have been thrown aside.


On the wayside of Mexican highways you frequently find makeshift memorials--A small wooden cross painted enamel white, a name printed across it in black. Flowers might drape over that cross as a garland, or lie at its foot. Sometimes these memorials are more elaborate. A miniature concrete structure, perhaps, a framed portrait of the Virgin within. Elaborate or simple, the memorials mark a spot on the road where someone has been killed in an automobile accident. You see these memorials along Mexican highways all of the time. You see them all of the time.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers