BORGES: A LETTER FROM THE BLUES - by Stanley Crouch

Dear Borges:

I am writing this letter to you in order to lay out some questions that have arisen in this nation since your untimely demise. That demise, if you want to know, is considered improbable. There are those who claim Borges walks between the beats of the tango, disguised as a waddling African peddler of toy trumpets, marriage licenses, and religious charms. As we all are not so prone to know, "There it is again." Oh that raggedy tango!

Here is the part of the secret that makes the teller tremble as the whispers creep up from his throat: they say that in nights on the Pampas there is an illuminated bit of ebony so bright all must respond by falling into darkness. But there are more ruses. Those who will listen are told that it is quite easy to notice the scent of death on horseback, the terrible sting of gunpowder, the squashed ignoble silverfish underfoot, the perfume so impersonally fragrant no one dares to wear it for fear of being attacked by the envious plants in flower shops, and the craggy, mountainous sawdust proof of work on a vast library melancholy in its interminable knowledge, its walls constructed of wooden tears that make the visitors look tremulous to outsiders. Well, what can you say? These rumored things stand back in all their presence and their wide sheen of myth.

Some say who claim to have witnessed this, that Borges dances in the indistinct space between night and light, his steps and turns falling and circling on a mobius strip that denies time, sight, hearing, and the senses not mentioned. In that world, memory is all. It is mute and providential. Like a book. So I can believe that. The feathers that lift the invincible tale of a private tango that never stops, those feathers don't have that farfetched quality of immobile wings outmatched by skies too large to enter.

Borges, you are surely alive if not well in the way that people mean, which is to say trifling your time away. I know you are filling up your quill with razor-thin arrowheads. Your archery has put the beards of arrow shafts on many rumps here and in the infinite there, which is how the past and the future meet: outside the present. It is you who live there, whom legend lifts with unavoidable boulders in order to gain the strength for the story. What a workout regimen! Hence, this letter, my old friend.

The problem is that I have moved north to the land of the North Americans and right now there are unexpected troubles. It appears to be the religious polygamists, Borges. You have heard of them. Sorry! I should not have impugned the purity of your reading. But there are also things that cannot be read about, things that precede myth and arrive in its wake. I shall tell you of these things as accurately as Louis Armstrong played the blues. (Do not forget, Borges, you were the one who said there were African origins to tango...but who, Borges, was original in making the steps so triumphantly muscular and the responses so fulsome in their silky rebellion against listlessness? On whom can we blame the inspiration to make the plasticity of the female body so obvious? Who knew so well in the heartbreak tango the danger of romance? The man hurls the woman toward the floor with elegant fury. Dios! Her head just fails to be smashed open because the power of a single hand holds her firmly. In that instant, that solitary hand becomes all of the protective love passed down in whispers and spoken of with radiant shame in confession booths where sin must be explained to priests who pray to be released from their erections before comforting the women whose typhoons of heat waft from beneath their clothes to fog and inform the souls of men married to the good little ship of the church, which is as sweet as a lollipop. Oh, those lucky boys!)

Up here in America all -- like everywhere else! -- is possible. There are blonde women who have felt awed by the hairy princes of the Arab aristocracy and now claim that these Americans who believe in polygamy, who are part of an outlaw religious order, are taking over the United States government. Like silverfish destroying the pages of literature, they are eating away our freedoms, Borges. They must be brought from the shadows and squashed by the light of exposure. Some say so anyway. I myself am not sure. In this time there is the fast growing religion of conspiracy. This American belief system makes unpleasant things proof of a detective story that is hidden from the common man. There are many who attend these American camp meetings of great awakening and swear that they know what phony wizards are behind this terrible moment. There are, as always, problems. They begin with marriage. These secret orders once believed in polygamy, you see, so we must discuss this. We must be rational. That may leave us alone in the room. It could get us thrown out of the camp meetings. Reason and rationality have become treason against nationality. In the universal iniquity that is the pollution of language, I am now a rapper! Let me back myself down.

It seems to me, Borges, that there is something to be revealed about men and women through the institution of polygamy. Of course, it has its problems. The central problem with polygamy is not actually the marrying but the divorcing. Of course someone falls in love with another someone and proposes and is accepted and wed. This event sometimes takes place in weather that predicts the future with its storm and darkness. So we have an afterthought. That is the worst fate of the marriage, the afterthought, a growth that becomes bigger than the heart and destroys, with the fierce teeth of its girth, the vehicle of affection. Time to leave! ("You better go now," Billie Holiday sang on that precious little .78 rpm we preferred to hear above all others as we smoked those thick cigarettes and threw back drinks in our forties and, beyond that scratchy little disc holding in circle the sound of the great Baltimore Negress, rumor had it that the Nazis were invading our homeland in disguise and false names, with counterfeit papers, their travel bags filled with the international currency of precious jewels; we later heard, as you well recall Borges, that they had every intention of setting up a black market for the wealthy who would support the traffic of looted paintings then hidden in the basements of supporters, troubled aristocrats -- as smooth as special satin -- holding court in their shaking wine cellars as the bombs fell and the regime came to an end, covered over with the failed promises accumulated in human ash so heavy the wind could not lift it from the human memory or remove the human fat that clogged the chimneys of the crematoriums like greasy mysteriums of contempt and tears. Those were the days, as we have often discussed, when innocence discovered the price on its head!) Time to leave. The question remains: If a woman decides to get out of a polygamous marriage what does she take with her and how does she get it?

Borges, you have always been good at numbers, so let us look at this apparently simple problem in pure mathematical terms. In other words, if a guy has four wives, we have to quietly think about this. We cannot rush our conclusions. Ideally, the income should be split into five equal parts, if we accept the North American theory of romantic dissolution. Up here, you see, visions and claims of equality are served for breakfast, hide in the heat or the chill of lunch, and make moral gastronomic attacks at dinner. So when a woman decides that she has to "find herself" outside of that matrimonial arrangement, what will be her alimony argument? She must have an argument. As an impartial bystander, I insist.

You want more? There are obstacles to perfect execution, as always. Try this: If she has been married the longest, say, 10 years perhaps, but has only one child while each of the other women has been married to the man only five years yet has three children each, we have a problem deserving of contemplation. Here you have it: should the estranged husband and the remaining wives be able to argue to the one who desires to be the gay\footnote{1} divorcee that her portion should go down by half(!) because the two of them, she and her child, should not be able to bring about unnecessary hardship on each of the other women who, with their children, constitute four people in separate contexts? Not bad, eh?

Clearly, this kind reasoning eventually led to those who believed in more than one wife calming down. Facing equality was imperative. They became rational. Submitting to national law they began advocating polygamy arrived at through verbal agreement, not legal matrimony, asserting that the Lord Himself will recognize those unions outlawed by the Philistines of American justice. (In America -- yes, North America! -- justice will not sit still but the strides of philistines make a loud and constant noise; this is explained because one can catch the disease of the philistine as easily, they say, as one catches the clap in those cheap whorehouses in Mexico, where the teeth of the women were not good, their hair was long or frizzy and not washed, and there could be dirt under their fingernails, or they could show that they had been been beaten or cut if you paid them for proof, since they reveal nothing for free or for conversation; theirs is a sweating and stinking business where the satisfaction of curiosity and the satiation of emotion brings perennial danger perhaps beyond our imaginings at their most nightmarish; theirs is a world, Borges, in which fact and fantasy have brutal equality.)

Then, as in a dream, the polygamy question buzzes until it draws flies. These are called feminists. Have you heard of them, Borges? They are not what they say, or, like modern art, what they say is what you are supposed to see. We are supposed to mistake them for the birds that peck away at the liver of injustice. Those birds prove their nobility when they come crashing down, no longer strong enough to do their jobs or to eat, doomed to move toward death on their leaden wings but full neither of want nor of self-pity. They perish, enjoying the recollected taste of injustice defiled, which carries no nourishment. Because these birds are idealists, they remain stars of memory and their bones shine after dark like fallen constellations intent on warming the ground with uncompromised dreams. We must salute such birds. Those who imitate them, or who pretend to be them, these flies, will argue that all the polygamous men should have to sign legally binding contracts making them financially responsible for either the women or the children or both if things go badly. Afterthoughts. That is: you may not be able to legally live a polygamous life though women do have the right to chose to live with one man and other women who are also intimately involved with him but the man should not -- must not! -- be able to chose to be a deadbeat dad unless he is willing to pay for the consequences. These are the sorts of ideas had by those who congregate in stacks of feces.

Payment is always a consequence of desire, Borges, and we do not know what the white American polygamists ever actually paid but we do know that God is said to have sent them a miracle. It arrived, they say, in the form of a vast feathered sail of birds that steered the warship of success, which appeared as a monstrous number of beaks rising and descending on the endless meal of locusts come to devour the crops of wheat near a lake full of salt (each locust, from the sky, was a disguised liver: the birds saw the mobile green forms of filthy insects ready to settle for appetite, since they had neither the capacity nor the time nor the brain to, like us, Borges, contemplate good and evil; eating would do: constantly filling the mouth was enough; they would take devouring instead of romance). These American polygamists, Borges, had heard of miracles before but had never felt themselves in the presence of one until that moment. When all was done and these men with many wives watched the birds take to the air, the only locusts left were those crawling inside their boots, under their sleeves and over the nascent, full, or sunken breasts of the women who were there to fight these flying livers; the women standing there and crushing them with whatever came to hand, the women dressed in their blouses and their long skirts, sweat running down into their pubic hair as it would if they went endlessly wild on the floor of tango or took their turn in the hot polygamy boudoir of marital discovery and satisfaction. So these legendary American polygamists are quite sure of themselves, even if they now deny having at least a brace of wives. Their sense of being so right is why these blonde former concubines of wealthy and handsome Arab men tremble with memory as they contemplate how ruthless we should realize that men who believe in more than one wife can be -- especially when given a job as high in the government as an eagle on the hunt.

Such men should not live in the shadows of government supported espionage. To listen to the blondes, these men should have no authority. They know them. What these concubines had demanded of them and all of the heartbreak they felt moving through their souls was instructive. If you have been had by one polygamists, you know them all. Those charming Arabs took them to events that had long traditions and displayed exceptional horsemanship and night rituals of flame. Those fires were displayed as orange shapes that seemed as magical as the wet mirages on the sands during the day. It was all an illusion. These blondes were made to believe they were no more valuable than the toys men of privilege make of women, whom they play with and lacquer in favors until the time comes for the toy to be condemned and sent to that prison where disinterest is the stuff that raises the walls (but each inmate is provided, Borges, with a window through which she can see new toys sensuously marching to opulent rooms that have been painted with the invisible ink that demarks them as no more than stops on the route of the golden train that tours toyland -- which is what the blondes say certain Mormon men will make of North America's spy networks, if you can believe that, Borges. Take it from babes late of toyland!)

I have been thinking about this. The Indian tribes should do something about the troubles had by that country of violence that almost seems Latin with the exception that there is not too much elegance in the murders that result from fighting for the control of illegal cocaine distribution. The massive duels become cutthroat races that finish quickly. North American crime wins by a nose! Still, some who retain the ability to remember what they read -- or what Hollywood sat them on its celluloid knee and told them -- will say the Cowboys of the Old West were quite elegant killers. Perhaps.

It still seems, in my uninformed opinion, that we should wager on the Indians. They are easy to remember. What is needed is a savage uprising that will take no prisoners. Pyramids and skyscrapers of scalps! Heads do not needed to be scalped; stupid ideas should have their hair lifted, and they should fall in death and baldness because they are actually lies, not mere stupidity. The Indians intent on resistance to the authors of the conspiracy that many believe is everywhere, these naturally dignified red men, should try to create a larger and more penetrating movement. This is actually the headache powder the United States needs to smooth the hangover left by the abuse of power. I have heard it called the United Conditions of Abuse, which unintentionally seems a bit more universal than intended by those who think that cruelty was uncommon until the Indians, the slaves, Christianity, the Amazon American woman, and the land were conquered, remade, given a complaint, and packaged in that part of the Western Hemisphere. The packaging is actually the trouble; all else, as you know, Borges, is common; the forensics of history have found evidence of as many murders as it has miscegenations. So we need to tell them they should fight for the reassertion of the inarguably pure!

The Indian Movement can do this. It must do this immediately. No still time lies available to waste. The Indians should take notice of French intellectual trends and speak to the soul of America. Aboriginal veto power must must be forged. This Indian movement should pull out its scalping knife and assert the primacy of the authentic, the importance of rebelling against all forms of genocide. This conspiracy has no limits. This genocide is pervasive. It arrives in hair dye or wigs or cosmetic surgery or nail polish or haircuts or shoes or gloves or suits or dresses or anything else that seeks to mask or diminish our naked authenticity. Think of those beaches of shaved underarms! It does not stop there. This genocide includes the imposition of language, Borges, which deprives the child of the clear and authentic focus that asserts itself through cries, burps, whimpers, and coos. (After all, there is hell brought down on us -- "hell with the lid off" as Pittsburgh, that shimmery steel city, was once described. This hell is as troubling as endless brigades of army ants moving toward the boudoir where subtlety, appearing as two sleeping lovers, lies in the heavy unconsciousness brought on by the fatiguing attentions required of the lover out to prove the truth of this feeling that can sometimes only speak through kisses and touches, experienced to exhaustion as angelic because appetite is then equaled by empathy. Such is the clarified butter of tango, the nectar made purest by heat.) Yes! We must be beasts again. The Indian must set aside any pretensions toward academic nobility and stand up against the sheer inauthenticity of intellectual development and its technological off springs; ever present, as you see, in industry and medicine and mass communication and all of the rest of it. They are as multitudinous as hairs on the egghead of an ape! These things have now brought us to the verge of doom. We are men who know too much. Some say neither ignorance nor study will save us. They do not understand our place in time.

Ours is a doom to be thought about, and to be laughed at as loudly as we can. It is doom bubbling inside a poorly maintained nuclear reactor. Poor maintenance is never less, Borges, than the problem of memories and of dreams. As you have shown us, we should be very good janitors and keep our data dusted and our memories mopped because: these are the things that support us and that we walk on. Well, you dancing on your mobius strip may have gone past the rest of us who are just shuffling along, as Eubie Blake called his Broadway musical and who, in cinematic black and white, showed us how easy it was to remember with parody: and have Negro jazz musicians rising as blackbirds from a pie while Blake himself, destined to live to very old age, laughed in that French kitchen hat that now reminds us of an atomic cloud.

But we were talking about the doom special to our time, as special as the sacrifices and the murders of the past (we can hear the armies clanking with many distinctions once the weapons were developed so resourcefully over the centuries that they evolved past the stone and the sharpened stick to those glorious moments when the uniforms emerged and the equipment became so shiny and so deadly, never resisting the rust of history that perfectly matched the dried blood of the stained battle costumes on those grounds beyond number where the men lay dead and dying and the sky would sometimes storm mercilessly to drown out the sorrow that kept rising in begging and helplessness until, galloping on the best trick pony the world has ever seen, death arrived, throwing its leg over the head of the horse and dismounting with the bracing, athletic finesse of a Plains Indian warrior).

In our special doom, a bored employee at the source of meltdown yawns through the day, perhaps dreaming of himself as a prodigious member in pornographic films, or seeing herself as anybody's tattooed bride and everybody's inspiration for top secret fantasies; hidden in the iron mountain of lust, those imagined blue movies become an indifferent set of weapons against the tenderness of personality. (Could these be union issues?) The employee, whistling while pretending to work, wears a perfectly white smock with the pinned on sun face of a yellow button. The genial button smiles from the chest region as intelligently as the gaze one Aryan filmmaker observed in the eye of a chicken, which he found to have no higher level of arousal than that of pure stupidity. Boom. Suddenly, we see a figure, his pressed white attire reminding us of all those wondrous chattel times gone with the wind. He rises from the impacted bowels of our particular fate and beckons to those who would cluck if they could. The dignified photograph of Confederate officer Harland Sanders replaces the sun face as the legions of glowing fried chicken fill the paper buckets of specialized disaster. There is nothing to question because, due to blue mediocre dreams, those disinterested employees paid absolutely no attention to that dial! An explosive conclusion but one as worthy as any other.

What, my dear Borges, can you say? Win some. Lose some. I think, if you quietly ask me, I'd rather take my chances walking across the street or on the other side of the block or in another town or state, some place different from the Utah Indian Line of Authenticity Uber Alles. You will not find me in the untaxed casino. But then, that's only me, my friend. So there you have it, Borges. Remember me to el tango. I will await your answer, which remains the one we have all heard in the Ellington number that Armstrong crooned, then an ancient in the last act of his career.

The old man whose young face once imitated the round light of the night sky in a Betty Boop cartoon, this son of voo doo and back o'town New Orleans, surely mopped his brow as if preparing it for the inspection given to the deck of a mysterious steam boat coming around the bend. Easy does it: he was familiar with the demands of this gig in this library of babblers and bullshitters. The bandstand beyond the back door was no stranger to his feet. Oh, sure: he knew the meaning of all those books. They like it simple. High falutin folks usually do. The ongoing autopsy of melancholy, the forensic weight of the matter -- page upon page upon page -- was no more than a primer for the life he had known. The smell of gun powder, a stinging cloud, floated through his background. The blood of whores who sliced each other as though wounds brought satisfaction could not be washed from memory. He had eaten garbage as a boy and he had eaten cuisine as a man and you could still bring him a steaming plate of red beans. This one knew who he was. There to cure what ails us -- he thought of himself in the service of happiness -- the good doctor Satchelmouth (sometimes known as Dippermouth, Lil Dip, Dipper, and Papa Dip) closed his eyes. He who had grown up in that delta on the Mississippi, might have remembered the frizzy grape colored clouds or the neon rose sun so hot it made everyone as sticky in summer as a lollypop licked by the public desire for pre-primitive sweetness.

A crucifix and a Star of David hanging from his neck, he nodded in response to the song request of that God so much stronger than myth that He needs no name. Dipper put down his trumpet, stepped to the recording microphone, and transformed it into a reverse stethoscope so that we could hear the dark stormy beat of his heart, freed from the brass wind of his clarion identity. Dark heartbeat. Stripped of all instruments other than the song of himself, Armstrong then moved the notes through his lips. He did not whisper and he did not tremble. His throat had been warmed up by a bit of brandy. He knew the blue truth of the multitudes. He might have felt napoleonic. He should have. Anyway, Papa Dip sent those tones winging on his best air of radiant gravel -- ha! -- and sang such a special ending: "Do nothing 'til you hear from me! And you never will." The distances heard that song. As above, so below: North, South, East, and West met on the tango beat that begins, first of all, W.C. Handy's The St. Louis Blues. You know: the way they played it in New Orleans. That is what the distances knew. The distances had always met in the dark beat slowly marching under the dirge that called everyone home as the dead were buried above ground. "Flee, as a Bird" it was called. Feeling that shining Armstrong gravel as it showered down, the mucktymucks, the suckers, the mugs, the saints, the central committees of all sins great and small, those who disguised their blessings as kisses, and the deaf who would hear, the blind who would see, and the cold, wishing for the pain that would define the heat of life, all fell to their knees in darkness. Each could be heard praying, just above silence, for the kindness of illuminated ebony that has no color.

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