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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1052-1057

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from The Dark Jester

Wilson Harris


I stand on a King's precipice, a forgotten precipice remembered now in Dream, the pyramid of Palenque. It is a precipice for the great King. He topples still into the monstrous darkness of his grave from an inestimable height. How does one measure time and distance in the moment of dying? Does an inch bring a million, does a minute erase all clocks?

He has ruled Palenque for most of the seventh century, from AD 615 to 683.

Atahualpa knows of this from works of art of estranged as well as intimate family relationships he perceives in pre-Columbian Kings and their translators.

Such works survive like letters of Cloud burnt and reddened in the fires Pizarro lights on the Earth. They still smoulder and blazon the Clouds into bright and angry pages in a Book of space and time. They drift across the continent from Peru to Mexico and beyond. They settle in Seas of Forest and are hidden for centuries. Night falls. Day returns and touches the top of the King's precipice where I stand with a cloud resembling Atahualpa at my side. It is a still shape ready to fall but suspended on a rope of rain or mist.

The Sun folds its waves of sound and depth and I catch a glimpse of a hieroglyph from which the King falls into his bed in the Sea. It occurs to me now, almost with a shock, that the Priestess who is not a priest is the supreme mother of Jest. I am following, and being followed by, contrary mothering resources of time and place, monstrous grave or bed of the Sea, hieroglyphic cradle in pyramid or precipice, historic fact and fiction. She is a symbol of motherhood in major cross-currents, in similarities and dissimilarities, I have never experienced before in my life.

The year is 1519. Historic fact or fiction? It could equally be 1900 or 2000. Cortez, who is known to Pizarro, is destined to pass Palenque, with Indian guides, on his way to Tenochtitlán in ancient Mexico.

I had secured a ladder leading into the pyramid of Palenque from the forested Sea out and above in space.

It was a peculiar ladder moving across time into time, moving from the twentieth century into the age of the great King andback again, or forwards again, into the century of the Conquest. An indivisible ladder, it seems, in my Dream that mixes past and present tenses as rungs on which one steps.

I enter the body of the precipice. And there I come upon the Tomb of the great King Pacal with Darkness--the Darkness of oblivion--leaking from its Mouth. Dark as it is [End Page 1052] the Mouth still blazes with the Jest of the traditional Mother and the traditional Child of the Sun.

Is oblivion a Jest? Does the King have a resting place through Darkness, beyond Darkness?

There is food at the entrance to the Tomb. A translator sits and eats. I glance at him with startled eyes, I remember him, I had seen him before. Yes, I know him. Where did I meet him? In Cajamarca.

He spoke the words of the Bishop to the Inca.

He is a watchman or a guard beside the Tomb in the precipice. He foresees the coming execution of Atahualpa. He foresees it still. It has not happened yet in his moment of history--some eight hundred years and more before the time of the Conquest--but his memories of the future are alive in the work of art that makes him live. Atahualpa is suspended in the past and the present and the future. Split memory holds him close to King Pacal and leaves--in its own split nature--an indefinable current in land and air (the differing textures of art) through which the eye of a translator sees intuitively what no one else sees.

The light fell, all at once, through an aerated disguise of stones, from the top of the ladder into other...


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