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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1102-1109

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from From A Broken Bottle Traces Of Perfume Still Emanate,volume Four

Nathaniel Mackey

From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate is an ongoing series of letters written by composer/multi-instrumentalist N., founding member of a band formerly known as the Mystic Horn Society. Volumes one through three are Bedouin Hornbook, Djbot Baghostus's Run and Atet A.D., respectively. Volume four is not yet titled.

___________________ 26.II.83
Dear Angel of Dust,

I got such a rush from Black Thunder I read the novel Bontemps followed it with, Drums at Dusk. It's about the Haitian Revolution (or, more accurately, set during its onset) but it wasn't quite what I expected. I had hoped I'd learn more about the "arc" that so spoke to me, hoped I'd see how music might be differently invoked with regard to a successful rather than a failed revolt. My thought was that, drums in the title notwithstanding, it might carry hand-me-down trumpet back to a conch shell blown by a runaway slave, an insurgent slave, something on the order of Albert Mangonès's sculpture The Unknown Maroon of Saint-Domingue. Conch shell as proto-trumpet (radical shell as recidivist brass) was a theme I was more than ready to embrace, anxious to embrace, a theme I was sure would bear on "Reverie's Reveille" (or "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet"), sure would help it bear fruit. The closest the book gets to anything like that, though, isn't very close. An implicit shell motif, more Botticellian than conch, emerges at one point, emerges or appears to lie just below the surface. This is when the ruffles and frills of one of the characters' petticoats are likened to sea foam--an Aphroditean allusion harbingering birth or rebirth no doubt (the character's name is Céleste) but oblique at best with regard to conch.

The book's detour from or deflection away from its ostensible subject, the way revolt becomes backdrop to romance, ground to Aphroditean figure, frustrated my expectations but may still have something to say concerning radical shell: recidivist brass not so much recidivist as bent, a bent-brass recourse to ventriloquial demur. Radical shell speaks with a thrown or diverted voice, as though successful revolt, unthwarted revolt, were sacred, to be dealt with circumspectly if at all. Drums at Dusk's momentary focus on petticoated legs appears intent on recalling and being contrasted with Black Thunder, intent on recalling Juba's naked legs. What this wants to say about eroticized insurgency and relative degrees of exposition counsels caution [End Page 1102] regarding triumphalist dispatch, a welcoming awareness of intervening grades between limit-case cooked and outright raw transmission. But even to say this is to say too much. To say this jeopardizes the wariness it preaches.

I got your letter a while back, just a couple of days after I mailed you my last; they crossed in the mail. Things have quieted down in the matters you ask about. We're not haunting the stores the way we did at first and there've been no more incidents like the one at Aron's. No, Penguin doesn't appear to have made too much of Drennette putting her arm in his. He doesn't appear to have made anything of it at all, though she continues to worry that he may have gotten the wrong idea. Her repeated mention of it has Djamilaa wondering if the wrong idea might be the right one.

But, like I said, things are quiet.


___________________ [Dateless]
Dear Angel of Dust,

Djamilaa stood out of time dressed in Euro-courtly garb. She wore an anachronistic ball gown, a forest of undergarments underneath, petticoats and pantalets thick with ruffles and lace. Out of place as much as out of time, she stood beside me on the beach watching the waves whipped up by a storm off the coast roll in. The waves were agitated, white water mostly...


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