about the author

Joe Miller is the author of Cross-X: The Amazing True Story of How the Most Unlikely Team from the Most Unlikely of Places Overcame Staggering Obstacles at Home and at School to Challenge the Debate Community on Race, Power and Education (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006). His writing has appeared in Vibe, Salon, Poets & Writers, Art in America and New Letters. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia.

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Conquest [translation]

Joe Miller

after Friar Gaspar de Carvajal and José Toribio Medina

Here now the account of FRIAR FRANCISCO TOCINO DE CAMPO LINDO, a brother of the Order of Jormèl of Puerta Hombre, of the recent voyage of discovery across the grasses and down the famous great river which Captain Òscar Màir Salchicha, by a very great piece of good fortune, discovered, starting at its source and coming out at the vast provinces of all creation, and did claim, in the name of Our Holy Father, freedom, dominion over all that is known, and tremendous wealth heretofore unimagined.

In order that there may be a better understanding of the whole progress of events in connection with this voyage, it must first be explained that Governor Etequeta Negro de Jormèl, whose lineage is known to extend directly to the Heavenly Father by way of Jamón Horneado Miel, Lomo de Armour and Roberto Évanas of Johnsonville, did rise upon his hindquarters and place his forelegs on the idol of the Holy Mother, and so mounted did thrust and squeal as his very fluid came forth in great eruption, and slaves stood ready with a vessel with which to contain it. The substance of the Governor was then diluted and divided among many vessels and it journeyed by way of slave-powered ship across the grasses of Kànses province to the beachhead of Puerta Hombre on the narrow edge of the Oclajoma territory, which had been claimed in the name of Our Lord but had not yet been explored and conquered; and there the slaves divided said fluid of the Governor and distributed it among many maidens who, upon receiving the scent of the Governor, stiffened with lust and sense of duty, and received the solution vaginally without protest; and said maidens birthed great armies and raised them in the wretched confines of Puerta Hombre, in which the barred walls of each maiden’s domicile stood a knuckle’s width distant from her ample side such that she could not turn around and could lie only sidelong and offer her breasts to her progeny; and some maidens went mad and tried to eat the walls of their homes; and the new generations, among which I was to be counted, were still young and pink, and we scrambled and fought one another for access to milk; and some among us could consume none and so died; and slaves removed the corpses, dried them and pounded them into powder, and added the dust to the meager yellow grain upon which we subsisted, which was rich with the energy of the Sun but was poor in protein and other vital nutrients, and was without pleasing taste; and as we aged and fattened, the wretchedness of our lot in Puerta Hombre worsened; and we were suffering many hardships, confined as we were at our beachhead, living so closely that our nostrils pressed against one another’s coiling tails, and we grew faint with our own foul air; and we were forced to drop our waste where we stood, mashing it through narrow troughs in the floors; and it piled up more quickly than the slaves could dispose of it, and we were consumed with such stench as would drive some among us to madness; and some did go mad, as our mothers had, and so gnawed off their own limbs. Finding ourselves in such suffering, there rose among us brave souls who wished to go from this miserable place to explore and conquer the wilds of Oclajoma in the name of Our Holy Father, although those who had been dwelling in Puerta Hombre tried to dissuade them from doing so because they would have to pass through a hostile and rough country and because they feared they [i.e. the natives] would kill them; yet notwithstanding this, for the sake of serving Our Lord, one Òscar Màir Salchicha spoke with great conviction and charisma and amassed a battalion of followers, all of them plump and strong and driven and emboldened by faith, all of whom had agreed that he [Salchicha] should be their captain; and this Captain did commandeer a slave ship and fill said ark with soldiers on the promise of freedom and great riches; and they set off across a narrow inlet of high grasses; and in this way they entered the province of Oclajoma; and although much of what I have told up to now I neither saw nor took part in, still I gathered up information from all those who joined in with said Captain, and so future historians can be sure of the truth in what I have said; but what I shall tell from here on will be as an eyewitness and as one to whom God chose to give a part in such a strange and hitherto never experienced voyage of discovery and conquest, which I shall relate from here on.

At the end of our journey across the grasses, we made dock on a shore that was called Tipo Hombre; and from the shore a mechanized river of round polished stones flowed and wound through a vast cavern; and the Captain wished to send someone down the river to explore; and there were opinions to the effect that he should not do so, because all were eager for freedom and the great wealth that lay beyond; and so the Captain ordered the slaves to throw open the ship’s hull; and we descended the plank to the river’s mouth; and consumed in the reverie of release from the great but confining ship, none among us had seen nor expected the natives’ attack, not even the Captain, who stood at the rear of the force so as to see the soldiers venture forth. It is necessary here to pause this account and take stock of the natives, who are a curious creature: They stand upright on their hindquarters in the same manner as the slaves who attended to us in our wretched lot in Puerta Hombre; and to do so their forelegs possess dexterity to lift stones and branches and wield them as weapons and tools; and they also drape themselves in second skins of fine woven grasses, because, it is believed, they feel need to hide their shame from the eyes of their perceived creator, and to protect their primary skins, which are of a more tender variety than our own, covered with fine hairs too delicate to shield against the forces of nature; and these natives’ primary skins are darker than the skins of our slaves, a brown darker than wood and lighter than dirt; and the ornamental tufts of hair on their heads are uniformly black, never golden or brown; and their second skins are white as clouds; and they speak in a tongue different from our slaves, with a narrower range of sounds and a tighter rhythm of syllables; and their voices carry a pitch that is much lower than ours, and so it is grating to our ears. The brutality of these natives was unlike any we had ever known; they did brandish sticks that contained and dispensed lightning; and so mighty was the force of these weapons that the natives had no need to stab with them, only to touch the tips to our foreheads and the backs of our necks; and one by one we stumbled, nearly dead, into the river’s current.

Seeing that we had traveled far away from where our companions in Puerta Hombre had ever ventured, and that the dangers were much graver than anyone had warned, the Captain and his closest companions conferred about the difficulty we were in and the question of turning back; and, in accordance with the view of the Captain I said Mass, commending to Our Lord our lives, beseeching Him to deliver us from such manifest hardship and eventual destruction, for that is what it was coming to look like to us now, since, although we did wish to go back up the river, that was not possible on account of the heavy current and of the natives with lightning in their sticks; and so, after taking counsel, it was decided that we must persevere and follow the river, and thus either die or see what there was along it; and we did avail ourselves to the mighty currents, and I stood at the Captain’s side and watched as our brethren fell to the force of lightning; and from behind a high flat outcropping a native appeared with a sharpened stone that he jabbed into the necks of the soldiers momentarily asleep from the shocks of the lightning; and their blood spilled forth in streams as thick as branches; and talons [which were not attached to any birds] descended and clutched the bleeding soldiers and hoisted them skyward by their hind ankles, their forelegs splayed out in the way of the martyred god the slaves do worship; and the Captain and I were stunned and gored as well, and we succumbed to the currents and the talons’ clutches; and the talons did drop us into a boiling lake, did lift us again and pull us through a portal of fire and toss us into a whirlpool of hardened black mud in which we roiled until every fiber of hair was rubbed from us; and we were now, for the first time in our very existence, manifestly naked. Beyond the bend in the river did lay in wait scores and scores of them [the natives], some two thousand two hundred by final count, all of them armed with stones rubbed so fine the shine of their surfaces did recreate the whole world and so sharp they slipped between our very pores and spilled our blood and organs before they [the stones] could be felt; and at the river’s bend its currents divided into tributaries; and so too were we divided, in number and body, and from where I stood by the Captain’s right hand, it appeared that we would be vanquished, for brothers by blood were separated north to south and, being ignorant of how far or to where the tributaries did flow, it was not known whether they would ever reunite; and our heads did leave us; and our hindquarters did become separate from us and tumble as boulders down a shallow falls; and we were relieved of our skins by the natives, who took them to dry in the sun; and our hearts had stalled in an eddy, and they did accumulate, gray and drained of blood, and native maidens gathered them into vessels of pressed leaves; and the natives lined the shores as we proceeded apace with the currents; and they wielded their polished stones with precision and tremendous rhythm compounded by the pulse of the mechanized currents and the cavern’s echo; and so the natives with their terrible violent beat did further reduce us in size; yet the natives in their brutality did also increase us in number; and our brave Captain seized on this development, for he alone among us had some understanding of the languages of the natives. Inasmuch as the Captain understood them, his knowledge of the native tongues was, next to God, the deciding factor by virtue of which we did not perish somewhere along the currents; but, as Our Lord was pleased that such great venture into the unknown and the feat of discovery should be carried out, the discovery was made, and God was thus glorified.

The Captain called unto the savages, and he explained that we were servants and vassals of Our Holy Father and of the Holy Mother and that we were direct descendents of the Governor Etequeta Negro de Jormel, himself a scion of the Lord; and he, Captain Òscar Màir Salchicha, did claim in the name of God all that we did see and all of the inhabitants of this new land; and the natives continued to beat their barbarous song; and the currents flowed ever as strong; and when it appeared then as though the natives had not understood the Captain, their Chief and his Council did come into view; and said Chief did not wear the white skins of his minions, which were now streaked with the red of our blood, but instead a fine black skin that was unsullied, and a narrow flag of many great colors did hang from his neck; and his primary skin was a light sandy pink; and his Council was similarly attired in dark skins not quite as fine, and primary skin not quite as light, and flags of different colors hung from their necks; and they were deferential to him; and he spoke to them words understood by the Captain such that it was clear to him [the Captain] the words were for us as well as the Council; and the Council were very attentive and with keen interest went on listening to what the Chief was saying to them; and he told them that they were of a great and mighty nation, and that here, where the oceans of grass meet the estuaries of the famed and magnificent river, the forces of creation do reverse themselves so as to create again; and with a flourish he gave heed to our passage and our multitudes, as we were expanding in number; and he explained to them [the Council] that we were children of the Sun and that the power of said star did accumulate in the yellow grains we had consumed, and that so consumed by us this power did fill us, and that our journey was to follow the river and so fill them [the natives]; and his Council and the natives marveled at this and manifested great joy, taking us to be gifts of their white-bearded god. The natives then clothed us in second skins made from sheets of finely woven material called “plastics” and laid us in vessels of pressed leaves and bark; and we boarded many ships and set sail in all directions across the grasses, and through the trees, and past the flattened stones and castles of hardened sky to the east, and over the high waves of stone and lumber to the west, and across the great waters; and only then, when we were greater in number than we had ever dared to believe Our Lord would ever make us be, did the Captain signal our counter attack; and we did don costumes with which to hide our invasion, enlisting the natives to disguise our foreignness with whatever could be found at hand, the savory powders and fruits of the land, and shroud out loins and ribs in the smoke from coals of aromatic woods, and reconfigure us into strips and links and chops and racks and cylinders of finely ground flesh known as “dogs”; and so we did invade, marching deep into their most hidden and sacred territories; and we discovered then their nature, exactly how they are [internally] composed: that despite their upright walk and tender skin and cruelty and godlessness, their organs are as ours; and the Captain claimed these territories, too, in the name of His Majesty; and we settled these lands; and we established cycles, thus repeating our conquest; and we became them; and they us. Inasmuch as was then possible, we were free at last and we had been bestowed with such great riches, for all that they [the natives] were to accomplish hence forth, and all the lands they were to see and to triumph over, the great continents and the waters and the heavens, would in fact be our dominion, and all that they would create, all their art and their writings, would be our creations; and so great was the joy which we felt that I shall not be able to express it, because we had considered ourselves to be lost. Of one thing I am persuaded and assured: that both to them and to us God granted great favors, and very special ones, in having us under His care, for without His blessing we could not have navigated such treacherous currents nor endured such savagery, and we [i.e. the natives as well as us]* would not have received all that we were in need of.

I, Brother Francisco Tocino de Campo Lindo, the least of the friars of the Order of Jormèl of Puerta Hombre, have chosen to take upon myself this little task and recount the progress and outcome of our journey, not only in order to tell about it but to make known the truth; and the words I have written are neither fabricated nor stolen; and because profuseness engenders distaste, so I have hastily and in summation relayed all that has happened to Captain Òscar Màir Salchicha and to those companions of his who went off with him before and after separating, and in honor of Our Father who is in Heaven, and the Holy Mother. God be praised. Amen.

*[Inserted by Miller—Editor.]

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