July 25, 2021

The strange fruit of the nose and ‘Strange fruit’ by Billie Holiday

From Comala always …

Resume: resorting to the same plant metaphor, jazz and the Nahuatl myth conclude in an identical image. Trees grow from denied corpses planted / buried in their roots. The figure of his dark presence is only recorded by poetics, since the social sciences consider the cycle of life and death as an objective subject without experience.

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Through the use of the word and the symbol, the particular is generalized. Separated in space and time, two objects are unified by receiving an equivalent name. “Mango, I love you mango.” The same unity happens in actions and in deeds. They meet in the concept: “violence, race, gender …”. If the scientific illusion imagines that logic eliminates the metaphor, the transfer of terms associates the study of isolated areas. One of those key notions comes from the plant world. From science to myth-poetics, no discipline is exempt from allegory.

In its complexity, the tree transcends the purely botanical sphere to offer countless affinities that are relentlessly copied. From genealogy to sentence structure, the tree survives as an emblem. The roots evoke the identity in its dignity, as well as the causes of a problem. In English, the stem designates science and technology in their ideal of firm support of the social; In Spanish, it enables the common core, the compulsory subjects to obtain a diploma. The branches indicate the descent, the deviations and the internal division of a discipline. The leaves offer the very support of writing, like the flower (anthos) represents the poetry that today is continued by floral games.

Under this inescapable metaphor —from the syntagmatic tree, in formal linguistics, to the genealogical tree— social identity is renewed at harvest. From the roots it raises a myth-poetics in flower until it ends in the fruit. But this universal arboreal image leaves pending to investigate the substance that fertilizes that cultural collection (Logos). The depth of the roots – the greatest roots – hides that substance, in the same way that the flower and the fruit no longer reflect the original color or flavor. If the bitterness of the soil is softened by the juice, the petals stain the dark origin with a subtle color. Burial and sowing —unified in the Nahuatl concept “here”- they become transparent when they emerge from the confinement.

Through this exit from the root to the stem — rising branches — the jazz tradition is linked to the Nahuat-Pipil myth-poetics. In their announcement and denunciation, both literatures resort to an equivalent symbolism, despite being unknown. It is born of violence. A lynch practice; the other dismembers. The dead bodies fertilize the earth. They stand in deep testimony of that founding act. While the leaves reflect the dictation in their colorful ink, the fruit encloses the seed of the new progeny.

Like the seasons, they oscillate in the swaying of birth — in the migratory flight of sowing — until they culminate in tragic death and its vegetative regrowth. In imitation of fauna and flora, the perfume derives from geography. From the southern United States to Central America, the magnolia moves into a changing variety of squash-squash, jícara, huacal, morro, and tecomate.

This variety of dried husks exhibits the most explicit simile of reproduction.

Purposefully, the final translation of Abel Meeropol’s poem — interpreted by Billie Holiday — moves the American South into the Central American tropics. The poplar is transplanted towards the hill as a forgotten emblem of the Salvadoran national identity. But the same image persists of a cultural fruit that sprouts from violence.

If the invisible roots expand its rhizome into the unknown, the fruit raises the head of the decapitated corpse, the bulb at its feet. The decomposition offers the fertilizer of the flower, the prelude to the harvest.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is offered by the gender character that the Nahuatl version recovers with respect to the American one. The mutilated body that nourishes the sowing refers to a woman more than to a racial and ethnic distinction. By this association, the nose symbolizes the head – recipient of desire and will. It also suggests the womb of the woman, the vessel of the human being to come. Concave like the furrow, they host the spawn and the seed.

If in the south of the United States they incinerate the bodies executed at will – ready to compost – in the center they fragment them. The arms / hands (ne i-mej-mey) lighten the flight; the legs (ne i-mej-metzkuyu), the step towards the migratory dispersion.

The extremities are excised from the thorax, as each section acquires its notional autonomy. This is evidenced by the hand whose fingers display the number five, makwil, “what is at hand.” Shattered, the parts of the body disperse like sunken grain before sprouting. There “the sun” “rots” them to renew history thanks to a new sprout. The placenta and the umbilical cord tattoo the embryo from the beginning, while the soft head draws the memory.

Dislodged, the maternal cave of the beginnings —huacal-head-womb— indicates the split center of the body. Due to the taboo of the social sciences, the forgotten origin of history is only remembered by myth-poetics, which ceaselessly speaks of that throbbing gash of the female corpse. In an initial rhyme in Spanish, the ex-silio of that essential part of itself predicts the ex-site of its flowering branches. Here is the text and link of the jazz song, as well as a series of key phrases of the Nahuatl woman in fragments.

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“Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol (1903-1986), interpreted by Billie Holiday (1915-1959).

Strange fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh.

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

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Tropical trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the roots
Female bodies swaying in the tropical breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the morro trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallardo tropics
The bulging eyes and the crooked mouth
Aroma of sweet and fresh squash
Then the sudden smell of butchered meat.

Here’s the fruit for the zopes to pluck
So that the rain can cover
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to fall
Here is a strange and bitter harvest.

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Yaj-ki ne i-tzun-tekun… se-maya naka ne i-wey-ka, “(se) was her head… only the body remains.”

nak-tuk isel i-naj-naka-yu … kan-ne kuj-kupew-tuk, —isel naj-naka-yu, “was only his carnality (inert) … where (is) the torn”

Kwakuni kan wala-k n (e) i-tzun-tekun, mu-salu-k, – (I) n-te weli-k !, “then when the head came to adhere (to the body), – (but) It was not possible

Kwakuni ta-ketzki ne tzun-tekumat: xi-mu-ketza, “then the head / skull spoke (to) him: stand up”

Ka ma-ni-k-tuka, “let him sow / bury (the head)”

Wan kan ni-k-ita-k, takat-ki se waxkal-chin, “and when I saw it, it sprouted a little morrito / huacalito.”

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When reading to find out if this tradition of dismemberment and multiple offspring is rooted in the effigy of Coyolxauhqui – “the one with bells on her face.” Mother of the “four hundred surianos (Centzonhuitznahua)” – perhaps the Nahuatl Tepehuas, Huitzilopochtli’s enemy brothers – continue their pilgrimage to the south.

In constant cosmic warfare, these southern stars must be defeated and the Mother beheaded, as she begets them from disgrace in Coatepec. Due to its connection with Greek tragedy, in the objective exile of fratricide, myth-poetics redoubled history in its class struggle.

Originally posted on ContraPunto, here.

Rafael Lara-Martínez is a literary, academic, and art critic researcher. Salvadoran, resides in France. Columnist for ContraPunto. Rafael Lara-Martínez, University of the Ex-Silio Terrenal: rafael.af.laramartinez@gmail.com

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