5×7 Perforated Notebook 80 Lined Sheets Blue Cover
It’s in your hands. Creased at the corners, dirtied and stained, the pages worn and weathered. Your logbook, the prices and counts of trees and their distribution, an account of your days in this small-town New Jersey.
Fifteen times eighteen…twenty-five times thirty…Twelve times sixteen…
Your hands hold the notebook as if it were an infant, new in the world, delicate and breakable.
Twenty-three times forty-one… Nine times fourteen…Twenty-one times ten…
I jot them down in order to do the calculations later.
Five times thirty…thirty-five times nineteen…ten times fifty…
This is nothing new. This calculating of trees and quantities and prices. Since I was a little boy I have done this for you. Your son who went to kindergarten, your son who finished high school, your son who graduated with a bachelor’s degree, your son soon to be a Doctor of the Arts—you think me capable of anything, your American-born son. Little do you know math and I do not compute. Little do you know I do not know everything. How could I tell you that? You who have never stepped foot a day in a classroom, you who have gained knowledge from your experience traveling a continent, you who are philosopher and philosophy of these Americas—how?
Three times eighteen…seventeen times six…ten times twelve…
I ask to see the notebook. To verify, to ensure I do not slip-up so you are not robbed of money, or worse fired for shortchanging someone. There is hesitation. Your hands tighten their grip, bending cardboard and paper, the spiral binding contorting. A second or two lapses, and, reluctantly, you hand it over.
Thirty-five times five…sixty times eighteen…twelve times twenty…
More numbers, more calculations, more I do not know.
[Crack the code. How? Him and his work and his days: indecipherable. What am I trying to interpret? The inner works of self, the matter of his consciousness, the core of his being? What world am I trying to know? My father a language I cannot translate.]
A six wide and circular, a two of hard lines, a zero squat and slanted.
Who taught you how to calculate?
Your writing. No language and no words and no letters and just numbers. Calculations of trees and their quantity and their exchange rate the record of your days, your life.
I am little and I play teacher with you. Spell chocolate, papi, spell beautiful, spell these words I got wrong on the spelling test. You laugh pretending you do not know how to spell them. Those teeth so straight, those eyes splendid and brown, all perfection. I can’t help but forgive you for your feigned ignorance. Little do I know you cannot read or write. You do not tell me this fact, as if telling me will ruin the image of who I think you are, of the image in my head of the all-knowing and well-educated father fathers are supposed to be.
Spell chocolate, papi, spell beautiful. You smile, the pen and paper in your hands, and I wait.
All your math in the logbook only contains the minus sign. This symbol of reduction and deduction and lessening and decreasing your Mayan code. Can I crack it? There a 2-54-48 with no number for what it equals, there a 3-45 with no answer in sight. I have a hard time following the math. This number times this number equals what? What did you add, what did you take away, and why? This code centered around the minus sign makes sense to you. Your brain holds the cipher to this language you but know, this knowledge of yours men have sought after for ages, chiseling through the walls of pyramids wondering what strange markings mean, detonating the tops of temples hoping that amidst the ruins there will be some key to unlocking the secrets of this or that codex, this or that language, all in the efforts to know.
When I help you calculate these numbers it is multiplication we do, sometimes addition, and subtraction rarely. But those calculations are done out loud, with your instructions, and done together, and these are done on the page, with no guidance, and you alone.
On the page I am lost in translation.
[Files in a folder of my old computer, a spiral-bound notebook from an undergraduate class on Shakespeare, a high school class assignment on copy paper—what do I make of these writings from a Marcos I no longer know, I can no longer identify with, a language I cannot decipher? The circumstances and contexts under which he wrote are familiar, wholly mine, yet have aged and grown foreign to me. Is this forgetting? This not knowing what I have made. These cave paintings of some era long gone, long ago, which I have no choice but to call my own.]
Five Letters Spelling, “Pague”
The Spanish word meaning to pay. This writer in your logbook must have been welcomed, spoke in a tongue familiar, explained to you what they meant when they wrote this. Pay these numbers or else, perhaps, make sure you are paid what you deserve, maybe, pay it forward, who knows.
Uneven lines down the page. Swerving, slanting, and wild. Perpendicular breaks arrange numbers into differing tables. Here a set of numbers, there another. Is one table an order of arb trees for a corporate complex? Another order of spruce trees to ornament the lawns of Princeton University? There is order to your method, logic to your thought but what does it all mean?
Words in English
An intruder into your logbook. They have brought their language with them. This John who is jefe of such and such nursery, or this Joanne who is secretary of such and such nursery, introduces into your logbook the multiplication sign, that sign of production, of multiplying, the language of profit. Where all your math is reduction (-) theirs is multiplication (x). Yours is a lessening and theirs is an amplification. Yours is a math of disappearance and theirs is proliferation.
Did you give your logbook over willingly to this other? Or did they take it from you to show you, to help you calculate, to correct you? To think that someone out there in this world might be making you feel dumb drives me mad. To think you have no choice but to let them fuels my rage. You call yourself uneducated, and I hate when you do that. Uneducated? Your wisdom, your smarts, your intellect rivals that of Plato and Descartes and Kant and Foucault, those men who have spilled so much ink explaining and rationalizing and classifying and ordering a world they viewed from their armchairs, armchairs well-cushioned and well-upholstered by a world of colonization and enslavement and genocide, armchairs a comfort against the world they sought to know and master so desperately. Rivalling them, and unrivalled by them, yours is a knowledge gained from the experience of living in these Americas.
[My father is the last speaker of his language. These torn pages from a notebook no one will know what to make of when he is gone. There is no longer a speaker for the language that Marcos, that boy who wrote stories sitting alone in his kindergarten classroom, that boy who wrote sonnets to himself in outdated history textbooks so that he could believe he was worthy of being loved, that boy who wrote in the margins of his Shakespeare notebook that his thoughts were valid even though his professor made him feel otherwise. How to make a cipher for such languages? Languages so elusive and allusive, gone or going gone, defiant to translation and interpretation. Or is dissolution fundamental to their being?]
Brown splotches across the pages. Some small, some large. Some darker, some lighter. Coffee? Tea? You drink neither so it is more probable the stains are the dirt from the fields mixing with the raindrops dripping from your body. Perhaps it is your dust-drenched truck making contact with the condensation from bottles of water. Maybe, just maybe, the stains are the drops of sweat from a hot summer day in the fields, your toil your years your backbreaking work falling onto the notebook.
Pages of a life in stains of brown.
[Interpreter to my own writings. How? My? Not exactly. I who am no longer the boy of eight, the boy of seventeen, the boy of twenty-one—who am I without him? I am without him, and he is without me. Translate him, I tell myself. Those words he used, that syntax and structure of his mind, the referencing with no recognizable reference anymore. Our solitude, our crises, our pain transcending time and space. My finger along the letters of his writing, in pink gel pen and graphite pencil, the skin skimming the paper communicating—what exactly? I who I am today do not want to speak on his behalf. Nor on my father’s behalf. Nor anyone’s for that matter. For speaking is to testify is to represent is to claim I am an all-knowing universal is to say I am the Rosetta Stone to the mysteries of the world. I want none of that grandeur and yet that grandeur pursues me. Heeding that calling, to an extent, heeding that conflict, fully.]
Tracing over and over with the intention to make legible, more intelligible, a number, yet in the darkening, in the attempt at clarity, clarifying, a smudging, a greyish black mass making illegible, unintelligible your meaning, your intent, your mark upon this world.
Scribbles done in marker. Blue and black and brown. Those spirally scribbles made when testing out a new writing instrument, trying to get the ink back into the point, an urgency to write.
None of the calculations are done in marker so why the scribbles on the page? Who was here? Was this you?
One of the spirals begins with what looks like a P. The rest can pass as cursive but I doubt it is. Cursive: that eloquent form of script taught to children in primary schools, that script which is the language of a signature, that script that authenticates and legitimates and commands.
Your signature. Your heavy-handed script. I have seen it twice. Once on my birth certificate, the other on a forged passport. A G in reverse, a jerky, zigzagged a, the l lopsided. An s where there should be a z. The struggle to write what you do not know. The labor in writing your name in order to claim I am yours. The toiling at writing so that you may move between geographies, landscapes, nations. Your misspelled name in your unsteady writing your Mona Lisa your Sistine Chapel your Hamlet your mark upon the world.
[I will move on from this. New projects, new texts, new thoughts. At least that’s what I want to believe. These cave markings in a folder tucked away in my drawer, in a document in my computer, in a scanned image in my email—they will be just that: files and images and documents. A decade, a century, a millennium will pass and these ruins of our epoch, our history, our system of writing he and I will be left at the mercy of a future population. What will they make of us? What myth of our lives will they write? A student will thumb the smudge marks of an illegible number, thinking on what the writer’s intent was, what was the truth he was trying to illustrate. A researcher will zoom in on the words left on the margin of the page, a cryptic code with cryptic clues to a life the researcher will try to explore, fathom, know. An article and a dissertation and a monograph dedicated to stains and marginalia and scribbles. Our extinction, being father and son, there, in some archive, some well-ventilated library storeroom, a digitized hyperlink, our ruins of data and pulp.]
Marcos Gonsalez is a writer who lives in New York City. The essay is part of his Pedro series, essays published at Black Warrior Review, Catapult, and Carte Blanche, among others, that examine coloniality, queerness while brown, and bodies moving through the Americas. @MarcosSGonsalez
Images: Marcos Gonsalez