A very ancient image of the soul is seated, resting,
inside of a bison-headed man.
Apparently a young woman, she has an adolescent body,
her face is composed of slanted hair lines,
long head hair streams out of the hybrid’s hump.
Her thin forearms slope forward to merge with his penis.
These two figures share three legs, two knees lifted,
as if dancing behind the inflated anus of a reindeer which
swerves its aurochs head to gaze at this anima in her “crib.”
At Les Trois Freres, around 14,000 years ago,
the hybrid is the engine of anima display.


To hybridize is to improvise. The hybrid is not only the engine of anima display
but the creator of imagination in folklore & the historic arts.


The word “hybrid” comes from the Latin hybrida, defined as “the piglet resulting from the union of wild boar with tame sow. The hybrida root stresses that the incongruity of the fusion derives not from different species but from the intermingling of wild & tame states. Translating these states into anthropological terms, it defines aspects of both shamans & witches whose identities & activities are comprised of wild & tame, or wilderness & cultural, experience. Concerning witches, Hans Peter Duerr writes:
   “As late as the Middle Ages, the witch was still the hagazussa, a being that sat on the Hag, the fence which passed behind the gardens and separated the village from the wilderness. She was a being who participated in both worlds. As we might say today, she was semi-demonic. In time, however, she lost her double features and evolved more and more into a representative of what was being expelled from culture, only to return, distorted, in the night.”
   This hagazussa, “the one riding the fence,” may be indirectly connected to, or correspond to, the bird-headed man in Lascaux’s Shaft who appears to be reaching for, or dropping, a bird-headed staff. As part of his ritual paraphernalia, this staff, or “conductor baton,” synchronizes with the fence on which the witch symbolically “rides,” her magical animal before it acquired the meaning of “rod.” The phallus is implicitly part of this scene, & human coitus with an animal is evoked. Initially, then, male & female shamans may have been the hybrida of wild animal & tame human marriages.


The hybrid image resonates throughout the Upper Paleolithic with a stylistic range that includes unidentifiable fragmentary figures. These may have been scratched on cave walls in the dark along with extremely sophisticated fusions that attest to a much more thorough transformation than men wearing masks. Such hybrids indicate not only a proto-shamanism but other goals similar to those of countless historical shamanic quests: the recovery of that first unbroken condition when the thoughts & desires of men & women were in fluid & absolute accord with the terrestrial & animal energies surrounding them.

The self,
a hybridizing amoeba jerking to
its wounds,
peering forth from its mammoth
cradle as if
off the planet’s edge.

What a drop
25,000 years compose!
What a Fall
from man exterior to mammoth
to man lodged
mutilated in
a hybrid head.

I am staggered by the effort that was needed on the part of Cro-Magnon people to transform
sexual/survival energies. Out of a world that strikes me as being, at the same time, ferocious,
subtle, omen-perforated, magical and very utilitarian—or out of a void in which all these forces
intermingled, there were people capable of inventing themselves, along with what appears
to be much of what we hold to be human today. What was behind this thrust into imagination?
I envision a crisis that slowly came to a head over thousands of years in which hominid animality
eroded, & at around 35.000 B.P. began to be separated out of to-be-human heads, & daubed,
smeared, & chipped onto cave walls lit solely by hand lamps.


On a conical rock pedant near the end of the End Chamber in Chauvet, arching over the legs & vulvic triangle of a “Venus” figure is a detailed bison head with chest & hump. For a front leg the bison has a thin human arm with long fingers extending into the “Venus’s” left leg. It appears that these two figures have been drawn on a feline’s head & upper body positioned on the curving side of the rock pedant. The accelerator mass spectrometry date for these figures is 30,340 B.P. Not only do they appear to be the earliest augur of the “Minotaur” & “Venus” figures; they are also the earliest indication of a hybrid proto-shamanic male figure in a protective or even “reverential” position over a woman.



clayton pic


Bison are the most transmutable Upper Paleolithic animals. They appear in both male & female roles. Their heads & horns are usually associated with men, while their bodies sometimes relate to women. They appear to be the primary shamanistic animal “vehicle” until their disappearance due to the spread of forests. A few examples suggest their rich image range:
   Male: the bison-headed men in Les Trois Freres & possibly the last hybrid in Gabillou; in Font-de-Gaume several of the bison heads in profile look like bearded men; the bison-horned figure with snarling mouth in La Pasiega; the Minotaur-like figure in Chauvet whose bent-over, curling body bears some resemblance to the bison-human hybrid carved in a stalagmite in El Castillo.
   Female: the notched bison horn held up by the Venus of Laussel; the phallic bison standing over a supplicating pregnant woman on an engraved reindeer bone from Laugerie Haute; the possibly birth-giving bison at Altamira; the “bison-women” in Pech-Merle whose schematic hybrid bodies may be variations on the Aurignacian female profiles traced on the cave’s ceiling; the third “Venus” at Angles-sur-l’Anglin who obliterates one bison & whose lower body is crossed by another bison; the reindeer-bison at Les Trois Freres, given the context, appears to be female, as does the disemboweled bison in the Lascaux Shaft.
   Male/Female: in Le Tuc d’Audoubert a male bison (with convex eyes) may be mounting a female (with concave eyes); the two headless, embracing bison that are part of a spear-thrower found in Enlene.


1974: Gorge d’Enfer, across from the Les Eyzies train tracks & river, is a small valley where animals, some of which are descendants of those depicted by Cro-Magnon people, wander in semi-liberty. Caryl & I recall the utter strangeness of coming upon a small bison in a pen there. It stood motionless, in profile to us—in the same position that its ancestors were often drawn on cave walls. It seemed both less & more real than the paintings in nearby Font-de-Gaume, which, as we watched, seemed to hover between us & the living bison as if we were all figures in a dream in which bison & human beings, humped & hooded semblances, intersected through fog & blowing snow.


Henri Frankfort: “The Egyptian interpreted the nonhuman as superhuman, in particular when he saw it in animals—in their inarticulate wisdom, their certainty, their unhesitating achievement, and above all in their static reality. With animals the continual succession of generations brought no change. They would appear to share the fundamental nature of creation.” James Hillman continues these thoughts: “Each animal confirms that living forms continue, they are eternal forms walking around. An animal is eternity alive and displayed. Each giraffe and polar bear is both an individual here and now and the species itself, unchanging, always self-creating according to kind. Each polar bear presents the eternal return of the polar-bear spirit as a guardian, a spiritus rector, from which, according to Ivar Paulson speaking of the circumpolar arctic peoples, the very idea of a God arises. “Gods originated within the animal world itself, that is, within the actual animal.”


The eagle of inspiration sinks talons into our shoulders,
lifting us up & off in flights to an underworld
echoing the Upper Paleolithic as well as 19th century North American Plains.
          What are the ingredients of inspiration?
Spires of incest over the ages? Wirings short-circuited, then re-fused?
You is part pedestal, part sty, part abyss, part snake.
When I tunneled did the mud around me contain a cast of cells, chambers, cloisters,
every person with whom I have traded eyes,
nebula particles, all colors, inner space?
Rank ocelot aprowl in legends which enter me through the godspell of you.
The muse as you, Pandora’s hexagrams bollixed with changes.
Palmed stone, horn fragment, oneself at womb when preconsciousness
percolated as mother sub-consciousness through the caul.
You with its angel-insectile feelers rising like a jellyfish drawn up
through surging salt water by solar warmth.


The essence of human power:
access to the cosmos from the heavens down to
     earth & into Xibalba.
I have the tail of a snake, my head is wrapped in smoke scrolls.
I am the power behind conjuring, & let me tell you right off
how thin the smoky veil is
separating the supernatural from the natural.
There are shells attached to my body,
is faster than oral ingestion,
                                                           I vomit
a decapitated head onto my jaguar kilt,
                                                                                  I am Och Chan,
the bearded dragon,   macerated in a luxury of forces,
god flowers surface in my skin,   I am
opossum in the darkest hours before daybreak,
the forehead torch from which waterlilies & seedpods erupt.
& Looking through the telescope of night, through its vehicular cinders,
I visited Charles Olson at his Matterhorn of apocatastasis.
He kissed my lunar eclipses, my burned, emergent, blood-let sylphs.


Xibalba, the dance floor under North America, the range,
forever vital in caricaturing us, shuffling our vows.

Give me your claw bundle, Walt Whitman,
your Maya hypodermics. Let me feel the efflux of soul
as these gods & lords milked you into existence.
High on coffee enema, have you a Thimble Theatre skit for us this evening?
Or are you now totally otherworldly,
a Xibalba denizen, decapitating any young poet whose neck is not
loadstone geared to dance your blade?


I keep having this fuzzy vision of a brain termite queen
pumping out image babies as other creatures blow into it.
Sirens, the nightside or ancient form of the Muse,
are said to suck the breath of the sick
& are associated with siesta nightmares.
“Muse” akin to musus, “animal muzzle,”
a Muse-muzzled succubus crawling across the dreamer
or up through the dreaming,
blowing the dreamer’s mind,
mind ejaculating into Muse muzzle–
“psyche” akin to “psychein” = to blow.


Eye holes of a crocodile mask:
               portals into
the moonlit gore of the animalistic soul.


The hell that is man mesmerizes the mind, as if to keep mind mantised on grief & torture,
when like solar sharks we should be cruising the Sombrero Galaxy…


Finnegan’s Wake   “end again’s wake”
Ah,    when did the end first wake?
When the stag-headed “Dancing Sorcerer,” presiding several meters over
the tangled mass of animals engraved on the walls of Les Trois Freres,
   was first conceived?


Great full bosomed night, shower me with your Eleusinian brew,
your solar pyres & yes, Artaud screaming through the flames,
fill me with ergot ignition, I am levitant at the edge, self-propelled to imagine.
Let Dinofelis sniff what I perspire, get me close to the crucify crossway,
let me envision, night, your tiara & your sty.


The Cro-Magnon sensation of palpitating one’s animal slant: no more.
Poussin’s satyr-scape: no more.
The anointing of the dead Adonis: no more.
Pan’s shadow in leafy quilts: no more.
Blind Orion searching for the risen sun: no more…
Charred girders call out to us. Screens of a stirring. Afterlife of the gone.


James Hillman: “This feeling of being loved by the images permeates the analytical relationship.
Let us call it imaginal love, a love based wholly on relationship with images and through images,
a love showing in the imaginative response of the partners to the imagination in dreams. Is this
Platonic love? It is like the love of an old man, the usual personal content of love voided by
coming death, yet still intense, playful, and tenderly, carefully close.”


As a pupa in the chrysalis of day, it has taken me a lifetime to gauge the congeries in the arc of night.


In Gargas, a Cro-Magnon placed his or her hand on the cave’s wall,
spat red ochre around the hand, withdrew it,
leaving what we might call an I-negative on the wall…

Is what we now call art the sempiternal challenge of this I-negative–
Kafka’s “What is laid upon us to accomplish is the negative,
the positive being already given?”


When I was six, my mother placed my hands on the keys.
At sixteen, I watched Bud Powell sweep my keys into a small pile,
then ignite them with his “Tea For Two.”
The dumb little armature of that tune
engulfed in improvisational glory
roared through my Presbyterian stasis.
   “Un Poco Loco”
sank a depth charge into
   my soul-to-be.


In bebop, musical structures and performance events shift between fixed or unfixed aspects, sometimes
occupying both simultaneously. Rapid melodic lines in the right hand punctuated by irregularly spaced,
dissonant chords in the left. Bud Powell’s comping added to the bebop ensemble another layer of
polyrhythms. The quality of his solos, their asymmetrical improvisations, long melodic lines that often
overrode standard cadential resting points, extended the melodic, harmonic and percussive possibilities
of the piano.


Dizzy Gillespie recognized the relationship between the spoken rhetoric of the hipster and the musical
rhetoric of bebop: “As we play with musical notes, bending them into new and different meanings that
constantly change, he plays with words.”


The harmonic  structure of “I Got Rhythm” won a place in Charlies Parker’s imagination, much as the
theme of the Eroica Variations or perhaps Diabelli’s Waltz had in Beethoven’s—though Beethoven
concentrated his efforts on lengthy, integrated compositions, while Parker’s “I Got Rhythm” variations
are scattered widely among many performances.


Rounding the gym track, listening to WEMU.
Suddenly Sonny Stitt entangles “Koko” with my mental vines.
“Cherokee” lyrics, schlock “Indian romance,”
pulled inside out by “Koko,” “Cherokee’s” vital ghost.
   Euphoric zone where there’s stride foam I can drink.
   Is it mitotic? Is it mine?


Onto the keyboard of a concert grand, Bud Powell shot his fingers.
Was he, elbows flexed, a kind of Tiresias drinking from a trench beheaded bison blood?
Are we not, at birth, like bison, deposited on a terrestrial keyboard?
Each depressed key makes an omen trench.
Thus does the earth become grand
& we suck, with Tiresias intensity, as did infant Powell, to prophesy.


Theseus, a tiny male spider, enters a tri-level construction:
look down through the poem, you can see the labyrinth.
Look down through the labyrinth, you can see the spider-centered web.

              Sub-incision                Bud Powell
                              Cesar Vallejo
                                          The bird-headed shaman

These nouns are also nodes in a constellation called
Clayton’s Tjurunga. The struts are threads
in a web. There is life blood flowing through
these threads. Coatlicue flows into Bud Powell,
Cesar Vallejo into sub-incision.

                         The bird-headed shaman
is slanted under a disemboweled bison.
His erection tells me he is in flight. He drops
his bird-headed stick as he penetrates
     bison paradise.

The red sandstone hand lamp
abandoned below this scene
is engraved with vulvate chevrons—did it once flame
     from a primal sub-incision?

This is the oldest part of this tjurunga, its grip.


Hybrid figures are antennae reaching out from earthly matter: recipients of invisible forces. They
partake of the nature of the shaman, & have become the satyrs & fauns of the Dionysian cult as
well as the devils & imps of Christian art. Masks & hybrid creatures have this in common: it is
impossible to grasp their meaning without bringing in the essential factor of indetermination between
the real & the imaginary which constitutes their rightful being & nature.


In Donald Cordry’s book Mexican Masks (1980), based on the author’s some forty years of ethnographic
research in many regions of Mexico, the finest featured mask maker is a mysterious figure named Jose
Rodriguez who, according to Cordry, lived & worked as a goat-herder in one of the most remote
mountain regions of the state of Guerrero. Rodriguez’s art only became known to Cordry in 1975 when
twenty-five of his masks were discovered in a village commissariat where they had hung for years.
All of these masks which are carved from a single piece of hardwood supposedly had been used in rain-
petitioning dances. In the way that they made use of various creatures they demonstrated Rodriguez’s
extraordinary skill & knowledge of Nahua symbolism. Cordry never met Rodriguez & gives the reader
the impression that this master mask maker died long before his work came to the author’s attention.
     Cordry himself died in 1978. By the mid-1980s, it had become clear to a number of Mexican folk art
specialists that Rodriguez was an utterly shadowy figure who might have never made masks or even
existed. A few of these specialists have written that they have met a couple of the actual carvers &
painters of the still so-called “Rodriguez masks.” As for the stature of such masks, the specialists have
dismissed them as decorative & inauthentic, meaning they were made to sell in markets & to collectors
& never used in dances or other native ceremonies. In my opinion, these masks are extraordinarily
powerful works of art & should be acknowledged as such & not savaged by a bogus “authentic”
“decorative” duality.
     In these masks the hybrid transmogrifies into a Mexican grotesque realism. The human face is
transfixed in tumultuous, writhing halos of actual & imagined creatures, a kind of animal comeuppance
as it were, as if the fauna world is in the process of exploring the Mexican soul in frenzies of adoration
 & bile, improvising a Medusaean pandemonium of exaltation & creature drapery.
     In one mask a black-speckled snake coils down through a forehead, the snake’s head becoming the
face’s nose between traumatized staring-down eyes, while lizards slither down both sides of the face,
their eyes meeting where a throat might have been.
     In another mask, a darkly-painted humanoid face has wide-open, circular spellbound eyes, an open
puckering mouth with broken, fierce fangs, while foot-long black-spotted snakes pirouette on his skull.
Below the chin is a crouching coyote-like creature framed by lizards posed on projecting branches.
     Still another mask presents a swarthy human devil, tongue hanging out, his skull surmounted by a 
pink imp bracing flexed legs on top of two yellow frogs. The imp is gripping black & green mottled
snakes which are wiggling down along each side of the devil’s forehead.
     Two frog-devil masks have crouching, frightened snake-crawled frogs with shocked open-mouthed
human faces filling their backs.
     A “corn-spirit” mask has a long-haired bearded male face topped by a sinister bat whose chest is
crossed by two lizards that form its breasts. Serpents rise above the bat’s head in the shape of open-
mouth fanged corn-stalks. At the base of the mask, large cartoonish snake heads bare their fangs.
Cordry comments that the characteristics of this mask suggest it is a version of The Lord of the Animals.
     Such hybridity presents animal otherness as nightmarish projection & capture, as if the human
head is an abyss populated by flurries of prancing, leering, and soul-pocketing guardians.


Firefly passes through jaguar
& jaguar tills the animal fields.
We walk the crocodile of the earth
& notice her birth hole,
out of which deer are streaming.
Spider is our black transformer,
her nets are gilded with rabbits & peccaries.
By stingray we are pressed to owl,
by owl we are intact in ceiba.
This is the living core of the world,
a vision of living shadows,
a vision of Itzamna’s mind.


In Les Trois Freres, some fifty animals, mainly bison, in shapes from different periods, swarm the
hopping bison-headed man with a female figure inside him. Most of the animals show signs on their
bodies: V-shaped projectiles, barbed & parallel lines. A melee, animals intersecting animals, some in
stampede, others in stasis. The churning turmoil is so intense that what meets the eye could be
described as Upper Paleolithic Abstract Expressionism. The organic hybridity throughout the heads
& bodies of these figures makes them truly fantastic & not merely human beings wearing ritual
paraphernalia. Such thorough hybridity emphasizes their mental reality as figures that were
imagined, dreamed or seen in trance.


The 35,000-24,000 B.P. Aurignacian is the period in which the first image-making we now know of
(in contrast to abstract marks, cupules, grids etc) took place. The kind of images vary considerably
 from region to region (crude engravings & meandering lines in the Dordogne & Ariege; Chauvet’s
polychromatic splendor in the Ardeche). Not only is it time to let the Aurignacians have the floor
but to acknowledge that they are the floor.


Jackson Pollock: “My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before
painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a
hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I
can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the method of
the Indian sand painters of the West.”


“To dissemble thus deny any fulcrum in this annexed
dark. An ark? Din of anodyne shadow passengers
entering. An Aurignacian nostalgia
overcasts my spill. Do they still have the floor?
Or is image the sand of picture-trillion particles?”


Facing Pollock’s “Number 1. 1949” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art:

Infinitive labyrinth. World map compressed into an actional abyss.
Sand dribbled over depth’s raised seams.
Pinches of earth as nodes in constellations liquefying. Ziggurat zigzag.
Not my being but being’s bender bowled through me!

Head as a tool to decherubize Eden. Stoop & swivel.
Textures of the winter masses of aerial branches
webbing the memory of leaves. Shift to drip & densify.
A stone wall for all who seek an easel expiation!
Quicken by thinning, slow by flooding.
Divine keen of this Rorschach gale, this fly alphabet of iridescent mica.
To dig the rood trench, electro-wave Picasso in. May he release through me
the manic pistons in the mermaid’s trunk!

Each brush stroke a gust from all compass points. Obstetrical secret:
overlay to reveal the interplay, the asunder ply of wonder!
Traveling white lightning shall be
guardian of the undertow, death & her lodge free progeny!


Facing Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in the Madrid Prado:

Lovers excreting pearls inside a mussel shell.
Like hermit crabs, these nudes: any interior is home.
The great regression to the primordial athanor,
the mother sea slurp & bubble of watery dark where dreaming is so
   intense it is a whirring honeycomb.

Male squadrons shovel coal into a pulsing white queen who births
   upon ignition.
A Zoa-ball in which fetuses are singing like canaries in their skeletal
Discombobulated rug-cutters, crowns askew, blast apart as fetuses
   turn into Katzenjammer hybrids.
                                                                         The vision whips back into Eden:
in his vulvar side, Adam is a smoking retort of androgynous spleen.
Bumblebee kings are crouching & cooing about the manger barge:
“Just who is this Holy Ghost who impregnates from afar?”
                                                                          Aztec culture zips in:
a ball of feathers drops on Coatlicue out sweeping—voila!
She’s pregnant with Huitzilopochtli. Out squirms the king of war.

Just what is that black testicular pod from which we’ve been drinking?
Not the keelson of creation Walt Whitman called love!
Fools have been let into our Ship of Death; a sarcophagus is its keel.
Do we dare take on our own impassioned reality?
Can we tack into the spills of infant terror mistranslated & stored?
For all artists are naked facing the ladder pointing toward the Tavern of
   the Scarlet Bagpipe.
Yet no single imagination can perform apocatastasis.
Wholeness is uterine. All roads are scabs over the wounds of diaspora.

Hear yourself whinny as you strain to toss a fruit ball to a dolphin
   performing for her supper.
The crowd roars. The fire in the circus will never be put out–
flames will destroy the giant mallards, the half-submerged earless owl,
but the crowd will continue to demand more victims for the solar maw,
for life to continue requires Aztec carnage!

The intoxications of immortality light up the switchboards when
   someone is murdered.
The furnaces of immortality are fed with the bodies of people who look
   a wee different than we do.
How does this work, Donald Rumsfeld?
Does your Reaper retreat an inch for each sixteen-year-old Iraqi boy
   snipered while out looking for food?
Men with political power are living pyramids of slaughtered others.
Bush is a Babelesque pyramid of blood-scummed steps.
The discrepancy between the literal suit & psychic veracity is nasty
   to contemplate.
Imagine a flea with a howitzer shadow
or a worm whose shade is a nuclear blaze.


                                                           December, 2015—February 2016


Clayton Eshleman
















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