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  • Photo of The Middlewesterner by Dave Bonta

(c) 2004-2008
Tom Montag


June 2008

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  • The endowments and the foundations won't, but you can help support my long-term exploration of the middle west, Vagabond In the Middle. Any donation to help defray expenses will be appreciated. Send to Tom Montag at: PO Box 8, Fairwater, WI 53931.


    "shelf life of prune juice" - The Middlewesterner

  • "elko + bar + bathroom + girlfriend" - Creek Running North
  • "what does a mole on the palm of the hand mean?" - Mole
  • "biro, slowly watching memory" - frizzyLogic
  • "pictures of someone who looks forgotten" - Blaugustine
  • "emily dickinson's address" - alembic
  • "heterosexual woman becomes lesbian in midlife" - Velveteen Rabbi
  • "if lost return to" - Slow Reads
  • "village voice newspaper headline when andy warhol died in 1987 village voice headline is god dead is god dead" - Marja-Leena
  • "I have no head" - Under a bell
  • "what can we do about privilege?" - Feathers of Hope
  • "stigmata montreal women" - Cassandra Pages
  • "Aztec sacrificial victims" - 3rd House Party
  • "ugliest woman ever" – Fishbucket
  • "prime number farting" - The Middlewesterner
  • "sasquatch beauty barn" - Via Negativa
  • "I have what looks like small pieces of bird seed in human feces my feces." - Nuthatch
  • "signs your girlfriend is not happy" - The Middlewesterner
  • "real tribe potion to become Immune to fire" - susannagig-jig
  • "does god blink" - The Middlewesterner
  • "Sleeping ovaries" - Find Me a Bluebird
  • "People find me offensive poem" - Find Me a Bluebird
  • "girlfriend taming" - The Middlewesterner
  • "naked librarians from north dakota" - The Middlewesterner
  • "signs a girlfriend is about to walk out" - The Middlewesterner
  • "naked girls at prayer" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does 'behind the barn' mean" - The Middlewesterner
  • "basho farting" - The Middlewesterner
  • "white conic body lotion" - Mole
  • "what specifically is the emerald mole?" - Mole
  • "how to impress a tomboy girl" - The Middlewesterner
  • "ripon cookies for bear bait" - The Middlewesterner
  • "people who think they are cats" - The Middlewesterner
  • "crows and fog omen" - The Middlewesterner
  • "when you are walking in the spirit what does heat mean" - The Middlewesterner
  • "how to be more socialable" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does making hay mean" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does it mean to call someone an iowa farm boy" - The Middlewesterner
  • "What does it mean when there are 2-3 crows in your yard and you don't have a corn field?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "tomboy addiction" - The Middlewesterner
  • gunmetal tulle - findmeabluebird
  • mucho bonito senorita translation - findmeabluebird
  • "swollen rash" diagnosis - findmeabluebird
  • how to keep a kid occupied when sick and in bed - findmeabluebird
  • moose bums - findmeabluebird
  • uninterlaced - findmeabluebird
  • "red squirrels castrating grey squirrels" - The Middlewesterner
  • "short poems to impress a girl" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what is an important food crop in middlewest?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "the reason the elements of the writing process are important to poetry" - The Middlewesterner
  • "wallpaper, poet" - The Middlewesterner
  • "how to be a vagabond" - The Middlewesterner
  • "my jock strap hearts how can i fix it" - The Middlewesterner
  • "How do Hutterite deliver babies " - The Middlewesterner
  • "shelling corn slang" - The Middlewesterner
  • "lady of guadalupe as vagina symbol" - The Middlewesterner
  • "will the leaves still be on the trees October 21, 2006 in Davenport, Iowa?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "driving time between seydisfjordur and skaftafell" - The Middlewesterner
  • "impress a girl from north dakota" - The Middlewesterner
  • "how do tigers get born?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "jesus nude girls" - The Middlewesterner
  • "falling in love with a midwesterner" - The Middlewesterner
  • "shanties with cadillacs" - The Middlewesterner
  • "middle road sermon" - The Middlewesterner
  • "ephemeral as the summer fly" - Chatoyance
  • "how to paint ghost flames" - Chatoyance
  • "wine of cardui" - chatoyance
  • "kevlar bridal dresses" - Hoarded Ordinaries
  • "how to scold boyfriend" - Hoarded Ordinaries
  • "how to find your true self" - Hoarded Ordinaries
  • "it goes around the sun 4 times a year" - Hoarded Ordinaries
  • "how long does it take for a sprinter to regain his speed after a grade 1 hamstring tear" - The Middlewesterner
  • "understanding why crows like you" - The Middlewesterner
  • "customs and culture of the middlewest region of the United States" - The Middlewesterner
  • "naked girl in a pile of money" - The Middlewesterner
  • "dakota tom sandwich" - The Middlewesterner
  • "things to do in Middlewest US" - The Middlewesterner
  • "nebraska christian music thunderstorm" - The Middlewesterner
  • "naked girls performing prayer photos" - The Middlewesterner
  • "metaphysical stores in Davenport Iowa" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does 'worthless as tits on a boar' mean" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what is silo liquid and why does it make the cats sick?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "names of the dinosaurs that live in water or pictures naked women" - The Middlewesterner
  • "alien + pigs + north + dakota" - The Middlewesterner
  • "poems for football players girlfriend" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does 'making hay' mean?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "how do cows eat cabbage in south dakota" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does a skunk mean in a dream" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does the mole on the buddha mean" - The Middlewesterner
  • "hutterite bra" - The Middlewesterner
  • "when to planet vandalia onions" - The Middlewesterner
  • "The Republicans have been painting an unattractive portrait of Democrats roasting young children on a spit in the Capitol rotunda and what not" - The Middlewesterner
  • "kewpie doll karl rove" - The Middlewesterner
  • "Real photos of Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus and a story how Mary got her baby, Jesus removed out of her stomach" - The Middlewesterner
  • "fog barn stillness beauty poetry" - The Middlewesterner
  • "redneck outhouse poems" - The Middlewesterner
  • "haiku farting basho horse" - The Middlewesterner
  • "signs that i'm a heroin addict" - The Middlewesterner
  • "how do you know if your ankle is sprung" - The Middlewesterner
  • "translations from spanish to english giving opinions about the preservation of wild cats in South America" - The Middlewesterner
  • "stealth bomber information" - The Middlewesterner
  • "emily dickinson with cowboy hat" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what causes bossy girlfriends" - The Middlewesterner
  • "owl hitting a windshield and meaning" - The Middlewesterner
  • "long arm handling gloves cat" - The Middlewesterner
  • "what does a rendering plant smell like?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "potion to become a superhero" - The Middlewesterner
  • "fried egg symbols of lesbianism" - The Middlewesterner
  • "when you are sixty years old should you move back to cold weather in michigan?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "learn poetry to impress a woman" - The Middlewesterner
  • "if you were asked to teach a character education program with which you found fault, what would you do?" - The Middlewesterner
  • "tractors porn" - The Middlewesterner
  • "does black or dark nail polish on a woman mean anything" - The Middlewesterner
  • "keeping warm in north dakota" - The Middlewesterner
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March 04, 2006


Fred Garber

I like this poem. An offer rejected! Have you read Ernesto Cardenal's "With Walker in Nicaragua"? It is a retelling of the true story of some US mercenaries trying to take over Central America 150 years ago. Some things do not change! There was also a film version of the story made in 1987. I liked the movie but it got lots of bad reviews.

Thomas Whigham

Hi Fred,

Oh, yeah, I am familiar with both Ernesto Cardenal and with Walker, who I think was a more interesting, more nuanced, character than Father Ernesto would care to admit. Walker was an abolitionist journalist in New Orleans (you gotta be a brave man or a fool to play that role in the early 1850s) and then went off to San Francisco where he gave a lot of color to the vigilante activities on the Barbary Coast. He later tried to create a "Republic" of Lower California and eventually acceded to Liberal Party requests in Nicaragua to bring in his band of adventurers to help win the day against the Conservatives. He did so, and then stayed, converting himself into president along the way. He retained some Liberal support even in that, but the one thing he didn't have going for him was support from the US State Dept. The American govt., in fact, was royally peeved at his activities, in part because they threatened some earlier diplomatic understandings with the British and in part because US business interests (Cornelius Vanderbilt's shipping company) had previously enjoyed some privileges from the Nicaraguan government that they no longer did under Walker. This, I think, is where Father Cardenal goes wrong, because he wants to paint Walker as emplematic of US imperialism, and it seems to me that you can't conflate the two. Walker ended up facing a Honduran firing squad a few years later, never quite realizing that he wasn't the "gray-eyed man of destiny" the newspapers said he was.

If you're interested in Cardenal, have you ever thought of reading his great predecessor, Ruben Dario (who has some poetic selections newly translated by Ivan Stavans they tell me)? Wonderful.

Now, as to my Arawak poem, on the issue of "rejected offers," it just now occurred to me that the poem has a certain similarity to a short piece published in the 1930s by, I think, the Brazilian poet Mario de Andrade in which he says (and I paraphrase): "It was raining on the day that Cabral discovered Brazil, and he put clothes upon the Indians; what a shame! Had it been sunny, they would have begged him to disrobe and enjoy the fresh air."

Ah, the power of the counterfactual!


Thom Whigham

Fred Garber

Hi Thom,
Thank you for your extensive reply to my comments! And thank you for giving me the names of two poets whose work I plan to explore! I certainly believe that Padre Cardenal used some license with respect to history when writing his poem. Nevertheless, in my judgement, there is a feeling that is conveyed in both of your works. It is the description of a cultural innocence that some Europeans and later some North Americans approached Central and South America with. The shock that there was no need to civilize this other culture and the fear that one might "go native". I am not sure if I have made my point clearly or not. And again, I truly enjoyed your poem. I also note with great interest that you have authored a book on yerba mate. I am an espresso addict and have a healthy respect for yerba mate. Now if I just had a bombilla and a gourd full that hot liguid!

thomas whigham

Hi Fred,

Like me, I think you're interested in these questions of culture contact and how one defines "innocence" and "civilization." I think, for the most part, that the tales of those who ended up living such experiences in the flesh have had their accounts subsumed by a plethora of "Noble Savage" interpretations. This has slighted both the Europeans and the Native Americans, because it imposes an inaccurate and windy spiritualism a la "Dancing with Wolves" that hides more than it reveals. Now, understanding the character of the "Other" was a fundamental concern from the beginning; Spanish jurists and theologians spent decades trying to decide what portion of Indian character really counted as "human" or "civilized" (see Anthony Pagden's study, The Fall of Natural Man, on this theme. Absolutely brilliant).

I would argue, though, that these efforts had little to do with reality. Let me illustrate with a couple of stories from this period of early contact. In Bernal Diaz's Conquest of New Spain we see Cortes and his soldiers defeat a sizable band of Mayan warriors near Cozumel. In suing for peace afterwards, the Indians bring forward a fellow in feathers and heavily tatooed. This was Geronimo de Aguilar, a Spaniard who had been shipwrecked along the Yucatan shore some years before and who had learned the Mayan language while a captive. Aguilar subsequently served Cortes as translator as the Spaniards moved north against the Aztecs. However, what is often missed in the text was the presence of a second Spanish castaway, whose name I forget. This fellow sent word to say that he had married and was well-thought of by the local Mayas. He did not choose to leave his children and the happy life he was leading to become a footsoldier in Cortes's army, and, with certain expressions of regret, he salutes his countrymen and wishes them luck. It is interesting to note, I think, that neither Bernal Diaz nor any of the other Spaniards seem to judge him harshly for this decision. On the contrary, they seem to treat his choice with a degree of sympathy, as being a common sense answer to a dilemma not of his own making.

There are also the memoirs of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who like Aguilar and the other guy, was a castaway, in this case, among the Indians of Florida. He spent around a decade wandering westward through the Floridas, Mississippi and Texas before re-encountering a party of his countrymen some miles north of Mexico City. Now, Cabeza de Vaca chose to rejoin his people but he never lost the sympathy for the Indians. In fact, his pro-Indian position got him in trouble later when he espoused Indian interests as interim-governor of Paraguay in South America. His countrymen sent him back to Spain in chains for having sold out the Christians in favor of the savages. But he makes it clear in his memoirs, which are fascinating reading, that his policies were not only humane (and therefore by definition Christian) and also appropriate to the situation.

What these two anecdotes illustrate, I think, is that Indian society had plenty of advantages on their own merits and worthy of respect in those terms. It wasn't so much that the Indians served as a conduit to open up the Spaniards' own spirituality (this wasn't Lost Horizon, after all), it was that the Indians deserved to be respected in Indian terms.

I'm starting to lose my train of thought, but perhaps you can see what I'm getting at with all this.

Incidentally, if you'll forgive my beating my own drum here, if you're interested in yerba mate, may I recommend the appropriate chapter in my book, The Politics of River Trade, which you can find in your local university library, I'm sure.

Thanks for your thoughts and thanks also for your patience,


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