Better late than never… The Museum of Natural Historicity and Phenomenal Nobodies were proud to have obtained a brief excerpt the work of the great writer Eliseo Guzman Martinez. But for the better part of a year we struggled to find a proper way to introduce and frame Martinez’s writing. We also hoped to be able to obtain and present more of it. But our revered libraries and institutions are full of droning and light on things of substance, and those that aren’t refused to part with any of Martinez’s work. Then we came across this brief essay by the reclusive poet Theodore Rabin and we knew we had our frame. Thus, our May installment makes it to you before June. Please enjoy Rabin’s introduction to Eliseo Guzman Martinez, a great writer no doubt. As always, we of Phenomenal Nobodies wish nothing but the phenomenal for you.
AS MUCH AS THE OCEAN, AS MUCH AS THE SUN
By Theodore Rabin
I don’t recall when I first met Eliseo Martinez, but I know I’ve never once wavered in the belief that he was a man with a sensitivity that is the unmistakable trait of a great writer. He was also tall and thin, left-handed, and he loved basketball. We shared these traits. We also loved riding our rickety ten speeds through Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. We loved cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Queensboro. We talked about one day riding over the Verrazano together, and training for the Tour de France, an idea the artist Clintel Steed introduced one night while we celebrated Passover at the artist Daniel Abrams’ apartment in Woodside, Queens.
One sunny day in Tompkins Park, Eliseo and I played basketball with Steed, Abrams, and a couple dozen men who, like us, came to the court to be children for a few hours. We ran and jumped, argued and laughed, clutched and sweat. No one complained about their jobs, or of women in their lives, or the seemingly endless wars and social and political inequities in America and beyond. All day and every time I saw Eliseo Martinez afterwards there was the hint of a mischievous, boyish smile on his face. We had shared something intimate, a dirty secret. Steed and Abrams were bad basketball players who mistakenly hit each other with elbows until they quit to smoke cigarettes and drink beer; and there were at least two writers in Brooklyn who could hit a jump shot, dribble with both hands, and battle with playground veterans, rock stars, middle school kids, and street toughs until the sun went down. Not all of us were Safran Foers and Lahiris, Whiteheads and Lethems. So what we were poorer and unpublished, maybe eternally; so what we didn’t have ivy league degrees, fan mail from blue hairs in English departments, libraries and book clubs, or any know it all undergrads and MFA candidates fawning over our every utterance. So what we couldn’t afford a subscription to the New Yorker. We didn’t want to publish beside the elitist preachings of paid, solitary masturbaters, or so we joked. One day our time would come. We hoped and wrote, and hoped and wrote more.
Eliseo was from San Antonio, Texas, of Mexican heritage, and at the start of the summer of 2009, he decided to return home in the fall. He wanted to be closer to family, the people he most loved. He left his job at the Princeton Review, and he worked as a bike messenger. If he was to leave New York City, he told me, at least he was going to ride off into the sunset so to speak.
We played text tag about meeting up for a pick-up game. We talked on the phone a few times. The last time I saw the great writer Eliseo Martinez, he was in a coma on a hospital bed in the ICU of New York University Medical Center. He’d been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle along Bushwick Avenue. His head was swollen, his eyes ringed with black. There was a drain in his brain and his internal organs were flagging. Tubes were plunged down his throat and embedded in his forearms and on the back of his hands. A machine beeped. It was supposed to embody his heartbeat; but no machine can replicate the eternal gong of a great writer, the affect their sensitivities have on the reader; at least, this is what the writing of Eliseo Martinez, knowing him, has taught me.
AS MUCH AS THE OCEAN, AS MUCH AS THE SUN
By Eliseo Martinez
So in LA once I was being driven to the airport, windows down, the sun coming in and mixing with the music on the radio, and I closed my eyes to listen to the city and how it sounded differently, one way when I inhaled another when I exhaled, and I open my eyes to catch the flight of some birds wondering if these are the last things I will ever see and feeling fine with that, and we pass a bus stop, and on the bench is a pregnant woman, she’s wearing a brown dress with flowers on it and she has on comfortable shoes, and as I am thinking of the waves, the eternally crashing waves on the end of America, she leans forward like a tired flower and vomits between her feet, and the sound of her sick meeting the sidewalk has stayed with me as much as the ocean, as much as the sun, as much as everything else on that drive.
Eliseo Guzman Martinez died the morning of September 7, 2009 in New York City, surrounded by his family. He was born February, 26, 1977 in San Antonio, Texas. Eliseo graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. After traveling in Thailand, New Zealand, and other parts of the globe, Eliseo moved to New York City to pursue his career as a poet and writer. He often said, “I like to write. Actually, I don’t like to write, I have to write. I’m just lucky I like it.”
Theodore Rabin is a poet and translator who makes a living counseling traumatized youth in Washington, D.C., minutes from the White House, Congress, and the Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials.