by Bo Keeley
Note on Literature: Introduction by Art Shay
Having dealt with many writers in my time and having aspired as a groundling to their ethereal art, I think I know the exquisite bodily signals and portents of standing at the doorway of literature without necessarily entering or even following the writer in. Or being able to. Hear me out in the strange case of my hobo friend Steve "Bo" Keeley, of whom you've heard through me and recently through his own shaky pen that I've taken, along with Jan Baughman, to guiding upward and outward and north of his disbelief that his acerbic and vasty observations have anything to do with literature. No natural feels like a natural. He has no notion of connecting with the ball, much less amusing the crowd with a win.
Darwin's enigmatic letters from The Beagle are stirring, Dostoevsky's notes from Underground touch all sorts of nerves, and certain New Yorker notes from rare diseases of the strangely afflicted put you in the neighborhood of transferring human experience into writing that will put the reader in the room. Chekov's short stories and plays open doors to rooms and rheumy ideas you never had before or cared about. Holden Caulfield made you care about what a nutzy NY teenager felt when filtered through his unstoppable amanuensis, Salinger.
Norman Mailer once, to his own and then to our friend Nelson Algren's surprise, noted that his visit to Algren's and my favorite police confessional courtroom then in seriatim session "seems like your books, Nelson." Miscreants falling all over themselves to confess stuff like, "No Lieutenant, you got it wrong your honor. When I was here thirty days ago it was for molesting a little girl -- not a boy. This time it was a boy. Can I get my old cell back..." There was Mailer knocking at the peephole to literature (and mine to candid photography) that Nelson and I had stumbled on without some New York writing maven or French photography master saying, "Look, look guys -- write this down -- shoot this. This is the right stuff."
I think that's the trouble with Keeley's coming to you without my or anyone else's intercession. He's scared that what he's seeing isn't the pure stuff. It is. If I had another quarter lifetime I'd head out for the 10-foot ditch in which Keeley lives, dug into the toe of the California desert between California, Texas, and Mexico -- a dig from which he can hear the sounds of the illegal immigrants dropping their soiled clothing and their kids' diapers too soiled even as stinking nosegays for the unreceptive Arizona purebloods. And I'd try to make a big book out of Keeley's true adventures. It would surely rival the famous pictures I plan to leave of life on the planet of my prime years.
With only a little further ado I give you my friend Bo Keeley's latest unwitting work of art. I have his permission and good faith to publish whatever the hell I want to of his in whatever form I choose. It is something between two former racquetball champions, he a much more famous one -- the one who would often defeat club and regional champions playing with a frying pan instead of paddle or racquet. The only time I ever won a game from him was when he had OD'ed on five bagels.
(Swans - June 28, 2010) I've had a small, new e-mail exchange with the Amazon Walker. Backing up 15 years I should tell you that one sleepless night I determined to walk the length of the Amazon basin alongside the Amazon River. The best maps -- and I don't claim to have the best -- showed a dirt track ambling all over the basin. Research over my next decade revealed the poor road shown in some places had been expunged or abandoned, bridges washed out, tribes gone or melded with others, give or take a headhunter here, there, and elsewhere. The phrase came into my head -- Objet dart. Objet poison dart. And white meatriver fish as big and ornery as Mississippi gar before the leak. And the waterside overgrown to boot. Perfecto!
Then a year ago I boated the Amazon Rio from the headwaters at Iquitos into Brazil -- that Korean and Chinese outpost whose cars and trucks run on swamp grass. I headed for a reconnoiter near where the Atlantic and the Amazon flirted with each other. For a wobbly week I bussed, trucked, and thumbed the width of Brazil; i.e., the Amazon Basin.
The trip ended one starless night caparisoned with the caterwaulings of humans and near-humans and former humans -- and preyers on all of us -- with our bus partly full of frightened evangelists singing their Jesusy hearts and lyrics out as our transmission slid us from side to side on muddy roads, one toe into the jungle, then an ankle bringing us back to our slide; the monkeys and monkey simulacrums hooting and hollering at our invasions and prayerful noise.
One of our passengers was a one-armed evangelist who had lost his arm to an anaconda. He was using his remaining arm to protect a little Indian girl who was licking the faces of each of her dolls in turn. To protect her, I guess, from the 15 other inbalanced passengers, that is, unbalanced and unbalanced passengers, who formed congeries of seat neighbors at lurch after lurch of our careering vehicle. At one pee stop the ranking minister realized I was the only passenger with a penlight, was the only soul who could lead our safari through the four feet of mud covering this myopic trans-Amazonic road to a river -- any river.
There, perhaps because of the prayers, as if God gives a shit, we caught a morning ferry to civilization. That's why, after laying up in Iquitos a few months, I wrote the famous Amazon River Walker (at the suggestion of an accountant whose on-line appellation is cheapbastard) offering to hike with him for a stint. He warily but cordially replied he already had a guide.
[Art Shay note: As Algren and Sartre both implied: No one knows how literature is derived, but when it happens or seems about to take root, we sort of can tell.]
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About the Author
Bo Keeley is a retired veterinarian, former publisher, author of seven books on sports and adventure, national paddleball and racquetball champion, commodities consultant, school teacher, psychiatric technician, traveler to 96 countries, and executive adventure guide who has been featured in Sports Illustrated and other national publications as an alternative adventurer. (back)