(Excerpts from a long poem inspired by the life of Cornelius Klassen, the author’s father-in-law, who was excommunicated from his Old Colony congregation in the Manitoba Colony, near Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Mexico, in the early 1960s, for being a truck driver who bought and sold heavy equipment that had rubber tires).
Darp Mechanics: Seminole, Texas, 2008
Cornelius Klassen parked his pop-up trailer in his son’s backyard
after he was declared dead for the second time
on an operating table in El Paso, Texas, raised, like Christ,
ribs thrust upward as he gasped his first breath,
again. Popping open his kjnipse Hamd to reveal the incision
to his grandchildren. Skin stretched over
the thin metal box implanted just beneath the collar
bone. A machine, but not like the tractors he used
to haul on his semi over the mountains in Chihuahua. And air
compressors, diesel engines, anything second hand Dietchas
bought at auction. After he got the pacemaker put in, he couldn’t
make any more bets with his social security checks. No more
scratch offs or pick six, beer or cigarettes, because he wasn’t allowed
to drive anywhere (though his son kept tags on his ‘85 Cadillac,
no air in the tires, just in case he got better). Easy chair slumped,
undershirt and boxer shorts. Not knowing his grandson
at the Farm Supply would have snuck him Mega Millions,
Tall Boys and Swisher Sweets to share in the bag of Big
Macs he brought when he dropped by to recite Education
of a Wandering Man. Lined across the spine. Pulp
westerns stacked on Cornelius’s nightstand. Stories that surprise
like the sharp crack of a Winchester
and move like the lonely howl of the wind across
an empty plain on the long ride home.
Darp Mechanics, Rebellion: Manitoba Colony, Mexico, Early 1960s
Katechismus: oder kurza und einfache Unterweisung, a brief
instruction for young people, in the form of questions
and answers. When a brother in the church has made
a misstep, how are they to be dealt with? Article 12
Of the Evangelischen Bann. Church discipline. Its withdrawal
and application. If he neglects to hear or lives in gross sin,
what should be done with such a person? The Lord Jesus
Christ gave to his church the keys of heaven to bind
and set free and commanded that all annoying
or vexing and disobedient members of the church should be
banned from his love and the church. In order to improve those
who have become separated from the church they must be kept
apart and shunned. In this way they will be ashamed, not
for destruction of the banned, but rather, for penance
and conversion of disgraced and crushed hearts. After he has
become truly penitent it is sufficient, that he was punished
by many. Kjnals, you better make sure you don’t come back
unless you’ve repented in front of the Je’meent and drive out
the Deiwel, the Old Colony Bishop snapped. Preachers and deacons
from the Darp nodded, hushed and unanimous, but fingers still
outstretched in his face, because he said he’d never stop. Driving
semi-trucks to make a living. The third person this year
and it’s only February. Otherwise, you’re going to hell. At least
that’s what they wrote on the paper. And spat
behind his back. Spatsearen in the feed store and the frutería.
Nehferein hisses and Freizeit whispers. Silent
visiting days and Sunday lunches. No Hoonsbrooden or warm
buns. Rhubarb jam, Kjnipsebrat or knocking
zoot. Sugar cubes or bitter coffee. Kjnals was
wiekjlerig. Too much for his own good. The Lord will hold him
accountable for what he knows. Somebody should have
snapped his will. A strong rod. A submissive child. Everyone knows
he’s selling tractors with rubber tires. He spent too much
time in Mexa shops and bars. Worldly women who left
their hair uncovered. His wife at home. Now it’s too late. He has gone
too far. Das geht zu weit, this rubber tire business. He didn’t
need to read it. Everyone already understood. En Kjokjebaun.
Excommunication. Thrust into his open fist.
Darp Mechanics, Rendezvous: El Paso, Texas, Late 1960s
Martha polished the bottom of the pitcher. Hips pressed
against the register. Metal hoops swinging as she whistled
at the cowboy nursing his last Tecate. At the end of the bar.
A regular. Small time pool hustler. Tapped his boot to jukebox
corridos. But didn’t dance when the banda played on Saturdays.
Slammed whiskey those nights instead. His face refracted
in the mirrors as he turned and walked toward her. Hey Güero,
¿porque hablas bien español? Balanced on the stool across from Jesus
peeking out her cleavage. He laughed. Nací en México. Vivía
allá en el otro lado por todo mi vida. Hasta ahora. No manches,
Güero. ¿De donde eres? No pareces mexicano. Tracing the ring
around his beer, he smiled. Sí, puro mexicano. Chihuauhense. ¡No
chinges güey! En serio. Soy de Cuauhtémoc. La tierra de los
menonitas. ¿Menonita? ¿Como los queseros? ¿En ovrol?
Sí, pero no soy quesero. Soy troquero. Y esta ropa me pones
mas guapo. ¿No? Shaking her bouffant she laughed. No pareces
menonita tampoco. ¿Si eres menonita porque estás aquí? ¿En un bar
en El Paso? His hat drooped and he tipped back his Tecate. Chewing
his lips. Es complicado. Martha touched her chin to the counter
and fingered the brim of his knock-off Stetson. ¿Como te llamas
Güero? Cornelio. Dime algo en alemán Cornelio. ¿Algo Dietsch fe’talen?
Du bas smokje Me’jal. Ne scheina Frü. ¿Que significa eso? Solo voy
a decirte si vienes conmigo. She smiled. Red and white beams splashed
against her eyelashes as he reached up and touched her cheek.
Darp Mechanics, Redacted: The Wilderness, 1971
Between Juarez and Villa Ahumada, Cornelius ran
out of gas. Again. Alone in his sleeper he watched honest
Abe get sucked into the Wicked Winnings
slot machine. Just one last time. Before he warmed up
the semi’s diesel engine. Logged his load and headed south
toward Cuauhtémoc. Toward crisp apples and warm
bread. Ten pairs of feet. Bare for the summer but soon
in stockings and boots for the harvest and hog boiling. Except
the pig pen was empty this year. Only a few old hens. Tired
mare struggling to pull the cart to Saturday market. No
noise on the CB until the next morning. Palm raised against
the sun. Scouting the expanse of asphalt in either direction
while mirages reverberated beneath the Sierra Madres ¿Adonde
vas hermano? El Paso. He waited. Thumb outstretched.
Hungry? Elmer’s Family Restaurant, serving you proudly
since 1959, still has the cheapest breakfast
in El Paso, $1.99. Eggs, bacon, sausage,
hotcakes and an endless cup of coffee. Bring
the family and come by for dinner to try
our fried chicken platter for only $4.99.
In the mood for something Mexican instead?
Our authentic enchiladas verdes have just the right
amount of spice. Whatever you choose, top it off
with our delicious apple pie and homemade vanilla
ice cream. Conveniently located next to the Econolodge
on Montana Street. Open late. Truckers always welcome.
Darp Mechanics, Resurrection: Manitoba Colony, Mexico, circa 2003
Cornelius’s brother, dressed in white, chips of ice packed beneath
his body, waiting, not able to rise until that day when Jesus
comes back to the campo. Watching water drip from the end
of the coffin, he fingers his excommunication
papers in his pocket. The Darp is different now. Mumkjes gossip
on cell phones, Mejalles jump on trampolines and preachers
drive power stroke diesels. Restaurante La Sierra Thiessen se vende
pizza estilo Menonita. Talleres almost every kilometre. Tractopartes
Dyck. Maquinarias Friesen. Refacciones Guillermo Peters. Centro
de Servicios Fehr. Yonke de Neufeld. Ferretería Casa
Rempel. Autos Seminuevos Loewen. Industrias Reimer. Llantera
Klassen. Now some young men have even started to work
for narco-traffickers. Cash money. American dollars. Fat pockets don’t come
from driving trucks or tractors. Two Dietchas tried to unload
a truck full of dope at Cornelius’s shop in El Paso. But he shouted, If you don’t
get those drugs off my property, I’m going to call the cops. It’s just
business, Kjnals. Don’t you want to make money? Cornelius spat. Yes,
lots of money, but a very short life. Don’t be afraid
of honest work. I already told your boss no. I don’t want to see
you here again. At Faspa after the funeral
his sister whispers, Kjnals you should try to get your excommunication
removed. That way when you die you’ll be, in seelich Soawen,
a state of grace. Exiled. Deported. Excommunicated. Mennonites are
like ants. We always find the cracks and crawl back up.
Darp Mechanics, Redux: El Paso, Texas, 2007
Cornelius looks up and sees his roof strained under
the weight of a few raindrops that he catches with five
or six metal buckets inside the house. No wonder
Martha left after his second heart attack, taking
all her Vicente Fernandez records, George Jones
eight tracks, Tigres del Norte cassettes. Even before
she moved in with her daughter, he played solitaire
down at Border Machinery. Middle-Aged Mennonite
men deal with all the heavy equipment now. Darp mechanics
and businessmen raised up by their fathers to drive
truck. He sold them his last machines to pay off
his gambling debts. Before he lost another accordion
and ten thousand in Vegas. Cash from his brother to start
a new business. They let him hang around. Slurping
coffee and smashing cigarette butts. He fingers the machine
under his skin and presses his hearing aid against the receiver.
Translations of Spanish expressions, in order of appearance:
Why do you speak such good Spanish?
I was born in Mexico and I lived there my whole life. Until now.
Stop messing around. Where are you from? You don’t look Mexican.
Yes, pure Mexican. From Chihuahua.
Are you f—ing with me? Seriously, I’m from Cuauhtémoc. Land of the Mennonites.
Mennonites? Like the cheese makers? In overalls?
Yes, but I’m not a cheese maker. I’m a truck driver. I’m much more handsome in these clothes, don’t you think?
Well, you don’t look like a Mennonite either. If you’re a Mennonite what are you doing here in a bar in El Paso?
What’s your name?
Say something to me in German.
What does that mean?
I’ll only tell you if you come with me.
Where are you going, brother?
Sells pizza Mennonite style.
Dyck’s Tractor Parts
Friesen’s Machine Shop
Guillermo Peters’s Parts Shop
Fehr’s Service Center
Rempel’s Hardware House
Loewen’s Used Cars
Klassen’s Tire Shop