Good Lord this book is dense, spiky, and ferocious. I am actually taking a break from it as we speak, after relishing in and wincing at the details of these broken human bodies; one split open at the ribcage, each half clamped down like butterfly wings “pinned to a sheet,” then stapled and sewed back up. This image actually reminds me of a whole raw roasting chicken before and after you cleave it. Another human body has his hand split in two by a stray chain from a chainsaw, his skin flapping aside and revealing yellow fat underneath.
Still, the point of Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual is survival in 20th century American city, its sprawl, and its margins, as migrant, as itinerant labor, as other: the undocumented agricultural worker, the interned Japanese. Not only are the streets and its denizens existing in various levels of repression, poverty, and depravity a threat to that survival, and not only are those in positions of power to repress and keep communities impoverished a threat to that survival; the work itself also poses a threat to human survival, as we see in the above image of the split open hand. The day laborer with no health insurance (or worker’s comp!) must pay how much for an ambulance ride to the ER, and for medical care. Then how long can he not work. And so the cash he’s supposed to earn for the work which costs him his hand doesn’t cover all these monetary costs.
So this “field manual” then, is a survival guide, which is supposed to provide us clean, procedural, detailed steps for living through every possible scenario. And while it’s not readily apparent how these blocks of narrative are “field manual,” I understand that perhaps such an easy and clean thing just isn’t possible. And perhaps Foster is also trying to tell us that bodily survival does not guarantee emotional or even spiritual survival.
Foster presents these stories, almost as if he’s transcribing these “I” stories his uncles, cousins, and homeboys are telling him at the kitchen table or hanging out in the garage. He presents them to us in these dense blocks of text. I see also how these blocks comprise a map of the city and its sprawl. I see how each apparently “small” story of an individual, comprises a larger (historical, collective, community) narrative.
And there are narratives here that seem to me as if the city machinery, and the city itself is speaking: “I pull into King Taco, Brooklyn & Soto, the doors of my face rapidly opening and closing, electric eye busted, insects crawling in and out of my ears.” And later: “The freeway thrashes, a snake fastened to my leg.”