Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Remembering to Say 'Mouth' or 'Face'


Remembering to Say Mouth or Face
by Omar S. Castaneda

1993. 156 pp.
ISBN 978-0-932511-80-5
Price: $20.95

1993. 156 pp.
ISBN 978-0-932511-81-2
Price: $16.00


In this award-winning collection of short stories, Guatemalan American Omar S. Castaneda uses a unique and richly textured mixture of magic realism and "attack dog fiction" to explore the wrenching conflicts of biculturality. The stories in Remembering to Say 'Mouth' or 'Face' depict the troubled and often darkly humorous lives of people struggling against the slow tectonics of violence. The collection opens in the United States, where drugs and self-annihilating rage overwhelm one of the Castaneda's most sharply drawn and subtly sarcastic narrators. In other stories characters in search of their Mayan roots inhabit both real and mythical Central American landscapes.

The characters in these stories know both Americas but find a home in neither. The confront violence and vanquish, at least for themselves, those deep ills caused by living with racism. Buffeted by cultural conflicts and animated by the desire to construct a new language of cultural translations, they embark on spiritual journeys that ultimately enable them to recover and transform Guatemalan traditions.

"Drawing heavily on the Popol Vuh, this collection is full of the realistic magic of mythological connections and contemporary scenes. It's a blending of cultures. A long tumpline of stories that burden the head. Castaneda's stories are electromagnetic fields of imagery, character, and happening, which bend words as well as boundaries. I can feel the crosswinds of this book." —Diane Glancy, author of Firesticks

"These are the stories of travelers on a spiritual quest between worlds. Part mythtaker, part poet, Omar Castaneda is an original, and these stories are unlike any in our literature." —Toi Derricotte, author of Captivity

"In the stories of Omar Castaneda, we cross borders with a surefooted guide: the rivers of immigrants on a pilgrimage, the jungles of ancient myth, the hard urban landscapes of sleeping addicts and sleepless lovers. Guatemala haunts and invigorates these tales like Castaneda's Lord of Festival, dead but not dead, the face of magic and ritual and danger illuminated in flashes of poetic language." —Martin Espada, author of City of Coughing and Dead Radiators

"Not only is Castaneda a worthy heir to Asturias, but Castaneda's own singular stylistic and thematic sensibilities expand the scope of the movement, achieving a most rare synthesis of hemisphere visions: north and south; First World and Third World; mythical truth and contemporary socio-political reality." —Bob Shacochis, author of Easy in the Islands

"By driving clear through drugs, sexuality, philosophy and myth, even through anger and pain, Castaneda gets beneath the skin of experience." —James Bertolino, author of First Credo

"These stories take us to places which are sometimes hostile, often magical, but always of profound consequence. Rendered in harshly evocative prose, this brilliant and disturbing collection blends urban legends with the myth and legend of the Guatemala Maya." —Johnathan Harrington, author of Tropical Son


All that could be heard was a gentle lapping of water and the barking of bullfrogs. The dense air pressed the sounds of insects into a horizontal plane between fog and water. The travelers had long since quit speaking, and now pushed along at the depth of their chins. Now and then, a splash from a sudden drop-off arose like the leap of bass.

They followed the Rio Grande to a body of water called Amistad, then pushed along to find the mouth of Devils River. They had not expected the traveling to be so difficult or the voyage to be so long. They reached Amistad with the faintest signs of dawn. Not even the first dawn.

"The further past the river we get," Septimo whispered, "the better our chances of not being found."

Their strength was ebbing with the weight of their clothes. Maria Teresa had first tied her skirt around her waist, the others had simply waded in, but it didn't matter with the water at their necks. Raul floated in his carriage as a Lord on his raft, snake0bound, with a promise to return.

Further northward on the lake, they climbed ashore to rest in a niche of tall grasses. The banal sloped upward to a flat field and trees beyond. Not a person nor house was visible anywhere. Unlacing Raul from the chair, they laid him down on the grass. Maria Teresa brought down her skirts and within minutes they all fell into a pitch- black sleep.

They awoke to a group of young men with rifles standing over them, shouting drunkenly in English and gesturing menacingly.

Maria Teresa tried to speak, but a fat boy raised a fist as if to hit her.

"Damn wetbacks," the boy said.

There were seven of them, the eldest being just over twenty years old. The youngest, a gangly boy of seventeen, leaned against a truck parked above the bank. He wavered as though nauseated drunk. The smell of alcohol was strong.