Peace Corps Writers
Mortiz Thomsen’s The Farm on the River of Emeralds (page 3)
Mortiz Thomsen’s The Farm on the River of Emeralds
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4

     In that and other chapters Thomsen singles out individual members of the tragedy/comedy unfolding around him: “Dalmiro,” an “old, white-haired, toothless, barefoot, wrinkled, wreck of a man” with a raging libido and a disturbing habit of getting shitfaced drunk and urinating on the other workers as they slept; “The Brothers Cortez,” a “package deal” of four brothers who both exasperated and mesmerized their long-suffering bosses; “Santo and the Peanut Pickers” recounts perpetually horny Santo and his Quixote-like quest for love (“With Santo, love was everything, habit nothing. Wasn’t this perhaps his greatest virtue, that he refused to accept and live with stale and exhausted emotions? And wasn’t this perhaps his tragedy?”).
     Thomsen’s writing is filled with foreshadowing, as well as visions that border on mystical, but perhaps what really defines his style is the use of shattering epiphany. His life was filled with them — moments of absolute, terrifying clarity that destroy whatever perceptions he clung to in order to survive, and setting the course for the next stage of his life:

    There are certain days in life so packed with horror or revelation that if you survive them your whole past stands rendered, the essence so distilled and clarified that it is impossible to keep on deluding yourself. In the revelation department one thinks of those religious conversions that strike one down like lightning, turning drunkards or thieves into missionaries. Days of revelation are the mileposts in life at which one makes ninety-degree turns or puts a bullet through one’s head or murders one’s wife or loops back violently, seeking again in the innocent past what had gradually faded away and made existence chaotic or meaningless.

     One such experience leads him to join the Peace Corps in 1964 — a twenty-four hour stretch during which he finally sees his California hog farm is doomed, finished; he has to put down his beloved dogs, sell his pigs, shut down the farm where he is already reduced to living in an unheated tool shed, and stand for the first time in a room filled with his butchered hogs: “I had fallen under the malevolent eye of God, and He had more tricks up His sleeve. I didn’t know if I could take any more that day, but I remember thinking, ‘It’s coming, whether or not you can take any more, and it’s coming today.’” It comes, all right, when a cow is dispatched right in front of him by a grinning slaughterhouse employee. As far as Thomsen was concerned, he was every bit as finished. A Peace Corps commercial on television that night put an idea in his shorted-out brain; it must have looked like a modern-day Foreign Legion: “Spewed out of that deadening rural life, screaming with rage and self-pity, as bloody and battered as a new born child, I was given another chance at a brand new kind of life.”

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