At Op Cit in De Vargas Mall
Sunday January 29
Ana Consuelo Matiella reading from Las Madrinas
Miriam Sagan will open for her, reading from Geographic.
Come join us! There may be cake!
There you are in that photo you keep by your desk. It is five days after your mother died. You are holding Sara on your lap. You are wearing shorts. That was a long time ago, you in shorts. Your hair is long, pulled back, your eyes, washed out from weeping. Your daughter is a year and a half old and she too looks sad. Why is that? She couldn’t have known that your mother had just died. Sara, like you, is gazing straight into the lens of that old Pentax. You had a camera then and you took black and white. You are in Flagstaff, because Artu thought that after the funeral, you would want to get away from the Tucson heat.
It was July.
It was good to get away and walk in Oak Creek Canyon behind your young husband with a baby in his green back-pack. It was a comfort to see the little urchin look back to see if you were still there.
You stopped to watch the clear water wash over the river stones and a yellow swallowtail brushed your shoulder. You called it your mother’s spirit. Not dead a week, already making the rounds.
You didn’t know that for the rest of your life you would look and always find at least one large yellow swallowtail making the rounds in July.
Ana Consuelo Matiella
Readers–I invite you to submit such a letter to the blog this month of July. Details in previous post.
My Writing Process – Blog Tour
Thank you Jose Araguz for inviting me to do this! I’ve long enjoyed his blog The Friday Influence
1) What are you working on?
As always, I’m writing poems and currently finishing revising a novel, BLACK RAINBOW, that will be out from Sherman Asher in 2015. But the main thing I’m working on is poetry or text installation. I’m due to write a poem in the sand of Miami Beach outside of The Betsy Hotel in December.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Perhaps it doesn’t. I’m fairly traditional in my approach to lyric poetry—I’m happy to be in the contemporary tradition. The only real innovation I’m doing is a genre I think I’ve partially invented—poems posted in an ephemeral corner of the eye way.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Probably it would be more accurate to say I write what I can! I love fiction, but I’m not a strong regular writer of it. Flash Fiction appeared in the nick of time for me—it was fashionable, there were lots of models, and best of all—it was short! A poet’s dream.
4) How does your writing process work?
I have a short attention span a day, maybe an hour, and a long attention span as regards my life. I do something creative most days and have pretty much since I was twelve, and I’m now sixty. It adds up. I mostly write long hand in many little notebooks. Since the archive at the Wittliff Collection—San Marcos, Texas State now collects my papers my notebooks have gotten much fancier and more elaborate—it has been an inspiration.
Next week, watch for interviews with Ana Consuelo Matiella, Devon Miller-Duggan, and Georgia Popoff.
Ana Consuelo Matiella is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICIA from University of Arizona Press who blogs fiction and essays here.
Devon Miller-Duggan blogs at Fat Matters and is the author of PINNING THE BIRD TO THE WALL, poetry from Tres Chicas.
Georgia Popoff is a community poet/artist educator in upstate New York, follow her bog here.
First Night on Bean Alley
When Artemis moved into the house on Bean Alley, she brought only a few of her most precious belongings: her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine, an old Chinese hook rug with pink and powder blue flowers that she had bought at Goodwill even though it was worn down flat, a set of dishes with gold leaf and pink roses and the white chenille bedspread, also from Goodwill. She had no bed and no chairs so she spent the first day making giant purple and blue striped pillows that she threw on the living room floor.
In the alley by the house she found a large Mountain Bell telephone cable spool that she could turn into a coffee table. All she needed was a good saw. She also brought the orange lamp with the macramé lampshade, the one she and Miguel kept by the bed.
And, oh yes, she brought the gun.
The gun was given to her by her soon to be former father-in-law. It was a Smith and Wesson Colt .45 and it looked like it belonged to Wyatt Earp. It could be argued that the old man had given the gun to Miguel but it also could be argued that he meant it for her, for her protection because as he explained, Tucson was the rape capital of the United States of America, and you were more likely to be raped in Tucson than in Detroit, Michigan or Washington, D.C..
“And here,” he said, “you might need these. I hope not, but maybe.” He handed her the box of bullets while Miguel’s eyes drooped like oysters.
Now she wondered if Miguel would insist on getting the gun back. What would she do then?
The Colt .45 was wrapped in a piece of soft black velvet. She sat on the floor, took the gun from the moving box and unwrapped it. She polished it with the soft cloth until it shined.
Then Artemis did something that would shock anyone who knew about guns. She put the barrel right up to her left eye and looked into it like you’re not supposed to, if the gun is loaded.
She pulled the trigger.
The gun wasn’t loaded, but pulling the trigger while her eye was up against the barrel made her heart pound fast. When she put the gun down on the hardwood floor, she heard her heart still thumping and visualized the blood pounding against the walls of her arteries like in the film they showed her in high school all those years ago in health class.
Artemis then took a deep breath and reached for the bullets. She held one bullet in between her thumb and forefinger and she looked at it very carefully before she began to load the bullets into the cylindrical firing chambers, one by one. When the gun was loaded, she spun the cylinder that held the bullets around like she watched Miguel do so many times, and then she slammed the gun shut.
Artemis set the gun aside. She looked at it; the pearl handle struck a nice contrast against the hardwood floor. She made a mental note to photograph it when she got her camera back, and reached for the gun again. This time she unloaded it and wrapped it up in the black velvet cloth and put it away in one of the empty kitchen drawers.
She noticed a big red broom, probably left by the former tenant, and decided to sweep the kitchen. She methodically made her way to the living room, all the while wondering if she would ever be capable of using the Colt .45 if she had to, like if the mad rapist broke into her home, now that she was alone in this house that looked like the wooden house that the big bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew down in the story of the three little pigs that her dad told and retold, so many times, so many years ago.
It was dark now and Artemis was tired. She needed sleep and she needed more of her stuff. Tomorrow she would go to the apartment while Miguel was at work and get some more of her things. Her Pentax K1000, the yellow towels, her coffee pot and the toaster.
Tonight she would sleep on the giant pillows and wrap herself up in the white chenille bedspread.
Artemis opened the kitchen drawer and took the gun out again. She loaded it and laid it next to her as she got ready for bed.
When Artemis went to switch the orange lamp off, she could see through the woven twine of the macramé lampshade and there, draped around the metal stem that held the light bulb was a giant moth. She watched it intently as she tried to decide the best way to get the moth outside where it would be safe from her rubber flip flop. She hated to kill harmless creatures, no matter how creepy. As she stared at the moth, her eyes felt tired and heavy, and she thought about Miguel and how he would dispose of the moth, with a paper towel or a handkerchief, or just simply by reaching in and grabbing it and throwing it outside. While she was mildly missing Miguel and thinking about what to do with the moth, a flash of movement shocked her out of her sleepy stupor. A wolf spider, the largest she had ever seen had come from nowhere and attacked the moth. In a matter of seconds the moth was barely visible as the spider consumed it.
Careful not to make a sudden move, Artemis got up from the floor and reached for the red broom. She tapped the lamp with the broom and the lamp fell on its side. The spider lurched out from under the lampshade in a slow but deliberate motion.
With the flat side of the worn out broom, Artemis slammed it down so hard on the spider that her hand hurt from the impact. She flipped the broom over to make sure there was no sign of life and saw the slimy substance that confirmed the death of the spider in the fibers of the tattered broom.
She took the broom out to the rickety porch and leaned it up against the wall.
And the desert night was quiet except for the sound of crickets.
This is the way the story goes…
You can’t sleep anymore this morning. You can’t tell the difference between the dog snores and the snores of the guy next to you. You are in Portland and the feeble January sun has not even made an attempt to rise. You sit up in bed and look up at the purple streetlight and through the sheer curtain, it looks like a winged creature has perched itself there. And you look again. You tell yourself it is just the glare of the light through the fabric of the transparent curtain combined with your blurred early morning vision.
This is your vision now, at your age, before coffee.
And all the time you stare at the streetlight you think of your life, not here in Portland where you are now, but in your other home, in Santa Fe, where by this time you could hear the coyotes howling and the wind whispering through the cottonwood’s dry leaves, the ones that stubbornly hold on and never fall to the ground. You now imagine how the Sangres would look if you got up and looked north from the kitchen window as you wait for your coffee to make that sound it makes when it’s ready, or how the Ortiz mountains would look if you looked south from the den.
Like in a fast dream you realize that only seconds have passed since you have been staring at the streetlight, and you see the winged creature glide down.
As you get out of bed, you know it’s not your bad vision. Now you know there really was some winged creature thing sitting on top of the light pole like a bored angel. And when you rush to the window to move the curtain and get a better look at where the thing landed, you see an old Asian lady rummaging through your recycling can. She is wearing a Coolie hat over her knit cap and baggy, oversized gloves. She looks up holding an empty diet Coke can and she shakes it at you like a rattle.
You wave back, embarrassed as if you have her caught her doing something private. She hurries down your driveway, mounts her giant tricycle and peddles away.
Now the purple dawn turns into a wet silver morning, and you see her canvas coat flapping in the wind as she rides down the shiny street.
And you tell yourself, “What is a phantasm, anyway, if not a figment of your imagination?”
But you are not convinced.
It’s winter. January now. And it’s an early afternoon in Old Mesilla, New Mexico. Big blue New Mexican sky and silent. A perfect 70 degrees and not even a breeze. The only thing I can hear is the coo of the mourning dove. I’m walking to the post office to mail two letters . I was told by one of the storekeepers that the post office is right on the other side of the irrigation ditch, across from the old school. As I walk over, I see that to my right is the public restroom and I decide to go there first. About 20 feet away are two women walking towards the restroom. One of them is wearing a navy blue pant suit with a white shirt, and the other is wearing a red skirt with nice white sweater and very pretty red high-heeled sandals. I notice the heels because it doesn’t seem like appropriate footwear for walking around the dirt roads of Mesilla. Her hair is curly and nicely coiffed. Her lipstick is a deep red. The lady in the blue suit seems to have simpler taste but still dressed smartly, to my mind, and a little fancier than one would expect for Mesilla in the middle of the day.
I tell myself,”Maybe they’re state workers and they came here for lunch and a stroll.”
I think no more of their outfits and follow them into the restroom and wait, since there are only two stalls. It is still so quiet. I wait a few short minutes and the lady in the red skirt comes out and says hello and smiles. I say hello and go into the stall that she just vacated. When I look back I see that the door of the other stall, the one that I thought the lady in the blue pant suit was in, is ajar. I look back perplexed as the lady in the red skirt is washing her hands.
I say, “Wasn’t there another lady with you just now?”
She said, “No, it’s just me.”
I said, “You didn’t just walk in here with another lady, a lady with dark hair wearing a navy blue suit?”
She said, “No, but you know that there are a lot of ghosts in Mesilla. Maybe it was a ghost.” She is friendly and uses a matter-of-fact tone.
I laugh a bit on the nervous side and say, “Well, if that’s the case, would you please wait for me?”
“Sure,” she says, “no problem.”
“Thanks,” I say, “because honestly, I’m afraid of ghosts.”
‘”Sure, take your time.” She says.
I pee fast. Get out of the stall and when I come out, she is still there smiling.
She then says, “The water is very cold!”
I wash my hands quickly because I don’t want to make her wait too long.
“Thank you,” I say, “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcomed.” She says.
We both walk out into the still, sunny afternoon and I walk across the road to the post office.
I’m thinking that she is a nice lady. Who does that? Who waits for a perfect stranger to go to the bathroom because she says she’s afraid of ghosts?
I turn to wave and thank her again, but she’s gone.
I look around but see nothing but a mourning dove flying over the dry acequia.
Perkins Street Ghost
I have never believed in ghosts but I grew up near a family, the Madril’s, who moved into a haunted house on Perkins Street in Nogales, Arizona. A woman had been murdered there and after the killing, the woman’s family boarded up the house and let it begin to rot. It was an old light blue house with a long inviting porch. The door had an oval beveled glass window that you could look through. The lace curtain was tattered and the screen door was dusty and full of dead spiders and flies.
We were not allowed to go near the place. But when we were bored and brave, and before the Madril’s moved in, we would peek through the old doors and windows and run hard if we heard a sound. My friend Johnny Tovar would tell scary stories about the place, about the screams the neighbors heard the night of the murder, and about the sorrowful sounds they could hear at night or in the middle of a hot afternoon.
Everyone in the neighborhood said the house was haunted by the lady who was killed there. She would cry because she wasn’t ready to die when she did. So young. I wanted to know what happened to the killer. Was he caught? Did he go to prison? Johnny said they never caught him and that he ran through the hills and crossed the fence over to Mexico. Last he heard he was living in Cananea.
I told Johnny I didn’t believe in ghosts, and he called me a liar. He said not to worry and that ghosts don’t appear to big chickens like me because they were mostly nice but tortured souls. They didn’t really want to scare anyone. They just needed something and they would only appear to people who they thought could get them what they needed. I was relieved about that because I knew I had nothing to offer that ghost.
My dad worked with Mr. Madril at the Complete Auto and Home Supply Company and when he came home and told my mom that the Madril’s were moving into the old Teyechea house, my mom said, “Poor things. The rent is probably pretty low.” And then she added that she wouldn’t live there if it was free.
The Madril’s were a large family in more ways than one. There were 12 brothers and sisters, a giant mother, a giant father, and a tiny grandmother who always wore high stiletto heels. The kids were some of the biggest kids I’d ever seen and we come from big people, so I know big. They were mostly tall, not fat, and just extra- large. And they took up a lot of space. I remember Sundays when our parents would wake us up for mass, my father would say, “Hurry up and get there before the Madril’s ,if you want to find a seat.” If you got to mass before the Madril’s got there, you would always hear some kind of ruckus when they all came in. They made up a crowd. And not one of them was less than 5 feet tall, note even the little ones.
Another thing to know about the Madril’s is that they were generous and kind. They were like a storybook family of large nice people. Mrs. Madril was always smiling and two of the older kids, Sergio and Bea, were around my age. Sergio was this super big guy who defended Bea and made sure nothing bad happened.
When the Madril’s moved in to the old haunted house, everyone on Perkins whispered about the ghost. We were all waiting to see how long they would last. Who would want to live in a house where someone had been murdered and where the ghost still lived?
I waited until Bea and I became friends before I told her about it. She said they already knew about the ghost and that her parents said the ghost was harmless, just sad on account of being killed so young. Bea said the best thing to do when you heard the ghost sigh, giggle or cry was just ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there. Sometimes the ghost slammed the door on the way to the back yard but that was because of the rusty spring the screen door had to keep the flies out, and not because she was angry.
After Bea told me all that, I reluctantly accepted several invitations to come and eat dinner with the Madril’s. Nothing fancy, mostly chorizo and beans but the granny, who was the only little person in the family, made these gigantic flour tortillas that looked like sheets. And we would eat them with beans or butter and jam, and sometimes, with this special kind of syrup the old lady made out of this thing that looked like a rock and was called piloncillo.
My mom was embarrassed when I went over there to eat because she said, “How can you be so rude to go there around dinner time? Of course they will invite you in, but don’t you see how many mouths they have to feed?”
I said, “They invite me all the time, and even when I say I have to go home, they say, ‘well have a tortilla with butter and jam first.’”
Mom would just sigh and shrug, and say, “That poor woman is a saint.”
Serge and Bea didn’t mention the ghost much. Once in a while I would ask about her and they would look at each other and say she was fine and that it was no big deal.
“Do you every see her?” I asked one time, feeling bold.
And Bea said, “I’ve never seen her but I’ve heard walking through the back door.”
Serge just looked down at the ground like he didn’t even hear the question.
Then Bea said that the granny had seen her a few times outside by the clothesline at night.
I said, “Oh boy am I glad I’ve never seen her,” and they just looked at me like I was the odd one.
One late afternoon when I smelled the tortillas and came in for a visit and they were all sitting around their long table, I heard a loud scrape from behind me and it made me jump and they all laughed. It was Mr. Madril pulling a big wooden crate up to the corner of the table so I could squeeze in and eat my bean burrito.
Granny Madril said, “So you’re afraid of the ghost, eh?”
I nodded yes. I couldn’t speak with my mouth full.
She padded my hand and said, “She won’t hurt you.”
And the way she said it, I believed her. After that I didn’t ask so many questions about the ghost.
The Madrils lived in the old blue house with the ghost for the rest of the time we were in elementary school, and when they bought a new house out in the development near the old Nogales Highway, I asked Bea, “What happened to the ghost, Bea? Was she sad to be left behind?”
And Bea said, “Oh, no. She didn’t stay behind. She came with us.”
Bea said that the ghost was staying in her granny’s room and that they had become good friends.
When I told my dad about it he said, “What? There weren’t enough of them already that they had to take the ghost?”
As a child, I loved fairy tales. I mostly read Spanish translations of Grimm and Andersen and was completely enthralled. Very early on I could recognize the witch and the angel, the good girl and the bad girl. By the time I was five years old, I knew the difference between a good mother and a bad mother. Those were all the beginnings of my own self-analysis, and of course those impressions, “estampas” were limited and limiting, but they were mine. The writing process for me is a process of self-awareness and so these myths and expectations worked out in fairy tales and in my traditional Spanish-Mexican upbringing played a pivotal role, not only in this collection, of course, but in my own manifesto.
To see the complete interview–http://www.connotationpress.com/fiction/1946-ana-consuelo-matiella-fiction
In Memoir class, we were talking about narrative, how it can be linear or a mosaic. I thought this piece by Ana Matiella was illustrative, and am re-blogging it here.
La Madrina by Ana Consuelo Matiella
In my work on Mexican Femenine Archetypes, I still love the story of my three fairy godmothers. I would like to share them with you…
La Madrina – The Godmother – Ana Consuelo Matiella
Octavio Paz once said that Mexican women had no identity of their own, and that they only existed when men woke them up. Centuries before Paz, Grimm and Andersen without ever having stepped foot in Mexico. had the same philosophy. They told us stories of sleeping princesses and damsels stuck in towers waiting to be awakened, rescued or defined by men.
As angry as it makes me to acknowledge it, I was caught in a tower too. I pretended to be a tough cookie all the while holding on to the husband of my childhood for dear life. I put up with the indignities of generations of Mexican women who were married to men who no longer wanted them because I did not want to be in the world without a husband. Then, bless his heart, Art did me a great service. He left. When I saw Art’s back as he walked out, I took a deep breath and closed the door. Then I cried for several days and waited for the earth to open up and swallow me. Soon I expected to grow a hump and turn into a hag, as if Art, by leaving me, had taken a chunk of my femininity. I was deranged. I fantasized about how much better it would have been to save some dignity through widowhood. But after a few days, the earth felt as stable as it ever felt, my back never felt better and the birds still sang.
I came to three conclusions:
One: Of all things, my house could no longer be white. I invited everyone who loved me to paint something, the walls, the chairs, the nichos, the chest of drawers – all in different colors. Golden corn yellow, Mexican rose, communist blue. Even the dog got an accidental streak of mango orange on his brow.
Two: For the sake of the two most important women in my life, my daughter and myself, I had to learn to live a joyful life without a man.
Three: I needed help.
The third conclusion was the most formidable. It wasn’t just help in the form of support I needed, not just someone to paint a wall, provide a shoulder to cry on, break Art’s legs. No, I needed a special kind of help. I needed wisdom.
The two wisest women in my life thus far had been my maternal and paternal aunts, Tía Paqui and Mamachelo. They were my madrinas, my godmothers. Paqui was an old maid and Mamachelo was a widow and both of them lived most of their lives without men. Perhaps I could conjure up some help from the memories they left behind.
The truth is that the presence of my Tía Paqui has never left me. I see her firmly in my past and in the current day clutter of books, notebooks and rolls of fabric that seem to sprout out of nowhere in my house. So on that day, the first Paqui inspired act I performed was to bake a kick-ass lemon meringue pie without a recipe, just following Paqui’s instructions. The meringue healed my soul. I then went to my basket of fabric and pulled out the pieces she left me when she died. I vowed to make something out of the green and brown print. I took the fabric and put it around my shoulders like a hug. I could feel her blessings, her smiles and her kind encouragements. I remembered the best day I ever had with Paqui and was transported to a late afternoon on a mercilessly hot summer day on Rosario Street when I was eight, or ten or maybe twelve.
Madrina # 1
My parents had taken my older brother and my baby sister on another one of their trips. (The older one was too much trouble, they said, and the younger one was too young to be left, so the middle one, that one being me, got left behind.)
They left me with my grandmother and my Tía Paqui. My grandmother was mean and crazy by then and I didn’t want to be there. My Tía Paqui worked all day and I was left alone to play with the servant girl, who was a couple of years older, but she had work to do. There were pigeons to catch, rabbits to pet and eggs to pick; there were errands to run and tea towels to embroider, but the long and the short of it was that until my Paqui got home from work, I was bored and restless and wanted to go home. Home, as I mentioned, had gotten into a 1959 Chevy station wagon and gone to Guaymas.
So there I was counting the hours and the days until my family returned to pick me up and take me back to the American side of the border where at least I had daytime television and friends to play with.
I perched myself on the corner of the garden that overlooked the street, waiting until I could see her figure coming up the hill and then I ran to meet her to take her bags and ask her what were we going to do now. The minute my Tía Paqui got home I would want to do something with her. I would want her to teach me how to make something, like a lemon meringue pie or biscuits, but it was too hot to turn the oven on. Maybe today she would teach me that new stitch, the one called, “make me if you can.” It was a difficult one that not too many women knew how to do.
She was tired, she said, and why didn’t I come with her and take a nap in her room. But I had already taken the dreaded siesta and listened to the lizards and the pigeons count the hours. I told her I was bored. I wanted to go home. I started to cry. When was my mother coming back? Why did they leave me behind again? Why could they take my sister and my brother on their stupid trips and not take me? She stroked my hair and comforted me but gave me no good reason except that my brother was trouble and my baby sister was still in diapers. That was not reason enough for me. Why should I be punished for being civilized?
That afternoon after her small nap, when the sun was beginning to leave its eternal center in the sky, she said to take a bath and get pretty because we were going out.
I put on the blue and pink print dress she made for me and my red rubber calzi-plasticos, plastic gel shoes that stuck to the hot pavement if you went out in the middle of the day. But this was not the middle of the day, it was several hours past the wretched noon; the sun was beginning to move and there was a hint of rain to keep us cool. The plastic shoes made the sound of a bouncing ball against the hard dirt as we walked down Rosario hill and into town.
When I asked where we were going she said, “You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”
I had never been to a bookstore before. In Nogales, Arizona we had a library but no bookstore. I liked the idea of a place where you could buy books and keep them. When I walked in, the first thing I became aware of was the distinctive odor. I took a deep breath and it smelled like I thought heaven would smell like, cool and moist and protected from the sun. I didn’t know at the time but the musky aroma that I smelled was ink on paper and since that day, it is one of my favorite scents. The second thing I became aware of was the jumble of books stacked on top of each other with no apparent order and no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you didn’t put them in the wrong place.
My tía explained that students came here to buy their textbooks, and that you could buy comic books, fotonovelas, magazines, novels, cookbooks and other materials in print. There were more books there than in our small library on the American side of the border, more books than I thought could fit in such a small space. We spent what seemed like not enough time browsing and she bought me a Pequeña Lulú, a Little Lulu comic book, a book on cross stitch embroidery and another on word puzzles. She also bought me a chocolate candy lollipop with caramel inside and a hard candy one shaped like a red umbrella. I was already in heaven when she took me to the corner where all the school supplies were stocked. She picked out 4 pencils, red, blue, green and yellow, a tiny clear green plastic pencil sharpener and a blue notebook with paper so thin, I thought it would tear if I touched it.
“Here,” she said, “the next time you get bored and sad and you want to go home and you can’t because there’s no one there, write in this notebook.”
“But what can I write?” I asked.
“You know how when you sit in the corner of the garden looking down into the street, there are many people that go by?”
I still didn’t understand. She said, “Write about them. You know the washerwoman that goes by, the man that carries the table of bread on his head, the beggar that goes through the garbage foraging for food? Look inside them and make up stories. Then, write them down.”
I looked at her again and she said, “That’s how all these books got started, by someone writing in a notebook just like this one.”
I believed her. In my imagination, the blue notebook with the onion skin paper became a magic treasure chest of books. I looked up and saw her gentle smile, the one that was only meant for me. When Paqui smiled at me, I felt how much she loved me, like the first time I tried on the dress with the blue and pink flowers she had made me, just like I did only a few moments before when we walked into the cluttered store and I smelled a thousand books for the first time.
What was I? Eight or ten or maybe twelve? Did Paqui know she was changing my life by taking me to a bookstore, by telling me that all writers start their writing in a blue notebook with falling apart pages of onion skin paper? Could she have known that she was casting a spell on me that day?
Walking back home with my package in my sweaty hand, hearing the sole of my cheap plastic sandal hitting the hot desert dirt like a rubber ball, the long hot summer ahead of me didn’t look so grim.
We went back to Nana’s house and I couldn’t wait to get started. Who could I write about first? There was that old woman with the cages full of parrots on her head, the one that my grandmother said was a witch and to stay away from. I could write about her. And then there was that kid Julio who died because he talked to the pigeons and the pigeons talked back. And what about that old man, Don Nacho who kept the store down the hill? His nose was huge! I could make up a story about why his nose got so big. Maybe it was because he lied like Pinocchio, maybe it was because as my uncle Romeo said, when you get old, everything shrinks except your nose.
When the dusty stationwagon showed up for me on Rosario Street to take me back to Perkins Street, I was still yearning to get back to my American home, but I had a notebook full of stories in my bag, and three pencils, one blue, one green and one red. The yellow one had worn out.
Madrina # 2
Mamachelo was the 5-minute madrina. Everything she did, including giving me advice, she did well and in the minimum amount of time. She was a widow, wore black, and traveled. She was tall, busy and smelled good. While my Tia Paqui was plain and fostered humility, Mamachelo was elegant and fostered arrogance. Like my mother, Mamachelo spoke with so much authority that you wouldn’t even think to question that what she was saying was true. She expressed an open fondness for her own intelligence and the intelligence of others. She advised us to thank God every day because none of us were stupid.
Mamachelo came around about once a month in a whirlwind of activity with my second cousins, who were her granddaughters and so lucky because they got to go to back to Spain and visit the Louvre in Paris. I lived vicariously through their pretty clothes, what I deemed as sophisticated mannerisms, and how they came and went in the pleasantries orchestrated by Mamachelo.
Mamachelo told the stories of her childhood as if they were lessons from a book. How my grandfather was so over protective that she wasn’t allowed to go to high school and how she went about the business of educating herself. She reported that even in her old age, she read voraciously in both Spanish and English. She read three things regularly: Forbes Magazine for the economic news, Time Magazine en Español, for international news, and to balance things off, Rona Barrett’s Hollywood.
We heard about how she lifted herself out of the sadness and grief of widowhood by starting new businesses, volunteering in the community and going abroad whenever she darned well pleased. She was like a Spanish Auntie Mame without the overtones of decadence.
She had high expectations and very little use for complaints. Once when I was bemoaning about some friends who were gossiping about me she said, “Don’t worry when they talk about you, dear. Worry when they don’t talk about you.”
She held me responsible for my actions, and showered me with praise when I showed initiative or creativity.
My best day with her was when I was preparing myself for my first formal dance. My father’s alcoholism was beginning to take its toll on our family and we had fallen on hard economic times. My mother had committed to making my gown, a pale aqua blue satin that she embroidered with sequined flowers. My shoes had been dyed to match; I had borrowed a beaded purse from one of my well-to-do cousins, and all I needed were some gloves. In my mind, the gloves needed to be aqua blue but we couldn’t find them in that color and to order them would have been too expensive. My mother, who had accepted a donation of a pair of long white gloves from one of her friends, insisted that white was fine but I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted aqua blue gloves. I had read an article in Seventeen magazine about dying clothes so I went to the grocery store and bought myself a couple of boxes of Ritz dye and carefully read the directions on how to create aqua blue. By some odd miracle, the gloves matched the blue of the dress to perfection. I was pleased but not as pleased as when my Mamachelo, who was on her monthly visit from Hermosillo, found the long gloves drying in the shower.
You would have thought I was Pablo Picasso’s protégé the way she went on about how well the gloves matched the exact color of the dress. She asked me how I did it and listened to me recounting my steps. She nodded with approval and said that I had a good eye for color. Not just anyone could do this, she said, why she herself had created some disastrous colors. She was proud of me she said for taking what little resources I had to make something beautiful. She was certain that I was going to be one of most elegant girls at the dance.
Mamachelo came in and out of my life quickly and effectively. I saw her perhaps once a month when she came to Nogales, Arizona to shop for American products or collect her rents, but every time she came, she stopped to know me. I felt strong under her gaze.
In a long letter before she died she told me how proud she was of me and listed all of my accomplishments, some that I didn’t even know she knew about.
After my divorce, I vowed to be more like Mamachelo. I made it a priority to work hard and travel with my daughter, stand up tall and smell good. I didn’t spend too much time whining; it wasted time and I was busy.
They say that when you are loved right, you always go back to that love in time of crisis so in my moments of despondency, I ran back to the memory of my two madrinas and I was consoled. They witnessed all my sacraments, my baptism, my confirmation and my marriage. There was only one problem. They were both dead. What I needed now was a living madrina, one that would witness the sacrament of divorce.
Madrina # 3
Dr. Lee Little
My friend Karen, who was one of my lifelines during my divorce, understood what I was looking for and she told me about a psychotherapist she knew. She said she grew dahlias and had hair like mine and thought we might hit it off. Dahlias are the most magnificent flowers on earth and not too many women have hair like mine so I called and made an appointment.
From the moment Lee gave me directions on how to find her, in a small white house in an old compound on Canyon Road, I knew that I had arrived in a place where I could find healing. Like Mamachelo and Paqui, Lee had a quick wit and a sense of humor. Her one-liners were salve to the wound.
One of the things that you can become infected with in Santa Fe is the new age philosophy that can be as helpful as annoying. I am vulnerable to these kinds of gimmicks because some of my family members were psychic, some of them were superstitious; and some of them were just plain nuts and to this day I don’t have the discernment to tell them apart.
In my hour of need, I was pulling out all the stops. A friend of mine told me that I needed to bring good chi into my home and so recommended that I install a small pond that re-circulated water in the pathway that lead to the entrance of my home. After going about the business of setting up the pond, I was to buy three gold fish and assign a good intention to each one. The three little critters were going to aid me in my journey to recovery, clean the atmosphere and bring in good energy.
Three days later, my daughter and I came home from our long day in town and the three goldfish were floating belly up on the re-circulating water.
All Sixteen Year Old Daughter could say as she passed the catastrophe was, “Now, that can’t be good.”
I was devastated. Three gold fish with three good intentions dead in three days! How could this happen and what could it mean?
The next day was my first session with Lee and I came in with my heart in my throat. I sat down and recounted that the three goldfish died in three days; I told her about the three intentions and looked at her with anticipation. She had a serene look in her eyes and didn’t say a word.
“Well?” I said, eager to know what she thought. “What do you think this means?”
She shook her head softly and said, “Dear, sometimes a dead gold fish is just a dead goldfish.”
I burst out laughing and I knew that I had come to the right place.
I went on to tell her that I wanted to hire Moo Gonzalez to break Art’s legs. “Just save your venom for me,” she said.
And that is what I did. I would go in foaming at the mouth and come out feeling cleansed. I purposefully saved my venom for Lee, as she recommended, so that I would not contaminate my daughter with my anger at her father, a decent father whom she adored. Lee’s little white house was the place where I would go to separate my “stuff” so that Sara and I could grow in our separate ways. Whenever I went in worried about Sara’s adolescence, Lee would say, “We know she’s fine, but how are you?” And although Sara never went to Lee herself, she knew that Lee was in her corner. Whenever I got too intrusive or frantic about setting curfews or other limits, my daughter would say, “Ask Lee what she has to say about this.” Sara intuitively trusted Lee to guide her distraught mother in the right direction.
Lee grew dahlias and had hair like mine. I told her once that she was the Jewish mother I never had. She smiled and called me Honey from then on. She witnessed the sacrament of my divorce, the divorce of a woman who thought she was a tough cookie until she realized that she was snagged in a tower.
Unlike Sr. Paz’s archetype of the Mexican woman who only existed when men woke them up, I would point out that this Mexican woman had at least three wise women facilitate her awakening. I would also challenge Señor Grimm and his crony Andersen and tell them that they were remiss in their recounting the stories of stranded young maidens. If they had just come in a little closer, they would have seen that it was not just the prince, the king or the kind woodsman who saved the girl. Fairy godmothers had a hand in it too.
It has long been the custom of me and my friend Ana that we do a year’s review each fall. Since we don’t live in the same city any more we don’t do a monthly coaching session, but we manage the review. This year is a bit earlier than autumn, but we’ve got a lovely weekend at the beach so we’re doing it slowly.
I think anyone or pair of friends could benefit from these questions, courtesy Ana:
The number one lesson I learned last year was…
Aspects of personal relationships that worked well for me last year were…
Aspects of personal relationships that didn’t work well for me last year were…
Things I would like to chage this year related to personal relationships are…
We ask the same set of questions for:
Prosperity and finances
Career and work related aspects
Aspects of care of my soul
It is always a rich process–hope you can use some of it.