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?”