María Cristina López
Cati Perez Lacey
I’m pleased to launch this blog with excerpts of work that emerged out of workshops this year. Re-reading them, I feel the alchemy of kinship - sitting together writing reading sharing – deep play – the subconscious manifest – the places that words take us when we’re not looking and even when we are – and the stories that know how they want to be told – all we need to do is listen…
María Cristina López
Cati Perez Lacey
It is November. The dirt road leading into the village is slick and icy from the snow, which will turn into mud once the snow melts, making this road almost impossible to travel by car. At the bottom of this dirt road, the century-old cottonwoods encircle the plaza, bringing shade in the summer and pageantry during the fall. Today, they stand bare branched like witches hair standing toward the vast gray sky while a convent of ravens sit, black specks on brown bark against grey sky, calling us from tiny windowless adobe houses into the plaza where dirty snow sticks to our boot as we trudge forward. We wait for Esperanza.
For ten years, I delivered mail in the small communities of northern New Mexico through winter blizzards, summer monsoons, and golden cottonwood Indian summers. I drove my little rickety mail truck from town to town, delivering mail every day, rain or shine. I remember the small town of Truchas. It smelled like earth, not the sanitized earth of California or the rich manure fields of Texas but the stringent smell of pine needles decomposing into dark earth and piñon wood burning in little brown fireplaces in little brown adobes in this little brown town.
This is where I met her - Esperanza.
At ten years old, she was taller than most with thin, wild black hair that everyone tried to tame - first by brushing to the kinky roots out to the straight ends. After her mother bore three more children, one after another, the brushing stopped and gave way to braids that would tangle like the giant roots of the cottonwoods, flat in some spots, puffy and rising from her head in others, giving the impression that this child rose from the tangled and stringent earth roots of Truchas. Her hair finally turned toward her African roots, a strange and wondrous sight, like a wild orchid nourished in a contrary climate.
This exotic flower moved me. I began watching her, looking for excuses to be with her. Church, where we all congregated on Sundays, was the ideal place. I would sit in the back, while her family sat in front of me. I waited and watched her like a hungry coyote, waiting for a scrap of food. She loved church not for the message about “God” but for the singing. She would fling herself at the songs like a drowning swimmer flaying around the melody, and sinking into the harmony.
Snow Hill Laceys
Henry Orlando Lacey
Papa Cachi y
Mercedes Villanueva Victor Perez
The mist arising from
cool air up me nostrils
der Faerie Spirit dat
a cum wid me
acrost der moor
to der shimmerin’ sea
‘n smell o’ fish
‘n boats ‘n brine
The silken skin of the
enveloped in colored feathers
languid eyes that
that sparkle of desire
His tall body atop a horse
asking her the way
caught off-balance by
her curious stare
no longer wanting to know
the road ahead
She Could Not Find a Way
She could not find a way to mend it.
It was always there -
- images of tearing a sheet to shreds.
There were no sheets beneath them,
just the prickling straw
that stuck to the sweat of their bodies.
With furious kisses and gripping hands
they clasped their lust between them.
And when it was done,
and he was gone,
she lifted the hay with the pitchfork
and fed the cows who bayed.
She did not know where tenderness lay.
Her coldness enveloped her like ice
and shattered his approach to her.
But, no matter, the Lord has his ways,
and she as a sinner could only obey.
Stella Takes a Walk
My great-grandmother strides ahead of us, staff in hand as though she is leading the lost to a promised land. From my vantage point, she is elderly, square and solid. Even in the wild terrain of this box canyon, she wears a housedress with roll-up hose and sensible shoes. She is tireless on this long walk to gather up horses gone afar. When she stops to look into the distance, I wonder what she sees because, to my young eyes, there is only open sky, sage and red dirt. She turns to check on my cousin and I sitting atop our bareback horses. All her leathery wrinkles crinkle up when she smiles and I see the twinkle in her blue eyes.
Marrying Quanah Parker
We live in Indian Country but I’m not afraid. A frequent visitor for dinner is an Indian. Father says he is a great man for a lost cause but I’m not sure what he means. Brother Earl tries to scare me by telling me he’s a fierce Comanche warrior. Sometimes, our friend comes dressed in all his Indian finery and sometimes, he wears clothes like Father’s. There is a strange opposition in his person. He sits quite straight on his horse and looks extremely stern when he rides up to the house but once he sees us waiting on the porch, he breaks into a beautiful smile. He’s really a gentle man who laughs readily at Stanley’s tall tales. I don’t know where Stanley comes up with them. Tonight, our guest sits on the floor with May and Bessie showing them a game that Indian children play. Earlier, he told me that my name means star. I think he’s rather handsome and wish that someday I could marry him but that is a wish I have to keep secret because Mother and Father would never approve. Mother says that one should never marry outside of one’s own kind and I do like the boy that’s come to work for Father. After all, what would one do married to a man like Quanah Parker?
He ran his fingers through her hair and said, I love your hair, never cut it. Then, he smiled. He looked into her eyes and said, your eyes are so blue, so deep. She was sitting on his lap. Her chest to his. Her face resting against the side of his face. He was gripping her with both his arms and he said, you are so wild. When she asked what made her wild, he answered by taking another draw on his joint. Months later, she asked again, and even then, no answer. This, she found so frustrating, the not answering, the comments that suggested intimacy, love even, with no attempt to go deeper and deeper is always, always where she desired to go.Deeper and deeper still.
When she was a little girl, she felt exposed all the time and words came out of her mouth in reaction to her imagined or not, exposure and then, people hated her and the silence commenced. Her goal became to cover herself, go underground, not be seen, and so, she learned to be fictitious. There she hid. There she imagined she’d be safe. She was successful and she wasn’t. Her body never let her escape her lies and she lied. Asking questions always, always revealed she wasn’t who she seemed.
The tension undid her. She was wild. (Everyone knew.)
White by Amy Kaplan
The room is white. Directly in front of the bed, there is a wall of windows facing the sea. To the right and the left of the bed, half of each wall, are windows. The bed is very wide and long. The bed is wide and long enough for a man, a woman, and a child to sleep in comfortably. The linens and the comforter are white. There are four pillows, white. Two of the pillows rest against the headboard and two are for sleeping on. Looking out the windows, the sand is white, the ocean is white, made white from sunshine and further out, dark, maybe blue.
The first night in that white room, in that white large bed, she sleeps well and wakes around dawn feeling as if she in a fairy tale and maybe, her life will always be this way now.
The next day, she takes a long walk in the beach. The beach is strewn with garbage and a large gnawed-at carcass of some animal. The carcass stinks. She can smell it as she approaches it. That night, the humming of the fish processing plant wakes her and keeps her awake and the darkness descends again despite all the white that she is immersed in.
Still, she dreams. Still, she longs for a wall of windows facing a landscape white, clean, that she can walk into and live in. Live in some way, unfettered and smiling as she walks, only the sweetly scented breeze following her.
Instead there’s one bed after another after another in one house after another, after another, all not her’s, all with windows not facing anywhere at all. Rooms full of other people’s things and junk and smells, illusions, wishes, dreams. Rooms full of the constant, haunting question with no answer: how do you make a home when the black dog, no, a black dog is biting at your ankles and won’t stop ever even when he takes your treat?
Instead, a man who is part of that place, says, full of anger, right anger, that they need to shut that place down. Now.
She walks on because there is nothing else to do but that.
We headed out by foot on a Sunday morning in May from Concord, a favorite place; one drenched deep in the greenery and sustenance of the birth of our country’s consciousness. I loved how the soft fields and dainty fairy flowers inspired our forefathers to pursue fresh, endless ideals; collecting clay pots, oil paintings, bone china but most of all, ideas from around the world. Lives fully saturated in the humble cycles of country life and the grandeur of an evolving world.
In anticipation, you and I took the trail carved by Emerson and Thoreau which they took on lazy rambles, filling the air with inspired chatter. Familiarity arose as we walked on land similar to the land where I was born, humming meadows peppered with fragrant phlox, wet marshes, marked by skunkweed, and groupings of lady-slippers dainty in the forest. As we passed over a silent pond on a single plank bridge, we laughed at the ducks in their nervous quacking.
With my hand in yours, our stroll to Walden Pond was marked in my heart, a golden landmark, just like the sunlight. When we arrived, you swam on your back. I walked the shore singing.
Where’s the Rimmel
My mother kept her nails long and manicured all the 54 years I knew her. How she managed this while raising two girls, working long hours at the drugstore and cooking delicious pastries on weekends, was simply what grown up women did.
I can still see her sitting at the kitchen table by the east window that captured the best light in the house for putting on her makeup. The silver framed round mirror held up by a sugar bowl, coffee cup and ashtray on the side.
Face powder was applied with a little round cream-colored sponge, padding below her eyes, forehead, nose, around her mouth and cheeks. “Take off all the shine,” she’d say. As she gently rubbed rouge circles on her cheeks she would turn to one of us and ask, “Is it too much, parezco payaso?”
Next, she filled in her thin eyebrows with a dark pencil and put a little saliva on a tiny brush, rubbed against a black pad of Rimmel mascara carefully brushing, extending and thickening her eyelashes. As she stretched her lips over her teeth, she put on English Rose lipstick, matching the color of her nail polish. She looked at herself in the mirror and noticed she needed earrings, slipped on her rings and watch and was ready to go.
Oranges with Red Chile and Salt
When I was in grade school, I had one girl friend with whom I hung out, Carmen Gánem, Carmelita as her Tía Conchita called her. Her Mother Estela made the best refried beans, soft, runny and salty. I loved to go to Carmen’s house after school and have a bean burrito and a glass of milk. We lived behind her grandaunt’s house so we saw each other often after school. We walked together and talked, about school, our dresses, her brothers, my sister, while we ate oranges smothered with red chile and salt, or jicama con limón y sal .
Carmen had thick black eyebrows connected to each other, like Frida Kahlo’s, but furrier, long wavy hair she wore in braids and she was a little pudgy like little Lulu. We were in third or fourth grade. We didn’t care much what each of us looked like.
We went to the movies on Sundays, mostly American cowboy movies with subtitles that had nothing to do with our lives. There was a lot of talking and laughing and throwing palomitas around or spitting gum from the balcony down. We rode our bicycles around the block while Carmen talked. I was more of a listener, like my father, or so my mother says.
Just before the fifth grade, I left to Mexico City to have an operation on my leg and a year later when I came back Carmen had plucked and shaped her eyebrows, wore her hair medium short and she had developed a waist and boobs! It was the first time I noticed that she had blue eyes. My friend was beautiful - what a surprise. Carmen was now in sixth grade and I was still in fifth grade. I lost my classmates and gained my sister’s friends. It was not the same somehow - they seemed borrowed, not legitimate. Soon, I got used to them and even liked one or two, especially Irma. My sister and I visited her often. I was intrigued at the relationship of the young brother to his sisters. They did everything for him from ironing his shirts to serving him dinner. He did not reciprocate. I didn’t understand why Poncho got all these perks - he wasn’t that smart or cute.
After my father died when I was seven, my brother, mother and I used to visit his older brother Harry’s home for special occasions. Aunt Vera, Uncle Harry’s wife was a beautiful aristocratic Rumanian woman who outclassed her husband. She had an exquisite sense of design and was a very gracious hostess to us, the “poor relations.”
We entered their large and spacious home with a brief climb up wide stone steps to a porch the length of the house. The maid Hannah with her toothless smile welcomed us. Their two-story home had a finished basement, and a library, living and dining room on the first floor. I rarely ventured upstairs to the mysterious bedrooms.
As a very shy child, I felt quite lost in that home and would wander through the first floor rooms and even into the basement looking for I don’t know what. My cousin Henry was always to be found in the wood paneled library, ensconced in a leather chair squinting at the New York Times. He wasn’t very social. The family story about Henry was that he was dropped on his head as a baby and this explained his strange behaviors and speech. He was probably severely autistic.
Uncle Harry always played the card game “Pisha Paisha” with me and only then I would feel connected. We sat in the living room at a card table and he would joke around with me. Then we all dined at the long mahogany table under an azure blue, wood beamed ceiling. The best part of the meal was the chocolates that Aunt Vera produced for dessert. With her black hair piled on top of her head and her aristocratic demeanor she was both generous and intimidating. I always felt like a second-class citizen in that home. Now I know that I felt shame.
In Wonder Woman garb, she leapt through the doorway and into the foyer of Uncle Harry and Aunt Vera’s Flatbush home. Her mother and brother followed. Everyone snapped to attention when this commanding eight-year old took the floor. She announced that her family was in no way inferior to those present, her father’s relatives. Just because her dad, their favorite brother George, had died, just because she, Mom and Larry lived with Mom’s first generation European parents, just because they lived in Crown Heights, they were most assuredly not second-class citizens.
In clear tones she commanded all those present to treat her own small family with respect. Finally, she told them not to blame her mother for her dad’s death, because her father had been a driven achiever and that nothing and no one could have gotten him to slow down in order to protect his delicate heart. She shouted that her mother was as broken-hearted as the rest of them.
Their mouths agape, they looked first at her and then at each another in wonder. What had become of the shy, retiring child they were used to? Was this really Ellen or a mutant? She ignored their display of disbelief and went on to announce that her maternal grandparents should never be objects of disdain. They had created in her home, however modest, a lineage of classical music, art and literature, especially poetry, that these relatives, who started out selling newspapers, did not possess. And, she said, that if it weren’t for Aunt Vera, Uncle Harry would not dwell in such an elegant house.
When she finished, with her mom and brother smiling broadly, they all turned on their heels and left her father’s family members in stunned silence.
With her cape flaring behind her like a pair of wings, she flew down the porch stairs as her mother and brother followed gleefully a few short steps behind. Instead of relying on Uncle Harry’s chauffer, they called a cab and returned to their Crown Heights brownstone.