You tried to feed him, carefully prepared bites of sweets. His smart phone took pictures, of nothing. You used his fancy umbrella to pick up the food mess he had spilled. The worst thing he said was “uncertainty”. “The word flows fast, you do not know what will come next, a small judgment, a reflection, fear in your eyes. Snap, click, click. You used your mouth as a diary and whispered, the world is watching you, you may need to defend your obsessions.
You read in the New York Times about a semi-trailer rig carrying as many as 76 illegal Central American immigrants, including 13 children. The trailer truck driver was stopped at a Texas border patrol checkpoint, 35 miles north of Laredo. Men and children were lying down intertwined or crouched against the wall of the rig. They unwound legs, protected heads with arms, squinted sharply and were herded off to detention centers.
The next day, your Ecuadorian housekeeper arrives at your house with swollen cheeks. She tells you her 24-year old son is in jail in Dixon, Texas. Without telling her, he had married his sweetheart the day before he left his modest house from your village in the Andes, wearing new shoes, shirt and pants. He had paid a coyote $15,000 to get through Mexico, through Texas and on to New Jersey. You showed her the New York Times picture of the men lying in the trailer. For the longest time she stood in your kitchen, scanning, enlarging the photograph with her fingers, looking for her son Carlos.
A maestro in crisp melon shirt and black pants
his young daughter and three older women are felling four trees
a cedar, a eucalyptus, and two Norfolk pines.
He glares towards the sky. His Zhumir eyes shift and cut tree branches.
Zhumir (the local liquor) can make your eyes twist.
With a makeshift sling, a dark purple sash tight around his waist
he shimmies up the last tree, a Norfolk pine.
Ropes, one to hold him
another to catch the branch,
lift him closer and closer to the sky.
The young daughter’s neck in a constant curve
flawlessly connects with his movements
in the top of the trees
as he reassembles his black leather belt
innards and nerves.
When a large branch comes down, the girl is lifted six feet
off the ground hanging on the rope like a tucked-in moth.
She loves being tall for one moment.
But when lifted twelve feet high she screams as if cut inside and out.
She drops into a heap. Odd gurgling sounds bellow out of her mouth.
Your saliva turns sour. You offer aqua, no jugo. She reaches dead
quiet through the hole of the cyclone fence. She inhales
the aqua everyone holding their breath. Until she giggles.
All three women break into bursts of laughter
lasting for a half hour. Arms repeat lifting her over and over.
Far above in the Norfolk pine, the maestro Cheshire Cat’s smile pierces.
Slowly he climbs down the tree, to collect his cup of aqua
crusty nails bleeding. You shake hands, his eyes fully askew
from shifting towards the endless blue sky. He is trembling.
You may have been mistaken about those Zhumir eyes.
Nor the wedding dress nor her young face are pink skinned
Seven times she pretends she has not sinned
While he marries her with one single thrust
The rose does not soften into angel dust
There was a farewell luncheon with family, neighbors and friends at the Berg and Dal Hotel restaurant Park Tivoli in Nijmegen. You and your family were immigrating to America. If it had not been for the Hungarian violin player encouraging nostalgic stories with his lamenting peasant songs, you would have vomited, a habit you had acquired since you were a child. You felt your own story shatter like broken strings and were about to burst into tears, when your father rushed into the room quieting everyone except for the whining violin. He was very late. He sat down, ate his cold meal and gulped his wine. You had been privy to your mother’s stories at an age when most girls would rather not hear about their father’s infidelities. The guests picked up their forks at a feverish pitch. Your stomach swallowed.
You do not feel like playing today. You prefer to fly in black with hummingbirds. They are so much more colorful than you. It’s the canelazo ecuatoriano that flows down your lips that reminds you of the ancient ones, the women of the Andes. Your felt black hat makes you look like a gaucho, the woman said, but you do not own a runaway horse to stifle the spooning waves of nausea. A yellow old church near Cañar repulses you. There are too many drippings of wax on candles in the church, too much wax slows you down.
Now that you have gone beyond 70, your eyesight is poor and your hearing is even worse. It’s a conundrum and like a mask it gives rise to unfamiliar motions. There they are, your consorts in poetry where your words are mine, and mine yours. You are as if tethered in a hand-made lapstrake double-ender wooden boat meant for inland waters. When the strake swells, the inner surfaces swell inward, loosening the lashing, letting the overlapping slats swell and slide sideways, but you are ignorant of such intricate things and instead you float your boat through the sky led by an ancient Sumerian bird with the body of an eagle and a head of a lion. According to legend this giant bird stole the Tablet of Destinies. His scream can make the whole world shake. At last you recognize yourself as part of the unreal and unusual.
Once you owned a precious emerald green jade stone ring, set in 18 karat gold. You were barely twenty. Your then Dutch-Indonesian father-in-law had smuggled the ring and other jewels into America during Suharto’s dictatorship. He told his Americanized sons to sell the jewels. Daily, he sat on a wooden chair like a stained tea cup on a wobbly table, white V-necked undershirt, tropical shorts, under the dilapidated porch roof of your sister in law’s house in Pasadena. He smoked hand-rolled Douwe Egberts tabak, one after another, waiting for his meals to be cooked and served. He waited for the money to roll into his pockets. Nothing happened. Eventually heartbroken and poor he left. His sons were ashamed. The emerald green stone fell out of the gold setting, you were guilty of an empty mounting.
The cooked flesh is raw, tears stream over blood, not yet burnt. The mother does not care if the razor-sharp knife freezes in a heartbeat and when slowness of yesterday or the day before becomes all the same. She does not shudder when hard rain splits unstable earth and loosens up your granite stones buried deep inside. You do not care if she forgives you when your mouth opens and closes. You do not weep when birthday ribbons in your eyelids turn emerald green to prevent spying eyes from seeing you. There is nothing but this: wherever you go, you finger your pearls leaving tiny holes in your delicate skin.
He gave you a torrent of words you did not understand and asked “¿De dónde es usted? “Washington” you said. When the machete hit sharply against the first willow branch, the old man had taken over, carefully saying “Washington”, “Washington” with each aimed whack. It was all over for the willow limbs stroking silver wires into the wind, weeping scents of mandarinas, black walnut, sweet jasmine and bamboo gone wild. When the willow tree was finally stripped, a 3-inch black moth, wings spread, lit into your house. He moved inch by inch along the wall, like a magician’s black cape never stuttering. The moth made me nervous like the breeze in the willows stroking mal aire, a bad wind of the night.