You tried to feed him, carefully prepared bites of sweets. His smart phone took pictures, of nothing. You used his umbrella to pick up the food mess he had missed. The worst thing he said was “uncertainty”. The word flows fast, you do not know what will come next, a small judgment, fear in your eyes. Snap, click, click. He used your smartphone as a diary and whispered, the world is watching you, you may need to defend your nonsense.
Before you woke up this morning a voice said: Name your house in the Andes. You had wanted to call it La Casa del Condor, but it sounded too grand, pretentious. The voice insisted: it is La Casa del Condor. Your roof has large wingspans. Separated with glass on both sides of its peak, it is like the long body of a transparent bird through which you see blue sky and changes of the night. Your Andean roof is ready for takeoff, slow, cumbersome, lifting its weight until it can catch the high winds and soar for half an hour or more. without once flapping its wings, bridging you to other realms, perhaps all the way to the Milky-Way as the Incans once believed. She said, name your house, you have no breath, you have no long view, you are limited to what is in front of you.
When it comes to folding into the Condor, with its sharp eyesight navigating between the world of the living and the dead, my words simply become black fixed images on white paper. My old life is now broken under me.
Two women folded and unfolded embroidered cloths for the altar, a little to the left, a little to the right, spotless white, an extra fold for Jesus and Maria, her picture framed under glass, cleaned every time a parishioner touched or kissed her. It took even longer to set up the display in front of the black Madonna high above the altar, she was small with a hooped dress. She had been repeatedly stolen by a padre from a nearby monastery who did not wish to go to church every day. He had kept her near him and prayed endlessly. However, he could not cross the door sill of the church unless he carried her back. It’s a restless church, no one quite knows what the right spot is for worship.
At the San Francisco Square you came upon a little table displayed with bottles of herbs, spiders, octopus and excrement from an animal. The man showed you every bottle with a creature inside, his encrusted, dark and sweaty face close to yours, eyes swimming. He showed you yellow salt-like stones, rubbed them on your temples, for bad air, for headaches, black undulating hairy forms, alcohol preserved armadillo feces, for bad influences. He sifted plant liquids from used coke bottles through his fingers, nails embedded with dirt, into your palms. One of the liquids drew you in, a deep lemony earthy smell. How much? Treinta dolares, he said. You shook your head, no, walked away. The man scared you. On a bench in the Parque de Calderon, the light and colors seemed unusually bright. Smelling the undercurrents of your palms you wished you had bought the bottle of lemony liquid. The next day you went back. He was not there, but his table and bottles were. You reached out to one of the bottles when you heard his voice. His black hair was neatly parted, he was smiling. He grabbed several bottles and mixed them as fast as he could without taking his eyes off you. Again, he strained liquid through fingers, told you to rub it all over your head, your neck, your body. He pulled a big wad of money out of his breast pocket and sprayed the bills, put them to his nose. Es bueno por dinero, he grinned, said, I am a brujo, a sorcerer, my name is Milton. You told him your name was Magdalena, he had you write it down. Slowly he read your name, M-a-g-d-a-l-e-n-a, as if ~ you had been newly discovered. Silent, you paid Milton $25 for the bottle of plant liquid.
When you had left your heart behind in another place, your vegetables were dying. Your body was back, but you were looking at your grown-out hair and pink protruding belly, while the celery had gone to seed and bent over backwards to get your attention. You had too many words to digest and could not get them out fast enough, the words were like lumps encased in cement.
When you were gone, the kombucha had grown, the liquid was gone and the glass bottle was full of mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, stepmothers, white ones and dark ones. You strained the mothers through a white plastic sieve, they slipped over the edge, however you nailed them with your elbow. Your husband said that was enough and took all mothers except two babies to the compost. Even the Samoyed dog won’t go near the compost anymore.
Munching grass rhythms that is what cows do besides lying around. You used to like cows, when they were behind fenced-in-areas. You would look deep into their eyes and knew what they were thinking. You even gave them names. But in Ecuador they roam freely along the side of the road or next to your property. They destroy the bank next to the quebrada, they eat the agaves you had planted, step into the water, brake pipes, lilies, and your favorites white ginger. There are five of them, one of them a calf, who usually trails far behind. When you explain to the young man that this is not an agricultural zone and that he can take the cows to the lagoon a bit further down the dirt road he enthusiastically says “si señora” but pretends he cannot control the cows nor you on the way back from the lagoon.
“For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich/ And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds/ So honour peereth in the meanest habit.”— Shakespeare. Thus you have heard, reading Shakespeare or Chaucer will light up your brain. Impulses escape weightlessly into new life when they come across unusual language. You think you know what Shakespeare is saying, but you are perplexed as if your eyes are reflecting fish eye tricks. Such a tender thing this brain. But what if you said “For ‘tis the food that makes the body rich” and ate only ancient Andean food: quinoa, kiwicha, kañiwa, uvilla, mortiño, jamaica, mashua, oca, arracacha and yacon. Would your brain light up from high altitudes, your heart whisper love stories into cold chilly nights, your kidneys speak only of rainy seasons? Or would you be confused and yearn for the fat of the lamb.
You came across Plate 43, an etching from the series Los Caprichos by Goya with the title “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” (El sueño de la razon produce monstruos). Goya is asleep amidst his drawing tools, his mind dulled by slumber, bedeviled by creatures that prowl in the dark. Bats and owls fly above him, a lynx watches, wide eyed, alert to the rise of monstrous forces. Imagination, mother of the arts and source of their wonders, mirrors teeth of incandescence that glow and shimmer in melodrama. Goya summons you to listen, paint your portraiture. The children went there before you, they went with each other and they went alone. Speak your poetry of the night.
Isaac Orobio de Castro took you to the Castillo of Bragança, a medieval castle in North Eastern Portugal. His family originally came from this area. He had not been there since he was a child. Full of emotion he climbed the castle’s fifteen turrets to gaze at the Culebra Mountains, northeast of Porto. You wandered off to explore the grounds. There were large underpants hanging on lines, slightly off-white, from overuse, a man’s underpants with broad worn-out elastic at the waist. There were no women’s underpants. Why were there so many, did he wait until he had no more clean ones and then begrudgingly stood at the washstand, behind the kitchen, and scrubbed them with a bar of olive soap wearing his overalls and nothing else? Did he feel exposed? Had these underpants gone everywhere on these grounds? Did they venture out into the main plaza of Bragança looking at pretty women? You asked Isaac Orobio de Castro: “Who lives in those underpants”? He said “Don’t be a crazy woman”.