Vessels: Los Antepasados

Continued from Thursday, November 11 post.

Telling Stories, Henry Rael

But first a word about Saturday’s Otro Lado Storytelling Event at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC).

Really, one word: Inspiring.

The exhibition runs through January 21 in Pete V. Domenici Education Building at the NHCC. For more information on El Otro Lado, and to see and hear participant stories, visit To comment on the event and/or the exhibition, visit the 516 ARTS blog.

And now, the ancestors.

Crecencio y Lute

She wasn’t the first woman to live in his house. She was the first to give him children, the first to survive a birth.

“Lute. Eluteria.”

He grunted more than called her name from the porch where he sat Saturday to Sunday dusk emptying the bottle of aguardiente, his fingers closed around its neck the same way they closed around her skinny wrist each time he led her to the back room. He was pale and powerful, freckled, with black hair and eyes like old pennies.

Crecencio Moran. His name was unlike any she’d ever heard. It was the moon beneath la Virgen’s feet y el crecimiento, the child growing inside her. Crecer. Creyente y creer, his name was believer and belief.

He rarely asked anything of her when he summoned her to the porch, only gestured to the groove on the step, worn like the well of a metate from his boots and those of so many mine workers who filled the house and village when coal flowed more freely along the new railroad than las aguas del Río Grande. She sat with her hands on her belly, her feet in the dust and listened as he spit tobacco juice into an empty bottle.

These evenings they did not speak. Inevitably, as the sun left them in darkness, he would tilt his head back and fall to sleep, and she would slip into the house, sprinkling its splintered floor with water droplets to keep from rising the dust beneath their feet.


Crecencio and Lute loved best when Isabel was a baby. The family shared a bed, with Lute on her back, Crecencio’s head on Lute’s chest, and Isabel lying beside them on a pillow made of flour sacks. Isabel’s name was a resting place, like that space between Lute’s breasts, where Crecencio felt like a woman’s child, that boy in San Luís Potosí before smallpox took his apás and forced him north to work with tíos who mocked his name and pulled his pink ears. He could sleep in that space, warm his hands, feel his mother’s heartbeat, open his eyes and stare full-on at the sun as though it were just another compañero’s headlamp guiding him through the mine. He could live and die with his head resting on Lute’s breastbone, dream of his birth beneath a mighty tree, forget his lungs lined with coal dust, all while Lute whispered Isabel Isabel Isabel.

But, like the lives of women, these moments never lasted. Another baby came, Florentino, my grandfather. He suckled the color from his mother’s breast, darkened to a baked adobe as her skin dried like cornhusks. His cries drowned Crecencio’s memory until he forgot the beauty of his own daughter’s name. Before Isabel could talk, Crecencio began calling her Chavela. The nickname sounded to Lute like drunkenness, like anger.

The last night la partera thrust a new baby into Crecencio’s arms, then rushed back to Lute before he could name the sharp metal taste that pierced the darkness like the newborn’s cries. He fingered the blood on the blanket’s hem and knew he held his wife’s remaining breaths.

Childbirth is a form of battle, its victims like fallen warriors. The spirits of fallen mothers strengthen soldiers in battle and rise to Cihuatlampa, the place of the women, where all mothers who die in childbirth accompany the sun from zenith to dusk. Their faces turn to bone, their hands to eagle claws, and they descend to earth only as Cihuateteo, bare-breasted and haunting crossroads at night, stealing children, and seducing men.

Lute surrendered.

After the burial, her children scattered like los hijos de La Malinche. Baby Lute to her tíos on the ranch, Chavela y Florentino to a sister in Dolores.

Men from the mine were let go, their homes abandoned to dust and ghosts. And though Crecencio still had a place there, each day the underground shafts felt more like the chambers of a dying heart. He married again. And again. Always outlasting his wives.


At dusk, plunging the sun into the Western Ocean, Eluteria hovers for an instant, a breath, exhaling another day of life across the water, across the borderlands to her tres hijos. Each child shifts to night—Chavela taking her blood pressure, Tino brightening his wife’s empty kitchen with the Virgin Mary night light, Lute smoking a cigarette on their father’s porch.  Eluteria sinks beneath the earth, pushing the sun to another side of sky.

Coming Tuesday, November 23 – “Vessels: Michelle”

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 9:50 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow. what a strong voice you have. I have noticed it changing over time, it’s particularly strong here. It seems like there is more emotional distance and therefore the imagery is so much more palbable – drawing the reading in like a vortex.

    • Thank you, Desiree. It’s so wonderful having a community of amigas who have known me and my work over a long period of time. We’ve all grown together since that first Friday Fellowship in the Catholic Student Center.

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