2015 in Review: Six Word Memoir

We rang in 2015 in Deming.

 

Grandma China’s been gone eleven years.

We thought it was only ten.

Went ahead with the commemoration anyway.

 

K. cut three years of hair.

Just like that, he looks older.

Little boys get bigger. He resists.

Sometimes his fear outweighs his trust.

We celebrate risks faced and overcome.

We process the others. He grows.

I see him. I’ve been him.

 

P. turned 13. She wears eyeliner.

They grow so fast. Cliché. True.

I love who she is becoming.

She is stronger than she knows.

 

Feast Day at San Ildefonso Pueblo.

The dances root us in place.

 

I am constantly trying to simplify.

 

One board at a time—plenty.

 

After thirteen years, the Saturn died.

We left it where it stalled.

 

EKCO poets with Shelle and Valerie.

Write ten pages. Cut them up.

Collage them together. Rehearse. Perform.

 

We finally have a house plan.

There is a window between our bedrooms.

Can’t wait for that to go.

 

My friend started a book club.

Favorite: Between the World and Me

 

It’s time to be more honest.

 

Being a stepmom is no joke.

P. and K. – my greatest teachers.

 

Hembras. “Mother Lode.” My stepmom play.

My pink rebozo played a baby.

 

It’s time to write about Harvard.

Then I’ll have a suitcase trilogy.

Packing it to go to college.

Clinging to it after the fire.

Unpacking it to live my life.

 

I love reading at Sunday Chatter.

 

The cutest dog ever chose us.

Sat at our gate all day.

K. fed him, named him Leo.

Now he’s ours. I love him.

 

We lost Henry’s dad, April 20.

 

My dear friends lost their brother.

 

Aparna Levine healed my back pain.

 

I’m not allowed to run anymore.

Insurance pays gym fees. Hello, elliptical.

I’m trying to take up swimming.

Easier on the knees. Great cardiovascular.

Took first lessons since first grade.

I’m still learning how to breathe.

 

America Healing in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Adrián Pedroza for Bernalillo County Commissioner.

 

It’s hard to share this part.

Depression has me back on Lexapro.

I tried everything I could try.

Running, writing, sleep, therapy, acupuncture, limpias.

Weight lifting. No coffee. No sugar.

Yoga. Meditation. Long walks. Good friends.

Poetry. Theatre. Being harder. Giving less.

Some combinations. Sometimes all at once.

But then there were mornings lost.

I’m kind of a mess today.

Yoga unlocking emotion in my hip.

I’m in tears on my mat.

Hours crying in the living room.

Nobody home. Thank God. I can’t.

And the worst is the judgment.

It came from nobody but me.

Suck it up. Pull yourself together.

Stop crying. Get off the floor.

What is wrong with you now?

You have everything you ever wanted.

You are healthy. You are loved.

Henry. P. K. This place. Words.

People are mean in my head.

Stop messing with my friend Michelle.

If I were my good friend

I’d say, you’re sensitive, that’s beautiful.

I’d say, it’s just for now.

I’d say, understanding why isn’t necessary.

Right now just do what works.

There’s nothing wrong with needing help.

Some people need to be medicated.

I guess I am one of them.

What else is there to do?

 

I remember I like to dance.

 

Summer garden wasn’t about the harvest.

I needed my hands in dirt.

I grew stevia, lemongrass, and sunflowers.

I grew six yellow pear tomatoes.

Oaxacan green corn, basil, marigolds, hyssop.

Lemon verbena, bell peppers, volunteer melons.

Grasshoppers and hornworms ate like kings.

K. said to chop their heads.

“Post them on toothpicks as warnings.”

 

I finally took the curanderismo course.

 

I want chickens in our yard.

They would help with the grasshoppers.

 

K. made the school’s archery team.

He and Henry shoot into hay bales.

 

The Kellogg Fellows are buena gente.

I get to work with six.

Carmen, Carnell, Carlos, Kayla, Sarah, Ventura.

 

Happy Arte Hour. So much fun.

 

We are launching an artist cooperative.

 

coffee, coffee, Zendo, Zia Latte, coffee

 

We lost Leo. He came back.

 

We rafted. Let’s do it again!

 

We lost my cousin, Robert Otero.

My BFF married a good man.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Epi Chavez.

We lost my tío, Joe Calderon.

A wonder he lived so long.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Alfonso Lopez.

 

P. was the best Halloween chola.

Thanks, Andrea, for doing her makeup.

 

My godmother was diagnosed with cancer.

 

P. dyed her hair in LA.

Four hours later, it’s bright pink.

 

Things I am embarrassed to admit:

I love that Justin Bieber song.

It’s too late to say sorry.

My mama likes everyone, except you.

 

Why don’t mid-school kids wear jackets?

That hoodie can’t keep you warm.

 

We lost Berna, a family friend.

 

Some things I could’ve done without:

Two words. Donald Trump. Enough said.

Middle school girls with duck lips.

Road rage. Police violence. Susana Martinez.

(Pee-tzah. Cokes. Call off your guys.)

 

I am blessed with good friends.

Stephanie reminded me who I am.

Emmy, thank you for making time.

Avi visited with her youngest daughter.

Anel and I wrote in Santa Fe.

María Limón surprised me one morning.

Finally got to meet Jesse’s kids.

I told them stories about college.

I wish his family lived closer.

Vicki and I ate and laughed.

Got to hold Desiree’s baby Luisa.

 

It’s time to be more honest.

I am constantly trying to simplify.

I’m still learning how to breathe.

Everything is better when I write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 8:30 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

Vigil

On the passing of my father-in-law, Henry Rael, Sr., April 20, 2015

IMG_6058That first night each of us prayed in our own way. My Henry held his dad’s hand and whispered, almost chanting, “we love you, thank you, it’s okay, you can rest…” His sister held the other hand, smoothed her dad’s hair and prayed the Our Father. I sang Hail Mary, Gentle Woman and Las Mañanitas. Priscilla spoke in tongues.

We thought he would go any minute, grasping our hands, lifting his chest from the bed only to collapse into it again, moving his lips to speak, no sound. The sun rose, and my father-in-law was still with us, the hum of the oxygen machine with its intermittent bursts still a constant backdrop. We drank coffee, ran home to replenish our overnight bag, canceled meetings and travel, made arrangements for our pets. We lit a candle and kept it burning on the bookcase where he kept his Bible and binders of Spanish liturgical music he’d composed over the past 40 years.

We made agreements: when we are here, we will be here. We won’t speak about him. We will speak to him, with him. We will do all we can to make him comfortable.

The next night we took turns. There were long, quiet hours when each of us was alone with him, the light low from his bedside lamp. Loose from its ponytail, my hair cast wild shadows on the wall. I think the shadows spooked him. He was a man who sought light.

And so I changed the angle of the lamp and sat on the floor next to his bedside table.

He stopped eating. Spoonfuls of water to ice chips to a sponge to wet his lips. White spots on the nails. Dark spots on the hands. Cold toes. He didn’t talk or close his eyes for three days and nights.

To his bedside those last 72 hours came the estranged sister, the gay nephew, the niece who’d lost a young daughter a few years prior, the cousin and sister with their rosaries, the priest who got a smile out of him when he said, “I’m here to pray with you.” This is how we should pass. At home, with people we love, no need to talk, just listening to beloved after beloved say, we love you, thank you, you are good, God is with you. And as steady as the oxygen machine, his daughter, his son, his wife of nearly 50 years. That last morning he looked Henry in the eye, took his last breath, and he was gone. I woke to my mother- and sister-in-laws’ weeping. He is gone.

I think of Mary Magdalene weeping at Jesus’s empty tomb. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13)

The day he was buried, rain pounded our procession as we rode from church to cemetery, then again from cemetery to reception. I had run out early that morning to buy umbrellas and waterproof mascara, but we didn’t need the umbrellas because both times we stepped out of the family limo the rain stopped long enough for the pallbearers to rest their boutonnieres on Henry’s casket, for his white-haired cousin to sing an alabado, long enough for my Henry, his brother, his sisters, and his mom to reach across their folding chairs under a blue tent and hold onto one another as the casket was lowered into the ground.

He is gone.

And he is here. In the choir that played his music at the rosary and funeral, in the angels with their crockpots of posole, beans, red chile, green chile stew, their trays of brownies and bowls of macaroni salad, their packets of sugar and powdered creamer, their bottomless cups of coffee. He is in the condolence cards, in these words from a dear friend: “In Navajo Way when a person passes, we talk about how our essence is to be wiped from this world—our breath, fingerprints, footprints, etc. The rain helps to cleanse us from this world to go into the next world. I thought about the rain that has fallen since Friday. Your father left such significant marks upon this land that it took so long, so many days of rain to celebrate his essence.” This is the wettest summer in the children’s lifetime, the first summer that our peach tree—a gift from Henry Sr., started from the stone he planted in a backyard bucket—yielded more than one fruit, a dozen peaches on the northern branches and on the south, about twenty nectarines.

He died during the Easter season, just as he’d wished. “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” (Luke 24:5)

He has risen.

And he is here. In the strum of P’s fingers across the strings of the guitar he left for her. In K’s desire to sleep in Nano’s bedroom. “It’s a little creepy, but even if there’s a ghost, it’s a good ghost.” He is here, in Henry’s eulogy, written and spoken with such honesty and love.

He was 93 years old. He was a good man. No weeping and gnashing of teeth for this one. I picture Jesus and Saint Peter welcoming him, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of [the] Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

Published in: on August 18, 2015 at 7:00 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

In Search of the Star

Christmas Eve we were returning from posole and tamales at my in-laws’ home, carne adovada and plática at our friends’ annual open house, and hot chocolate and luminarias in Old Town. One block north of our street, Henry slowed the car to flashing lights, an ambulance, police cars, a news van parked just beyond the police perimeter. When we reached home, our 8-year-old neighbor called out to P and ran across the street, a ritual she performs anytime both girls are home and awake.

“Thank you for my present. I’ll bring yours tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to do that, honey,” I said. “We just wanted to get you a little something.” I wanted her to talk about the watercolor paints and paper I’d wrapped and sent across the street with P earlier in the day. I wanted her to talk about her baby niece or getting her tooth pulled the week before, anything but the blue-red-blue-red lights behind her house. She is the eyes and ears of Atrisco, an inquisitive girl living in a family compound of older sisters, grandparents, mom, and visiting aunties who don’t always filter their conversations.

“They found a girl,” she said.

I remember my own 8- and 10- and 16-year-old self, growing up in a place where the police blotter was read on the local radio station, where the crimes were property damage or driving on an expired license. Our small town seemed impervious to murder, to robbery, to the shootings and stabbings reported on KOAT Channel 7. I thought Albuquerque was the most dangerous place in the world. Back in Deming the brown kids were shaped by the harsh tongue (and hand) of Sister Rosalie. In a town with one high school and one stoplight, everybody knows everybody else. If nothing else, fear of God and vergüenza kept us from mortal sin against our maker and our neighbors.

“That’s really horrible,” I said, standing next to P at our open gate, Henry and K already inside the house. “The police are still there. We don’t really know what happened yet.” It was Christmas Eve, Baby Jesus swaddled in the nativity manger, the white lights of our tree blinking through our living room window. P and I walked the girl back across the street, wishing her mom and grandma a Merry Christmas, not mentioning the red and blue glow still in view.

P and K changed into pjs while I set up the couch bed (as the kids call it) and Henry searched for news of the crime online. Police are investigating a homicide in southwest Albuquerque. A woman was found covered in blood. Blunt trauma. Puncture wounds. None of us mentioned the body again that night. Henry fell asleep next to the kids. I stuffed stockings and finished wrapping gifts, tasks made easier by living with children who’ve never really been into Santa Claus.

I thought of pre-school, my Christmas show at the Gingerbread House. I wore a red leotard and tights and a band of white tulle around my waist. I sat on Santa’s lap; he gave me the Cootie Bug game. I remembered Grandma Rosie’s tinsel tree on the bookshelf in her living room, her gas fireplace with the fake log that never blackened or diminished in size. I remembered all those Christmas Eves I scanned the night sky in search of the star that led the Magi and shepherds to baby Jesus. I thought of the family that found the body. I thought of the body, the woman, imagining her final moments. I thought of women’s bodies. In Juárez. On the mesa.

It was Christmas Eve.

Her name was Idali Reyes. She was 26. Two men were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence. One drove. The other stabbed her. One said she accused him of owing her money. They dumped her body on the street, then burned their clothes. Police are looking for a third suspect.

I am thinking of children, what they know and what they don’t, what they say and what they keep to themselves. I am thinking of stories, those invented and those we only wish were make-believe. I am thinking of Bill Cosby, all the women. I believe them. I am thinking of my 8th grade art teacher. He coached my 7th grade basketball team and, like many coaches, insisted we dress up on days we had out of town games. I told him I didn’t like wearing skirts in the cold. He said, “Wear your wooly bra.” He never touched me, never hurt me. I was never alone with him. I was in college when he was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for child molestation. I hope the children he harmed told someone. I hope they were believed. And even if they didn’t tell or they weren’t believed, I hope they know it wasn’t their fault. I hope they are healing, that the light in them feels stronger than the darkness. I hope they are well.

Healing, light, to be well. This is my wish for the 8-year-old across the street, for P and K, for our neighbors one block north, for those who have been harmed, for those doing the harming. For all of us.

 

 

Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 7:51 am  Comments (12)  
Tags: , , , ,

How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

Continued from April 22, 2014 post, How to Be, Part II: Holy Saturday

How do I get unstuck?

How do I get out of my own way?

I don’t think I knew what was missing for me those months I drove back and forth to Santa Fe to teach. I thought that if I just had more time, if I were writing more, if I could just figure out how to balance parenting and paid work and writing (and turn more of my writing into paid work!) and relationship, then I could bring my best self to those fifth graders. I could channel M’s sarcasm into an autobiographical comic strip or transform J’s indifference into curiosity or finally develop a hands-on project that was so engaging L would want to stay in his seat. And if I couldn’t do any of those things, then I could at least draw on reserves of compassion and patience to combat the tendency of my shadow side to personalize normal fifth grade boy behavior, buying into the belief that M makes snide remarks and J doesn’t care and L wanders the room because they hate me, and they must hate me because I’m boring and I suck.

Part of me was right, not about being boring or sucking, but about the other stuff. I did need to be writing more. (I always need to be writing more.) I did need more balance in my life. But my frame for correcting the problem was askew. It wasn’t about figuring things out, cracking the code to that age-old work/life balance question. I didn’t need to think my way through this. I needed to do something.

The simple answer to those questions I asked Ana Castillo is this: you just do. You get unstuck by moving. You get out of the way by getting.

So I filled a jar.

Chrissie Orr is the creative genius behind El Otro Lado. As a little girl in Scotland, she would help her mother make jam. There was no recipe. Her mother knew just when to pick the berries, how much sugar to add, how long to stir the pot, when to pour the goo into the jars. She shared these stories at the closing of El Otro Lado for the 2013-2014 school year. She talked about who we are as artists and teachers and teaching artists, how each of us has a need for reflection, how each of us intuitively knows what supports us in our reflective process, the ingredients, so to speak. She gave each of us a jar and asked us to fill it with words or natural materials (or a mix) that symbolize what supports us in our reflective practice. Then she set us loose at The Academy for the Love of Learning. My role with El Otro Lado has changed. Last year I stepped aside as a teaching artist and came on as part of the facilitation team for teacher/teaching artist gatherings. It takes a lot for me to step out of my facilitator role and enter into an art experience. Even if the art experience is really cool—working with vellum, writing an ode—I tend to stand back and watch the room, hold the space. Part of it lies in being present to the participants, holding space so they can move freely within it. But part of it is fear. What if I enter this experience and nothing comes? But this time I picked up a jar and asked Chrissie, “Can we do this too?”

I walked the arroyo at the northern edge of the Academy’s property. I scooped a handful of rocky sand into the jar. I found a flat rock shaped like a heart. Not a Valentine heart, but the actual muscle that pumps blood through my body. I broke a dry sprig of chamisa from its branch. I followed a vine of gourds, some perfectly intact, hardened, a hint of green or yellow at the ombligo connecting the gourd to the vine. Some had a jagged window cracked into them, and I imagined the sparrow that might have tapped in search of food. I picked a dried flower, the petals like parchment. And then I found my gourd. It was broken open as though from within. It was an egg, a nest, a cocoon, a hatch. It was shelter.

Published in: on June 26, 2014 at 8:11 am  Comments (1)  
Jennifer Givhan, Poet & Novelist

Landscape with Headless Mama

Anel I. Flores

Tejana, chicana, lesbiana, writer and artist

Demetria Martinez: Secrets of Joy

Author, Activist and Creativity Coach

marydudley's Blog

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey...

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Vessel

a person regarded as a holder or receiver of something, esp. something nonmaterial