To Kill a Rattlesnake

Abby and Felipe 

I fell in love with Felipe for his stories. Years later I realized, as I listened to his mother, whose stories have not been filtered through the knowledge of letters, and are redolent with place, where he’d learned his craft.

We met in Chicago eighteen years ago. He was undocumented, working as a bus boy, I was a server in the same restaurant. As I got to know him, he told me stories of his home town, a tiny village in the Sierra Huautla mountains. To an untraveled Midwestern girl, stories tinged in accent, spilling from a beautiful man lips, made La Tigra sound like the most exotic place on earth.

As he drug the anaconda out from under the mulberry bush last week, I laughed as I thought of my past fascination and naiveté regarding La Tigra. I recalled this story he’d told me many years ago, and I asked him to speak it to me again. I didn’t realize until this telling that the events had taken place where we now live.

The remains of the huamuchil.

The remains of the huamuchil.

 

When I was a little boy, about six years old, my family was hired to clean peanuts here at the Piedra Rahada, it was owed by my brother -in -law at the time. We were all there, under the big huamuchil that died last year, it was a very old tree even then.

My brothers were bringing the plants from the field and my mother and sisters and I beat the roots with a mocho, the back of a broken off machete, to knock off the peanuts. At that time you could still drink the water from the creeks, when we ran out, it was my job to fetch more.

I went  to the place where there is water all year round, between the roots of the big amates and parota, you know the place, all the animals drink there still. As I walked up the creek bed I saw a big rattle snake on its way for water too. I backed away and when there was some room between us I called to my family, “There’s a really big snake down here!” It was about the size of the masaquata I killed today.

My mother came down into the creek bed and when she saw the snake, even though I was pretty spooked by it, she said “Oh that’s not so big! This is what you do. ” She began to look for a big branch.  “The stick has to be dry”, she said, “because the venom is like electricity and can travel up a green branch.”

She chopped off a dead branch with her machete. (She still always carries a machete.)She walked up along side the snake, who didn’t even turn to look at her, and smacked it on the head. Dead. She picked it up, went back to work, and I went for water.

Where the wild animals drink.

Where the wild animals drink.

Soco butchered the snake. The meat was sold as a cancer remedy, and the skin for decoration, unless it was damaged. Damaged skin was used as a preventive medicine for chicken plague. She kept a small piece in their water dish to help keep them from falling prey to illness.

I wondered how Felipe felt about his mother pish-shawing his fear of a large venomous snake.

“I felt good,” he told me,” my mother always made me feel safe, like I could take care of things myself, that there was nothing to fear.”

I can’t think of a better testament to good parenting.

He still talks good story.

Let Us Gather

Felipe Gathers with Flourish

Felipe Gathers with Flourish

I’m very happy to be back to my walking and memorizing, oddly I was nervous after such a long postponement, and as you’ll hear my wind has not fully returned.
I’m excited to have discovered a poet I was not familiar with, Juan Felipe Herrera. I love this poem, in part because it sounds a little like the dialogue inside my head, a mishmash of English and Spanish, giving advice to the world, though mine is not so eloquent.
Even Felipe liked this poem, and poetry is not his thing. So without further ado, please join me at Ytube for the 29th poem I have memorized for my year long project, Where I live: a Devotion to Poetry. Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way, by Juan Felipe Herrera.

Perils of the Food Forest

Felipe and a constrictor living 15 meters form our house.

Felipe and a constrictor living 15 meters form our house.

Felipe decided to help me get caught up in the garden. I’ve fallen behind during my recovery. There were a few corners that I haven’t been to in quite some time apparently. This masaquata(anaconda) had taken up residence under my mulberry tree, fifteen meters from the house. Felipe disturbed its sleep and it came at him hissing. He said it scared him. I don’t need a whole hand to count the times Felipe has told me something scared him.
Perhaps you are wondering why he felt the need to kill it though.
Masaquatas are not poisonous, but they do have a nasty bite. They are constrictors and this one could definitely have made a meal of Chupa and Chico(her piglet buddy) who spend much of their afternoons napping in the garden. I also plan to house ducks in my garden one day, so, I’m sorry, but this predator so close to the house was not welcome. Had it been a bull snake, it would have been welcome to stay. We inhabit about an 1/8th of an acre of out of the Piedra Rahada’s 17, the rest is available to wildlife.
No, I did not skin it or eat it. I’ve never butchered a snake, though I’m sure I could have figured it out, snake butchering was too steep  a learning curve for the day. Rest assured there are a million other hungry organisms to make use of him.

The Center of All Beauty

The Amate. If you look closely you can see our tiny house behind it, and Felipe sitting in the crotch, just to give you an idea of its size.

The Amate. If you look closely you can see our tiny house behind it, and Felipe sitting in the crotch, just to give you an idea of its size.

 

Almost thirty years ago, a friend gave this poem and told me, “This reminds me of you.” I have carried it all this time. I’ve tucked it into my journal, pinned it on corkboards, hung it in cubicles, magnated it to refrigerators. Now, at the half way point of my personal challenge to recite 52 poems in 2014, I will recite it for you. Never before has the poem meant so much to me. For I am finally, here under the amate in the palm of the Sierra Hualta, truly, in the center of all beauty, writing and reciting these poems. Imagine!

 

 

Autobiographia Literaria

By Frank O’Hara

 

 When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls, and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poem!
Imagine!

 

 

Thank you for listening.
What is your vision of the center of all beauty?