The end! Hasta mañana!
Tomorrow I will review Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life by William Finnegan …
Twelve years ago Felipe and I were married in a garden we revived from a syringe strew lot, next to our Humboldt Park apartment in Chicago. I didn’t realize we were building a personal metaphor with that plot.
We have adapted weed nature to survive in México, and sometimes it certainly feels that we have been pulled and burned and carted away. Still we stay and flourish. Tenacious as weeds, our flowers. This week I recite the fitting poems read during our wedding service.
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.
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.
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.
Last year, when I participated in Napowrimo, I worried I wouldn’t be able to write a poem in a day. And as it turned out I could …and couldn’t. This poem, Husband, recited for Felipe on Valentine’s day was written during Napo, but re-vised many times since, including while I was memorizing it, which made retention a little difficult. Ultimately, it required ten months to finish, a little less time than usual, a year is the standard time frame for me to complete a poem.
I thought you might find it interesting to see both versions. This is the finished version.
I wanted to write you a love poem
but all I had were words
made of letters formed from
ideas once pictures
representing things only
I got to thinking of the languages
you know, you learned by listening
to chickens cluck, and cockle
You look for hawks in their
racket and a lost chick
at their bidding
Your eyes change in the light like
night eyes you’ve shown me, “See–
rabbit’s glow round, look how
they differ from a cat, a skunk–
man, learn them all and you’ll never fear
Being more domesticated, even I
now discern the subtle bark:
people coming, livestock
vehicle, stranger, friend
But I didn’t think to listen
until I witnessed you
all my life, lived in a world full
of language I never heard–I couldn’t find
water following beetles, I didn’t
look in the dust for messages, whisper
with horses sharing breath or even
believe in love
This is the original.
I try to leave something alone once I feel I’ve done my best, but I never think my work is perfect. How do you know when to stop? Is your process fast– standardized? Do you take ‘time off’ from a piece? I’d enjoy hearing about your creative process.
© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer