Love is a Weed

Our Garden, Chicago

Our Garden, Chicago

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 read To Dorothy at our wedding.

I read To Dorothy at our wedding.

To Dorothy, By Marvin Bell.
Love is a Weed, by Paul Casella.
Happy Anniversary my love.

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.

Revisions

Felipe and Squash Flowers

Felipe and Squash Flowers

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.

Husband

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
considered real

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
inevitable darkness”

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

Death in Mexico

Jake can make a pillow out of anything.

Jake can make a pillow out of anything.

Poetry is preparation for death. Nadezhda Mandelstam

I’ve known more death while living in Mexico than in the rest of my years combined. Since moving here I’ve lost my Grandfather and Grandmother, my stepfather , my constant companion of 24 years my cat Elizabeth, Elvis , numerous farm animals whose lives were my responsibility, and this week, my dog Jake.

Perhaps it’s because as Octavio Paz, claims “one of the most notable characteristics of the Mexican is his willingness to contemplate horror.” How is it my losses relate this statement? Because in Mexico I’m not able to avoid death as I was before.
I once had two very old cats, one of them, Gordy, was euthanized due to declining health and my rationalization that he was suffering. But after his death, I knew it wasn’t true. He wasn’t in pain, he was dying, and I didn’t want to watch it because I loved him and it hurt and scared me. I didn’t want to have to call in sick to work because my cat died, so I scheduled his death for my convenience and to avoid my own suffering.

When I moved to Mexico I brought Elizabeth with me, determined to allow her her own death. The three days she faded away were excruciating for me. She was tranquil. Still, there were times I turned away from her I wish I had not.
When Elvis died, though it was a horrible death, I didn’t avoid one second of our last moments together. I fought to save him and failed. I held him as he bled his life away on me, I kissed him and told him how good he was and he died with the sound of my calm, adoring voice in his ear. It was my most genuine Mexican, possibly my most human, moment to date.
There are some obvious reasons for this glut of death that haven’t anything to do with Mexico, I’m aging and so are my loved ones, and death is an integral aspect of farm life. And yet, though it may be a poet’s perverse romanticism it seems to me that in Mexico, death is more accepted as part of life.
Though I hope to someday to experience Laurie Anderson’s explanation : “Death is a release of love” (perhaps at my own death) so far, this is what I’ve learned. Death touts regret, but is about forgiveness. Death is helplessness. Forgiveness is the anecdote, acceptance the balm. In these moments when I tried and failed, or was without recourse, I felt completely the futility of life and inexplicably —the splendor, and with that, I went on.

Felipe and Jakeline(Jackie)

Felipe and Jakeline(Jackie)

As is often the case, life follows its own purposes.
After Elvis’s death I was determined not to get another dog until I could provide a safer home. Earlier this week I came across a tiny, sick puppy abandoned in a garbage dump. It’s a common sight. Though I’m not proud of it, I’ve averted my eyes from hundreds of pathetic animals since moving here. But something about this puppy stopped me. She wriggled on her belly, blocking my passage, and I read in her eyes, You’re not really going to leave me here to die are you? I picked her up and was crawling with lice by the time we got home.
Felipe wasn’t thrilled to have another mouth to feed , and the rest of my animal companions looked at me disgustedly for days. I thought maybe I could entice my friend Larry to take her, he loves dogs and has a more generous heart than I can claim.
After a long struggle with cancer, Jake declined daily requiring more and more care, causing deeper heartache. As I ministered to him, I applied treatments to the puppy for her parasites and solid undercoat of scab. I resisted naming her.
We decided the day Jake could not rise to relieve himself would be the day he died. His distress grew with his immobility. Felipe had the horrible task of ending his suffering. There’s no scheduling a humane injection in our world. I’m immeasurably grateful to Felipe for his strength and courage. I doubt I’ll ever be so brave or unselfish.
He came home that night with a need to talk about the experience. I listened, overawed by his willingness to embrace life fully no matter the circumstance.
We finished our dinner and the puppy scurried around the table harassing Felipe’s cantankerous dog, Lilly. He laughed and said. “Why don’t we name her Jakeline.”

Goodbye Jake, my miracle dog. Such a very, very good boy you are.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer