Friday, December 31, 2010

What Makes Her So Mean?






















There was a woman
who said mean things
and let her explosions
erupt without restraint.

The fact that her caustic words
left others in tears
didn’t concern her and even though some
suggested she hold her tongue
she let loose over and over again.

Was it a lack of control
or a perverse pleasure
in wreaking havoc
on the staid and repressed?

Was she a frightened child
and in her effort to gain control
learned to lash out with caustic epithets
intimidating all around her to keep them at bay?

Whatever the source of her outbursts
most have licked their wounds
and given her plenty of space.

If they never have to deal with her again
their lives will go on pretty much the same
except for occasional thrashings
from other mean people along the way.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Storyteller
















Stella didn’t expect anything to happen in that dusty field
just outside of San Diego. She was attending her first Pow Wow
to become familiar with the traditions of her Native American
ancestry but she didn’t see anything romantic about the poverty
and disconnection she felt among the group.

The elders sat on crude benches while the children kicked up
dust chasing each other in a game of tag. Stella wondered how
the guest speaker was going to get the attention of the audience
under these conditions.

When the storyteller, dressed in full tribal regalia, struck
his drum, a quiet settled over the group and even the flies
seemed to listen as he told the story of the rabbit and the
coyote. The world disappeared in that moment.

He beat the drum quickly when the rabbit was frightened,
slowed it down when the coyote was coming, and offered
a thunderous peal when the rabbit triumphed.

The audience laughed, and gasped and cheered in unison.
They were held captive listening to how the rabbit tried
again and again to outsmart the coyote and survive in his
desert environment.

At that moment Stella knew she wanted to be a storyteller too.
She asked for his advice and was told to get a drum, a
collection of stories and the blessing of the tribe.
He also suggested she needed to let her hair grow long
and to buy some turquoise jewelry from the Navajo tribe
to complete her ensemble.

She learned that according to the Native American traditions
drumming provides relief from anger, gives courage when
one is afraid and unites the drummer to all life forms.
The drum contains thunder and lightening and when struck
calls the attention of the ancestors and the creator.
The drummer must discover the beat to sooth the mind and
to restore balance and harmony to the tribe.

Stella made every effort to model her craft after that
first desert experience. She learned how to find the pulse
of a story. Whether it was the prey running from the predator,
the warrior fighting in battle, or a child sleeping in his
mother’s arms, she discovered each had a beat, a cadence
that invited the listener to tumble into the story and
struggle with the characters to find solutions to problems,
learn valuable lessons, or become inspired to try something new.

She collected and learned the tribal stories. Through meditation
she called upon the creatures of the earth to reveal their
tales so she could teach the tribe how to live successfully
in this world and peacefully with one another. She chose
stories to accentuate heroism, tribal values, spirituality,
courage, compassion and hope and to warn against dishonesty,
trickery, and cruelty.

Today she stands before the audience and beats the drum, this
artifact from her tribal ancestry helped her find the heartbeat
of past generations and assists her in telling stories to
remind her audience to be in harmony with the earth and to
use their existence to give glory to the Creator.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Attraction
















Without warning
it happens
intimacy with a stranger
in a look, a touch, a scent

Can’t plan it,
nor control it
the charge, like a
hundred volts of electricity,
hits and the body changes

the heart beats faster
temperatures rise
and desire
takes over

must get to know that person
even if daily interactions
become complete disasters
it happens all over

when you meet again.
Is it memory from a past life
an imprint at birth
you belong together?

What is that love - hate
push - pull
that creates passion,
obsession, attraction?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Women Do It Now
















War was for soldiers
men chosen and trained
for armed service.
Those with ill health
or physical weakness
were eliminated right away.
strength was needed to protect
the homelands for women and children
but women do it now.

Women’s liberation
demands guns,
no longer the weaker sex,
they command leadership in the field
and seek equal opportunities
to die along with their brothers
and to kill when needed
because women do it now.

Even societies that oppress women
see the advantage
of strapping their virgins
with explosives to wipe-out
unsuspecting infidels
because women do it now

There was a time when roles were clearly defined
and men and women didn’t cross the line
male dominance and woman’s submission
were the rules, but things change,
and women do it now.

Is the world better for it?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Diary Entries About The Ring

















December 11, 2007
January couldn’t come fast enough since I heard that prices would be slashed by half after the holiday season. With the cost of gas and the big trip we took this year it seemed too expensive but here it is at the reduced price.

"Originally $30,000 now at 50% off. Only $15,000 until January 31st."

It seemed a worthy gift after fifty years of marriage but how can I persuade Jim to part with the cash for something he sees as frivolous? He paid three times that for a car but doesn't see how a gift like this is worth the cost? At my age there is very little I need or want. I haven’t been shopping in years. Children in the world are starving but I can’t stop dreaming about this bauble. Have I gone completely mad?

December 12, 2007
I’ve been rummaging through my house looking for things to sell in order to buy the ring for my anniversary. I want it and I will have it. I talked to Jim last night and, as expected, he laughed and called me a silly old woman.

December 13, 2007
I found Jim’s insurance policy. I could afford the ring if he was out of the picture.

December 14, 2007
Sara is coming down from Seattle for the holidays. She agreed to help me with the garage sale. I’ve gone through the cupboards and closets and pulled out kitchen items, some old paintings, vintage clothing, and I’ve cleared the living room of knick-knacks. I’ve got a lot of stuff but I don’t think I’ll make more than $1,000.

December 16, 2007
Surprise we cleared $1900. The big dollar items were some old paintings that somebody knew was worth something. I gave Sara $400 for helping me. I have to find a way to make another $13,500. She suggested I sell my car on e-bay. I’m going to do it. Here is my ad: I will include a picture.

For Sale: 1977 GOLD PLYMOUTH BONNEVILLE / 4-DOOR HARDTOP / 389 V8 AUTOMATIC / 66,550 MILES, POWER STEERING, BRAKES FACTORY AIR / THIS CAR RIDES AND DRIVES LIKE NEW.

December 17, 2007
Jim and I argued about the sale of the car. He has the Cadillac he bought last year and does all the driving so we don’t need a second car, I told him but he is still angry. Collecting on his insurance looks better and better.

December 18, 2007
I sold the Bonneville for $7,500. The new owner will pick it up today. Jim is out golfing. I haven’t spoken to him all day. I won’t tell him how much I got for it. I only need $6,000 more for the ring.

December 27, 2007
Sara and the kids left this morning. I received some nice gifts for Christmas but mostly gift cards. I hate gift cards. I’d rather have cash. I’ll see if I can buy some items and return them for cash. It will take longer but I really don’t need stuff at my age… but why am I obsessing about this ring?

December 29, 2007
I could get credit back on my gift cards but no cash so I purchased items at 70% off and I’ll see if I can sell them on e-bay at a profit.

December 31, 2007
I made $500. I’ve found my diamond hairpins. They are classic but with my hair thinning I never wear them. Maybe I could go through a consignment shop or a dealer. I’ve got to get creative I only need $5,500 more.

January 3, 2008
I spoke to a dealer and he was willing to take the $9,500 I have in cash and keep my diamond hairpins and two other pieces of jewelry on consignment. If he can’t sell them for the remaining amount within the month I'll pay the difference with an installment plan. In exchange I get the marquise diamond and ruby ring right now. It is so beautiful. It captures the light and sparkles with such radiance. I’ve never been so happy.

January 4, 2008
Jim saw the ring on my finger and instead of wishing me a happy anniversary he started yelling. I don’t know why he was so angry. I sold things that were just lying around and got something I really wanted. He’s never been so aggressive. He tried to pull the ring off my finger. I had to defend myself and pushed him away. He tripped and hit his head on the stone fireplace. His neck is bent kind of weird and he doesn’t seem to be breathing. I’ve already called the paramedics. They’ve called the coroner and police. Maybe I should call the insurance adjuster as well.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celestina






















Picture taken from Holy Rosary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Prologue

The storytellers are a critical component of any tribe. It is their responsibility to tell the stories to celebrate the tribe’s greatness and heroics as well as to reveal the foibles of their human nature. The storyteller is an essential element in every culture throughout the world. I take my place among the storytellers as I tell the story of my mother, Celestina C*****. She was born in Tomé, New Mexico before cars were commonplace and each day was balanced by the syncopated rhythms of daily routines.

To tell a tale about Tomé New Mexico I must tell about the environmental conditions that in winter, produced snowstorms and torrential rains leaving deep scars permanently changing the fragile landscape but in summer, provided a sweltering stage for the dust devils to whirl the tumbleweeds across a mosaic of curled red tiles.

The land was mostly flat except for the occasional mesas and small adobe houses built haphazardly along a maze of dirt pathways and irrigation ditches. Many of the houses had small vegetable gardens with chili peppers, corn, beans, onions, and tomatoes. Most of the people were poor by any standard but some owned a cow, maybe a horse, a few goats and of course, a hen house full of chickens. Whatever they could produce on their small farms they used for trade at the marketplace.

The dogs were barely domesticated and an integral part of this fragile system for survival. Befriended they protected the chickens and other animals but when times were hard these dogs banded together and became part of the marauding danger. In packs they could devour a small child, a newborn calf, or all the chickens in the hen house. Knowing this, the locals remembered to toss a bone or some small morsel to keep the dogs dependent. They used them to keep balance in this tenuous environment.

It is in this land my story begins.


In The Beginning

It had been a winter of flash floods and hailstorms. The rain flooded the area almost washing away the neighbors’ adobe house causing it to sink back into the earth. It now sat slightly tilted and recently abandoned. The wood furniture was stacked outside the house and the mattresses and rugs hung out to dry. The Aragons said they would be back later in the spring at which time they would demolish and then restore their ruined home.

Teresita emerged from her own home situated away from the arroyos and flood planes. She carefully placed her foot on solid ground to stabilize her very pregnant body as she struggled to the well. Her long dark hair was tied neatly in a bun and her white alabaster skin hidden under long sleeves and a large brimmed hat. Her dark eyes scanned the horizon. Teresita was ever watchful. She figured she was carrying twins because her abdomen was so large. Each new day she found it more difficult to breathe. There was no time to worry now that her neighbors were gone and the midwife not expected until evening. She needed to plan for the likelihood that she would be alone with her three daughters when it was time to give birth.

Teresita used the rope to pull water from the well and Maggie, her four-year-old daughter, carried the partially filled bucket back to the house. She struggled to carry it and had to rest until she got it to the doorway. There she placed the bucket on the doorstep and pulled open the door. Expertly guiding herself through the dark kitchen she lifted the bucket pouring it into the large iron tub in the kitchen. Maggie was strong for her age and made several trips back and forth from the house to the pump.

Teresita appreciated the serious efforts of her little Maggie. She tried to lift her youngest daughter, Celestina up to the well for a drink but could feel contractions along her abdomen and back. She grimaced and held her position until the pain subsided then scooped up water with the wooden dipper and held it out for the two year old to drink. Celestina eagerly reached out to slurp the cool fresh water.

If her three daughters were put side-by-side they looked liked sisters with the same dark hair and eyes and fair skin but somehow Celestina’s features were more symmetrical and Teresita had to admit that she was beautiful compared to her sisters. Teresita kissed her softly and let out a sigh as she wondered how she would care for five children and still manage the many details of the garden and sheep farm.

Josie, her eldest was staying with cousins until school was out for the harvest. The school was too far away for her to travel back and forth but Teresita believed it was important that her children get an education even if they were only girls. At least if Josie learned to read she could help the younger children learn their Catechism.

Tomás C*****, her husband, arrived midday on horseback to check on his family. He was small built and proportional like her with beautiful green eyes, a wide smile and perfectly shaped teeth. He was a sheep farmer and had the gentle manner of men in his profession. He was never in a hurry and dealt with the change in seasons and work with the same simple pace. Without losing his stride he dismounted from the horse gathered up Celestina and the last bucket of water and carried both into the house. Teresita followed with Maggie close behind.

Tomás married Teresita, a year after his brother’s untimely death from influenza. Tomás parents insisted he marry her to keep the grazing lands in the family. Love was not even considered when they married and economically it was better for Tomás to marry his widowed sister-in-law with property and help raise his brother’s child than to marry one of his poor cousins or neighbors.

They were together now over five years and the times were pleasant enough. Teresita was intelligent, yet compliant and had given him two daughters. They were hoping this pregnancy would produce a son, maybe two, if she was carrying twins like they thought.

She grimaced once again holding her back and trying to breathe into the contraction. The pain was coming more often and at regular intervals. She knew these babies would come before nightfall. She went to the kitchen to prepare lunch while Tomás chopped wood.


Early Childhood

Celestina lived with her grandparents after her mother, died. Her father, was so distraught after the death of his wife and twins he left her with his wife’s parents, Gumicindo and Josefita B****. Her grandparents were glad to have a child around the house again. It was especially important now that her grandfather was losing his eyesight and needed the extra assistance. The other relatives were angry because they felt Celestina was getting spoiled with all their attention. They warned the elders that it was not a good idea to indulge a child during these economically depressed times. Celestina would overhear their angry comments and stay hidden out of sight. When the relatives left she came out to become the center of attention again.

Celestina came to her grandparents’ home after a terrible loss. After crying so many days she only vaguely remembered her mother and her sisters now. She was not a particularly happy child, nor was she angry or sad, maybe the word “serene” is the best way to describe her disposition. She seemed to have a maturity that was greater than her age. She demonstrated a kindness and foresight that caused her to act before she was asked. In the time she lived with her grandparents they developed a mutual trust and love for each other.

It was the first day in August but the last day of the week. Josefita prepared breakfast. The day was too hot for cooking dinner so she prepared a warm meal at breakfast.

While her grandmother was busy cooking Celestina spent the time getting her grandfather ready for the day. Her grandmother tended to worry too much but grandfather was optimistic and laughed easily so of course he was her favorite. He was so handsome with his long white hair and white mustache. Combing his hair was all part of their morning rituals. She was barely seven years old but climbed on a small stool to brush his hair while he sat on a large wooden chair. She used long strokes and pulled his silky white hair back into a ponytail. Next she crawled onto his lap and combed his mustache. She curled it upward so he looked like he had a great big grin… and most of the time he did. His laughter was warm and easy.

Next she sat in the chair and he combed her wet hair and then curled it. He ran the brush down her long dark tresses and then took several strands and carefully wound them around a cotton rag. Then he took the rag and tied it up tight against her head. When he was done she looked like a little rag doll in her homemade flour sack dress with tattered ends of cloth jutting out all over her head. She wore her hair like this until Sunday morning when she released it to reveal long cascade of curls set off with a white bow.

They sat down for a breakfast of eggs, tortillas and green chili. After their prayers they used the tortillas as utensils by tearing off small pieces and holding it between their thumbs and fingers to create two scoops. The eggs and chili dripped down the sides of their fingers but they licked it until their fingers were clean.

While Josefita picked up after breakfast Celestina and her grandfather went out to tend the garden. She held him by his hand and guided him to the front porch. There they both put on long sleeved shirts and large straw hats to prevent the New Mexico sun from browning their skin. Gumicindo headed out to the rows of vegetables and Celestina ran to the pump. She knew how to prime the pump by pouring the water stored in a small rusted can and then giving the handle long quick strokes to get the water flowing. She filled several buckets of water for the garden and didn’t forget to leave the small can filled with just enough water for the next time the pump was needed.

Grandfather was on his hands and knees pulling at some weeds, before feeling the tomatoes for ripeness and size and then smelling the chilies savoring their rich aroma. He spoke to each of these plants as if they were children. The earth was a rich red clay filled with minerals for growing things, and with a little bit of water the garden gave them healthy fresh food. With this vegetable patch, eggs, milk, and an occasional chicken dinner they had enough to eat.

They finished in the garden long before the sun was overhead. Celestina helped her grandfather get up and move to the woodpile. She took her grandfather’s tobacco pouch and his cigarette papers. Carefully she selected one thin sheet of paper by touching her tongue with her fingertip and then lightly touching the paper to lift it from the pack. She poured a small mound of tobacco onto it. She shook the paper back and forth to spread the tobacco evenly and then gently rolled the cigarette licking the edge to keep it together. The rich fragrance of the homegrown tobacco filled her nostrils. She handed him the cigarette. He took two rocks and struck them together to create a spark to light the tip of his cigarette. The trail of smoke rose in the air like a small prayer to the creator. This was his only cigarette of the day.

Josefita had already washed clothes and called for Celestina to help her hang them out on the line to dry. She normally washed mid week but yesterday she was given some clothes from one of the neighbors whose husband was killed last month. He was kicked by a mule and never regained consciousness. The clothes were in good condition and grandma thought her husband could use a change for church tomorrow. She also washed some sheets and a tablecloth. They were expecting company tomorrow and she wanted everything to be fresh. When they were done putting the wet clothes on the clothesline they flapped like large white birds in the summer sun. The clothes would be dry in less than an hour.

Gumicindo had finished his cigarette and called for Celestina to escort him to Uncle Pablo’s house. Her uncle was recently married and had called a few neighbors and relatives to help build his new home. Hand in hand the two companions followed the dirt path for two miles and found the group of men carefully preparing the wooden frames.

Everyone knew the routine even Celestina. She went straight to the pile of straw with the other children. She was happy to see her friend Maria. Even though Maria was only ten years old she was already married and had the responsibilities of a wife. Celestina was always happy to spend even a few minutes with her. They used to play dolls together before she was married. Now Maria had to run off to prepare dinner for her husband and keep his clothes and house clean. Her husband would spank her if things weren’t like he expected when he got home. Maria didn’t seem very happy any more. She was always looking over her shoulder to make sure her husband did not want anything from her for. Celestina felt he treated her more like a servant than a wife.

The two girls went straight to work. They carried the straw over to be mixed in with the clay and water to form the adobe bricks. When one frame was filled with the mixture of mud they moved to another one and then a third. By the time they finished the third frame they went back to the first one and the men would lift it off the mud bricks and begin the process again. The bricks baked in the sun until next Saturday when they used them to build the house. They worked for a few hours but needed to quit because her grandfather was old. Celestina said goodbye to Maria and her other friends and ran to meet her grandfather.

Without stopping long to rest they took a cool drink of water and headed home. As they walked along the dirt road they saw the large white sheets waving to welcome them home. Across the horizon a dust cloud seemed to be gaining momentum and growing larger as it moved toward their house. Celestina shouted to her Grandfather about what she saw and they hurried to their farm but it was too late. The gypsies rode through their yard on horseback, yelling and grabbing everything in their path. One young male grabbed the sheets and clothes off the clothesline. Another older male stuffed two or three chickens into a gunnysack. A female pulled ripe vegetables from the garden. It took a few minutes and they were gone wrecking havoc at another home along their way.

Grandmother was on the porch wiping her eyes with her apron. Grandfather and Celestina came in and sat beside her. Grandfather reminded her that they lost very little and that they still had enough to get through the winter. Grandmother sighed and placed her hand in his. Neither of them spoke as they stared out watching the late afternoon sun. Celestina went out into the garden to see the damage. She carefully situated the plants so the roots were back in the ground and used little sticks as supports until they were strong again.

The smell of the reheated beans reminded them that they were hungry. They quietly got up and went into the house for their meal. No one mentioned the incident with the gypsies. They were part of that precarious balance of semi arid desert living and were as much a part of the environment as the occasional flash floods.


Later Childhood

Celestina got up and prepared to go to school. She was now in fifth grade and quite independent. Her grandparents had slowed down considerably with age so she made breakfast for them before she left. She walked out from the house and followed the irrigation ditch to the dirt street at the end of the pasture. She waited a few minutes while the open buckboard, pulled by an old horse, and driven by an even older man, came to a complete stop. Celestina’s was the last stop before school. She grimaced when she saw the T***** boys. They frequently had to stay home to help their dad with the farm but today all five of them were on board. They were always showing off to get her attention especially Jesus. He was her age and quite handsome even though he was darker than his brothers. She had no choice but to sit right beside him because that was the only open space available. He didn’t talk to her on the way to school but he was very aware of the fact that she was close by. She even suspected he had saved her this seat.

When they arrived the boys jumped from the high seats and landed squarely on the ground. The young ladies used the assistance of the driver and walked down the steps. They ran to the two-room building of their school. One side was for the little kids from first to third grade with Miss Arganda and the other side was for the bigger kids up through eighth grade with Mr. Gomez. The teachers didn’t have more than an eighth grade education themselves and weren’t too much older than the eighth grade students but they had enough education to impart some knowledge to the children. All spoke Spanish fluently at home but when they came to school they used only English, however limited. The daily schedule began with penmanship, spelling, then reading. The books were worn and mended. They shared one book and passed it from student to student as they read aloud. Each student had a chalkboard and used it instead of paper. The day’s lessons were as routine as the days were long.

Eventually it was time for recess and the children hurried outside. One of their favorite games was basketball. The children lined up to be chosen for teams and as always Jesus was one of the captains. He chose his brothers first and then he chose Celestina. Everyone knew he liked her but she did nothing to encourage his attention. He was a strong athlete and handled the ball frequently to make many baskets to win the game. The roles for girls and boys were clearly defined so she didn’t try to play as aggressively as he did but every time he passed her the ball she could handle it with predictable skill and return it to him when he had a clear shot to the basket.

The recess ended much too soon and they returned to class. Jesus was not a good student and he spent most of his time trying to get the others to laugh at his antics. He was frequently taken to the front of the class to be disciplined but it didn’t seem to faze him. He always wore a jacket and when Mr. Gomez hit him with the paddle, Jesus fell to the ground to take the hits on his back. Later he showed his classmates the thick sheep’s skin he wore under his jacket to protect him from the blows. The beatings helped him behave for a few days but then he couldn’t seem to help himself and he had the class in an uproar once again. Mr. Gomez must have finally complained to Mr. T***** because the next day Jesus stopped coming to school all together. Celestina wondered if it was because of him that the priest made a declaration from the pulpit that no more children could be called Jesus because if the child was not good they brought shame to the name of the son of God.

Celestina later heard from Ventura, Jesus’ older brother, that their dad thought school was wasted on his second son and that all of Jesus’ energy was better spent working on the farm. After all he was the strong one and Ventura the smart one, so Jesus stayed home at the end of fifth grade, and Ventura continued to go to school until he finished eighth grade.

Celestina didn’t see much of Jesus in the next several years except at church or occasionally at the market. Sometimes she saw him out at the pasture when she took the cows out to graze. She borrowed her uncle’s horse to herd the cows out among the hills. She enjoyed the uninterrupted hours alone with the animals but when Jesus was there she enjoyed it even more. He would tell her stories and have her laughing or he would perform stunts on his horse to get her approval and attention.

He reminded her of one of his relatives on his mother’s side. His Grandpa M**** was known to ride through the town on his palomino stallion. He would swing his hat and shout and whoop as he rode past the houses. People would come out to see the commotion and they recognized Jesus’ crazy grandfather. On one of those summer days Celestina asked Jesus if his grandfather was insane.

Jesus laughed and said his grandfather did it just to get a reaction. His grandfather thought the townspeople people were bored and they needed something to talk about, so his performance was for their benefit.

For the next three years one day led into the next without much change until Celestina’s grandmother died on the day after her graduation from eighth grade. It was no dramatic event. Josefita just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Grandfather of course was sad but Celestina could manage because she had him. She had set up their home so he could navigate without his eyesight. Furniture was placed forming natural pathways from one room to the next. Celestina used string to mark paths so her grandfather could use them as guides to get to his garden, the chicken coup and the outhouse while she was at school. He needed to be independent and also to keep up with some of the chores. As he aged he slept more than he used to but kept his simple routines to stay busy, Together they were able to live comfortably.

One night he called her into his room. He told her that his Josefita was waiting for him just outside the window. He said he was old and he wanted to go with her. Celestina did not know what to do or say and without another word, he closed his eyes and died.


Adolescence

In the first months after her grandfather’s death Celestina was passed from one family to the next. She was first sent to her Aunt Theresa who had eight children all under 10 years of age. The relatives thought that Celestina could help her but her aunt was too impatient and there really wasn’t a place for her to sleep. The house was already overcrowded so they quickly sent her off to her Dad who had remarried. Tomás lived about 100 miles out of Tomé, in Quemado. After the death of Teresita he sold the sheep and the farm and moved to Quemado to work with the forest service. He lived with Maggie, and the four children he had with his second wife.

Celestina was very sad with the loss of her grandfather and even sadder that she had to move away from her friends and her beloved high school. With all the moving around from one house to the next no one noticed that she had become feverish and suffering from a severe sore throat. She didn’t get out of bed for a week and almost died before anyone realized that she was not lazy of grieving but very ill and needed a doctor. It took her almost a month to recover her strength and be well enough to move around again.

When she did get well her father, came in to tell her that she would be moving again. They decided that she would be better off with her Uncle Antonio. He had a young son and a wife, recently paralyzed from polio. It was determined that she could earn her room and board and still finish high school. Celestina was not given any choice in the matter so she went along with whatever was decided for her. Her father and his new family were strangers to her so she didn’t miss them when she left.

Her Aunt Catalina was kind but required lots of extra help to take care of her needs and those of her young son Antonio, Junior. After caring for her grandparents several years she naturally adapted to the routines in her new home. She didn’t get much help from her uncle. He frequently complained because she went to school each day. He thought it was stupid for a girl to go to school. He needed her at home to care for his wife and his son but abided by the agreement he made with her father.

Celestina woke early each morning to bathe her aunt and get Junior ready for school. She prepared breakfast and lunch for all of them. Her uncle left for work at the railroads before six. Next she got Junior ready and put him on the same buckboard she used to ride as a young child. She walked to the high school. She studied typing and homemaking as well as sewing and English Literature and mathematics. The sewing came in handy to make clothes for herself and her little cousin. The first two years passed quickly with her Aunt and Uncle. She was so busy she didn’t have time to complain.

It was her last year in high school and her senior homemaking class had to host the faculty appreciation holiday meal to receive their final grade for the semester. It was a time for the students to show off their acquired skills and put on a fancy dinner. The faculty and their spouses came dressed in their finest clothing. The young women served a splendid three coarse American meal with soup, baked ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and a chocolate mousse for desert. They worked with a partner to prepare their specialty.

Celestina was paired with Ophelia. Ophelia was very talented and had a flair for cooking. She prided herself in her skill and professed a distain for the poverty and lack of sophistication that surrounded her. When she saw the faculty all dressed up yet still looking like second hand dolls she laughed disgustedly and spat in the soup saying, “How can they expect anything more when they are all so disgusting.”

Celestina didn’t say anything but served the soup to the faculty. Somehow she felt a perverse pleasure in Ophelia’s act of defiance. She wished she could have the courage to defy the adults in her life.

She didn’t know when it happened but her uncle Antonio was drinking more frequently. Lately he was drinking so much that he spent most of his money on liquor. He would come home staggering drunk and in a roar, trashing everything in his path. At first she took Junior and hid from him but it got to a point that she had to confront him before he started to binge. She needed to get enough money for food and house repairs before he spent his whole weekend boozing. The night after the faculty dinner Celestina had the courage to meet him head on.

She sat by the stove and waited. It must have been after 3:00A.M. when he stumbled through the door. She spoke quietly and told him he needed to leave money for food and the house before he went to sleep. She must have taken him by surprise because he pulled out his wallet and left the money on the table. From them on she met him on Friday night after he got home from work and before we went back out to drink. She made sure she got the money. Sometimes he was compliant and just handed it over, other times he would become violent and threw things and broke them. She moved quickly and avoided getting hit most of the time but on occasion he would grab her and throw her against the wall but she wouldn’t leave until she had the cash in her hands.

Her life continued like this until she graduated from high school except for the day during Spring Break when she and Ophelia decided to see Gone with the Wind in the local theater. The priests had condemned the movie from the pulpit. They prohibited any of their congregation to see the movie under pain of mortal sin. It was Ophelia’s decision and she persuaded Celestina to go with her. They took a bus to Albuquerque under the pretext of shopping for new clothes for their families. Celestina knew she would be in serious trouble if she got caught, but her emerging courage gave her the strength to follow through with their plan.

They wore hats with dark veils to cover their faces and quietly bought their tickets then walked into the dark theater. Both young women were thrilled with the big screen production in Technicolor. Clark Gable was as sexy as the women were beautiful and the movie left them with impure thoughts for many years.

Celestina was both thrilled and so ashamed of her action that she never told another soul. She never took this sin to the confessional and when others would talk about seeing the movie she never added her comments.


Young Adulthood

Many of the girls were getting married right after graduation. World War II had started and many of the young men were drafted or enlisted. Several wanted to marry their girlfriends or neighbors so they would have someone to come back to. A few suitors tried to get Celestina’s attention but she was too involved with her survival to give them much notice. Everyday Celestina became more and more beautiful. With all that she had to do she was not aware of the changes in her appearance.

It was so strange walking through the town or going to church and having it so empty. Four of the T***** boys and many of their cousins enlisted. Their mothers would cry and cry. No one could comfort them. Celestina had heard the boys had changed their names. Ventura was drafted into the Army and left a wife and two small children behind. He was now called Ben. Jesus had broken up with his fiancé, Evangeline because he didn’t want to risk leaving her a young widow. He joined the Coast Guard and went by the name of Jess. Prospero and Samuel also joined the Coast Guard and now Prospero was called Pete and Samuel was Sam.

Antonio continued to drink and Celestina decided she needed to get a job to help manage the family finances. She was lucky that she was hired at the Albuquerque, SEARS store as a salesclerk. Mr. And Mrs. Norton were the managers of the store and liked her very much. They didn’t have children of their own and Celestina was smart, honest and a good worker. She was friendly to the customers and easy to look at. They recommended that she become more Americanized and show her patriotism so she changed her name to Sally. While many of her friends faced the life of a housewife and mother she learned the world of retail. The effects of the depression and the war could still be felt but she was able to make enough money to help out her family and still spend some on herself.

So while many of the young woman dressed in hand-me- downs Celestina became somewhat of a celebrity as she dressed more and more fashionably. She had exquisite taste and looked like a movie star among the citizens of Tomé. Many would watch her as she walked to the bus stop in the morning and returned again by sunset. She dressed simply but neatly and set off each outfit with a matching pair of shoes and purse.

Her looks and attitude were not lost on Antonio. He seemed to get more hostile and come home drunk more often. He would beat her for a variety of reasons and would criticize her daily while she tried to better herself. All of this seemed normal to Celestina. Everything, from having to feed and care for her aunt, uncle and Junior were just part of her daily chores. She didn’t long for a better life because all she had known was hardship. Her prayers were for patience, endurance and strength.

Once when her uncle had a tapeworm it was her job to empty the bedpan and look to see if the head of the tapeworm was expelled. This went on for about a week. She would sometimes pray that the head would not come out and the tapeworm would grow long enough to reach his heart and he would die. She felt bad for having these evil thoughts but rather than express them she would keep moving and doing what she needed to do to make sure her family was clean, fed and housed. She rarely heard from her own father and didn’t consider him part of her family.

Then the tape worm’s head came out and her uncle’s life was no longer in danger. He took a little while to recover and even though he wasn’t drinking as much, he was still as mean and demanding as ever. She had to let go of the disappointment she felt for his recovery.

She rarely cried but sometimes she would sit quietly in her small room she shared with her nephew. One day after her uncle’s recovery she sat alone in front of the small tin mirror hanging from the wall. She just stared at herself wondering what would become of her. In the flickering candlelight one evening she saw the ethereal image of the Virgin Mary standing behind her. The Virgin placed her hand on her shoulder and said, “Do not worry, I am with you until the end of days.” She wept bitterly but somehow felt relieved that her suffering was not in vain and from then on she knew she was not alone in her life’s journey.



After The War

The news filled the streets in no time. The war was over! The war was over! People ran from the stores into the street cheering and crying and hugging each other. It meant the boys of the town would return now as men.

The young wives with their small children were giddy with relief that there was a possibility they could move out of their in-laws homes once their husbands returned. The single women longed for their own wedding day and the chance to start a family.

When the men arrived they looked so handsome in their uniforms. They had grown up considerably. So many of them spoke English now and sometimes preferred it to their Spanish. Others would go back and forth depending on whether they were speaking to their elders or one another.

Celestina was sitting at the counter of the local drugstore for her lunch break at SEARS. She was busy arranging her napkin and silverware when she felt someone staring at her. She looked up to see a beautiful set of white teeth and then recognized the darker features of Jesus T***** as he grinned at her from a nearby stool.

She wanted to run up and hug him and kiss him but didn’t feel she knew him well enough for that kind of display of affection so instead she blushed and looked down and then up again to say how glad she was that he made it safely home.

She asked for his family and for his other brothers and he told her they had all come home safely. Five brothers, with some of them in the heat of battle, and yet they all return without an injury. Of course his parents were elated and they were planning a great big welcome home party. He invited her to come to celebrate with his family and friends.

Even though she was over 24 years old she didn’t date and felt a little nervous about going out with Jesus but he said it wasn’t a date but a celebration, she could bring her Aunt, Uncle and nephew if she wanted to. She accepted the invitation and came by herself.

Celestina felt such a feeling of belonging. She had never been with a group of people who laughed so much and obviously loved each other so easily. There were the five brothers who had gone to war; Ventura, Jesus, Prospero, Samuel, and Anecito, then there was the two younger brothers who did not; Solomon and Jose. Also present were his younger sisters; Emily, Soila, Nora, Evangeline, and the baby Theresa. His mom, Emelia looked so happy and his his father José, was so proud. The aunts, and uncles and cousins and neighbors were all enjoying the celebration.

They had cleared a space on the dirt floor for dancing and she danced with one brother and then the next, all the girls did, but she felt the happiest when she was dancing with Jesus. He was such a good dancer and she felt beautiful in his arms. At one point everyone else stopped dancing to see the two of them take the floor on their own. The night was over too soon.

Celestina returned home after midnight. Jesus escorted her home. She felt herself getting tense at the thought of her uncle greeting her at the door. She didn’t want Jesus to see the scene that was inevitably going to erupt. She was surprised that Jesus would not leave her until he accompanied her to the door and she was even more surprised when her uncle invited him in and they talked about the war for another hour before he left. Jesus’ warm friendly nature seduced even the beast called her uncle. Celestina was never more surprised in her life.

Jesus told tales about his tour of duty, which fortunately did not include time in battle. Because he was in the Coast Guard he was considered one of the elite. He became a cook and loved preparing and serving the food for the men and officers on the boat. He told about the time one of the cooks caught fire and how he had to push him to the ground and smother the flames. He showed the scars on his hands and neck where he had been burned. They were barely visible now. Then he laughed about receiving a medal for being wounded because this incident occurred during the war. He also talked about his travels up and down the beautiful coast of California by hitchhiking or taking the bus. He remembered one time where he only had nine cents in his pocket and ended up having to walk 25 miles because the bus driver refused to let him on without that extra penny.

He especially captured her uncle’s attention when he would talk about the fights between sailors and civilians at the dances along the coast. He showed the scar where he had his appendices taken out. He was 24 at the time and was introduced to cigarettes offered free to the military men in the hospital. Most of the guys took up smoking during this time. He offered her uncle a cigarette and they two of them smoked one after another until it was time for Jesus to go.

The next few days flew by as Celestina combined her work schedule with regular meetings with Jesus. He would stop by to see her at the store. He was so handsome in his Coast Guard uniform. His dark skin contrasted with his beautiful white teeth and his bright beautiful brown eyes. He would escort her out to lunch at Sears or they would walk hand in hand along the sidewalk. It wasn’t long before he asked her to marry him.

Many of the young men who returned from the war were scooping up any eligible young woman to take for their wife but most were envious of Jesus when Celestina said yes to his proposal. The gossip around town was flying as news about their upcoming wedding was announced. They were by far the most handsome couple in the towns of Peralta, Los Lunas, Tomé and Albuquerque combined and everyone wanted to be included in their celebration.

Jesus offered Celestina a white silk parachute he had salvaged from the discarded war supplies. She went to her friend Ophelia who helped sew it in to a beautiful wedding dress. His sister Emily persuaded Celestina to order the Lilies of the Valley that she wanted for her bouquet, even if it meant ordering them all the way from Hawaii.

It seemed there was a wedding every weekend. The young men who had survived the war and the women who prayed for them held their lives in suspension for long enough. Now there were ready to live their dreams. They wanted to get married, have children, build homes. It was a time of frenzied activity and probably the happiest times they could recall in a long time. The future spread out before them with nothing but possibility. All the sadness of the past seemed to disappear. They had survived. That was all that was important and now they had to get on with the business of living.

Celestina hated her uncle but she loved her aunt and when it was time to talk about future plans, about where they would live, Celestina couldn’t see them living away from her aunt and uncle. Even though there were many difficult moments she still felt a loyalty to her aunt, the closest thing to a mother she had known. She couldn’t see how she could abandon her or her small cousin, who was only eight years old. So when she and Jesus talked about the future they knew they would be moving into the house where she lived in for the last ten years.

Jesus didn’t like it but he loved Celestina so much that he agreed to anything that would make her happy. If this was something she thought necessary then they would do it. So the plans for the wedding went on and they were married June 15th. 1945.

Celestina was beautiful in her white silk dress and Jesus handsome in his dark suit. The late spring day was perfect. The church was crowded with standing room only. Her aunt was carried in and she sat in the front row as a guest of honor with Antonio, and Junior. She didn’t even think to invite her father or his family to the wedding. Her older sister, Josie with her husband Leo and their four children, sat with the aunt and uncle.

The reception was held in the field close to the church. Tables were already set up with tissue flowers, and streamers. The aunts prepared large pots of chili and beans. The meat was cooked on an open spit filling the air with its tempting aroma. The children and dogs were running around the tables trying to distract themselves from their excitement and hunger.



After The Wedding

After the wedding Celestina and Jesus went on a honeymoon. Jesus had received a cow and a pig from his dad and sold them so he could surprise Celestina with a trip to Sante Fe. They took the bus up and were back in a week. When they returned they sorted the remainder of their gifts. The linens and silver ware placed in the cedar chest to save until they moved into their own home and the consumables placed in the kitchen cabinets to share with Celestina’s uncle and aunt.

When Jose had heard that his son had sold the cow and pig he came upon their arrival and demanded the cash for the animals. He felt that if Jesus was so irresponsible to sell them for a honeymoon, he didn’t deserve them in the first place. Of course, little of the cash was available, but Jesus gave him what he had with a promise to return the rest. Jesus was angry that his father insisted on treating him like a child. He felt trapped living in the house with Antonio, he wanted a home of his own so he and his bride could have plenty of space for their own family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Homeless Man Sleeps



















Sitting on an empty bench
long after everyone has gone to sleep
he sits in a heap

of stinking flesh and
clothing stained with urine.
Somehow he dreams

of the comfort in his mother’s arms
the sweet gurgle of an aborted child
the seductive dance of a lover lost

while he seaps soaked in sorrow
in the silence of a drunken stupor
the only respite for a life of sin.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mother Of God Speaks




















Mary draped in blue and white
appears among the hillsides
to deserving souls
innocent and kind
and gives messages to be delivered
to the rest of humankind.

I dream of such apparitions
longing to be one of the chosen
to hear the word from god above
but I’m past middle age
and seem to be forgotten

my faith does not falter
so I continue to pray
and yearn for the day
Mary shows herself to me
but what would she say?

1531 – Guadalupe, Mexico (Juan Diego): "I wish that a temple be erected here so I may exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection."

1830 – Rue de Bac (Paris), France (St. Catherine Laboure’): The Miraculous Medal, "The ball which you see represents the whole world. These rays symbolise the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems are the graces for which souls forget to ask."

1858 – Lourdes, France (Bernadette Soubirous): “I am the Immaculate Conception. Attend to Prayer, Poverty and Penance, I give you healing waters."

1871 – Pontmain, France (two boys & two girls): the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary: "Pray my children, God will soon grant your request. My Son allows Himself to be moved by compassion."

1879 – Knock, Ireland (at Knock church, seen by 15-20 individuals): Our Blessed Mother said,"Adore Jesus."

1917 – Fatima, Portugal (Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco): "Return to God, to make reparation for sins and to pray the Rosary for Peace."

1933 – Banneux, Belgium (8 times to Mariette Beco): "Pray, do penance, remember your duty to God." She told a secret and left a spring of healing waters.

1968 – Zeitun, Egypt (to thousands of people): Mary appeared as a white, silhouette figure within a brilliant light, a top the Coptic church of St. Mary’s Basilica. She never spoke nor delivered a specific message, so she acquired the title, “Our Lady of Silence.”

1973 – Akita, Japan (to Sr. Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa in a Catholic convent): She appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows” “Pray the rosary for conversion of sinners.”

1981 – Kibeho, Rwanda (to 6 girls and one boy usually in a R.C. school): “To Jesus, through Mary. Say the rosary, pray, love each other, repent for sins and remember, Jesus Christ will return."

1985 – Naju, So. Korea [to Julia Kim (mother of 3) and through a statue of Mary weeping tears, even tears of blood]: Say your prayers, make sacrifices and do your penances." Anti-abortion messages. Graces and benedictions for many souls.

1987 – within the Soviet Ukraine (to several individuals on various occasions): . Mary appears in open field. She comes to show us “the Way” and awaken our sleeping hearts; urges us to pray and live her messages.

1981 to present - Medjugorje, Bosnia-Hercegovina (to 6 local youth): Queen of Peace, - "Pray the rosary, go to Holy Mass, adore the Eucharistic, read the Bible, fast, go to monthly confession. Ten secrets given to each visionary, some containing information on possible coming chastisements."

She has appeared to many others already.
The messages are basically the same
but have I listened and acted accordingly?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The River
















The only river I’ve ever known
was the Rio Grande,
it flowed from Colorado to Mexico.

In my recollection
it was a big river,
muddy and red.

I never went near its turbulant waters,
didn’t own a boat or canoe,
never even learned to swim because

La Llarona, or the crying woman,
wandered the banks looking for her children
and kept me sufficiently frightened
to stay away from the edge.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Water and Oil Don’t Mix
















Opposites often find each other
black chooses white
hot meshes with cold
and in time they become like each other.

but once in awhile you come across
two elements that don’t mix
no matter how much you stir

The two remain separate there's nothing to do.

Socialize in larger groups so the buffers
give the illusion of getting along
like a dance of separateness in cookies and cakes
but if left to their own properties
water and oil don’t mix.

They agree not to get along
work together in close proximity
but ever retaining separate identities.

Marriage in these circumstances
can look harmonious
no fireworks or passion and very little
interaction: parallel lives

loveless, but not an utter disaster.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Humphrey At Home





















I was the first one home when he was a pup
I would find things all messed up
a bouquet of silk flowers left in tatters,
a new stain on the carpet in didn’t matter,
in the scheme of things, he was a good dog
but needed to be taught

to leave things alone when he was left at home.

It's been three years since those early days
and he’s my best friend in lots of ways
but when I come home he has that guilty look
stays seated until I check things out
his tail won't wag until I say,

“Good dog!”

Today the place is always how I've left it
there’s nothing to be upset about
but he never runs to me
left over from his puppy days
when he surprised me

with how he decorated.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Diving For Pearls

















The routine familiar
since she was ten
standing on the edge of a boat
without benefit of tanks

diving deep into murky waters

to clusters of oyster beds
filling the basket
before her breath ran out

working quickly in the silent world

coming up for air
then a hundred feet down again
collecting a thousand shells
hoping to find the perfect pearls

to set on strings for strangers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Reflection In The Mirror

















She studies her face carefully
sees the flaws in open pores
wrinkles around the mouth
a nose too big
and eyes too small

She begins the repair
first a stringent to clean the pores
then creams to soften the wrinkles
make-up to cover the blemishes
shadow to widen the eyes and narrow the nose
blush to make her look alive
and a nice lipstick to bring attention to her mouth
the first orifice for contact.

She sprays herself with a sweet perfume
"something to attract the opposite sex.”
Finds jewelry to match her outfit
dangly earrings and the right necklace
maybe some bangles for the wrist
and a golden chain for her ankle
off-set by three inch heels
now she is ready to face the world…

painted and off balance.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The House Made of Plaster






















Knock on the wall and anyone can
tell your house is made
of plaster. Your visitors will
see you as modern family
stepping up from your ancestral
mud with a product and style
from the new millennium.

Pack your bags it’s time to
move to California where there
are beaches and sunshine
year round. The place is filled
with blue eyed blonds
so in order to fit in you must forget
your native habits and notions.

Arrange your plaster saints along
the mantel. Pray often, don’t let God
deny you. Seek absolution for
your envy and jealousy.
Smile and hide the pain, don’t
let anyone bar your children
from the many opportunities.

Wash the windows and don’t leave
streaks because everyone is looking
in. Hide your sorrow and your fear
pretend everything is fine. You’ll
make it through each day if you
conceal your pride and look to the
future to claim the American dream.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Painted Memories
















Scorched by the burning sun
from early morning to late afternoon
we tried to dig a tunnel to China

but gave up after three feet
to play in the hole covered
with a woolen blanket
woven in patterns
of turquoise and scarlet.

Saturday night baths and bathtub rings,
yellow borders on silk bandannas,
we knelt in dark confessionals
and recited our sins from a list,
written in cursive by our mother.

Evening benediction made us sneeze
the incense lingered ‘til Sunday Mass
then we were off to grandpa’s farm
beyond the bread ovens of the Navajo.

Over the bridge, past the man
with a brown face and a tootless grin
who always waved when we went by
in our red and white station wagon.

We followed burnt umber roads
to a white washed house
in the middle of the farmland.

The adults gathered to laugh out loud,
to tease each other and share a meal
but spoke too fast in Spanish.

We couldn’t understand a word they said
so we ran off to an abandoned house
we knew was haunted.

Threw rotten eggs
on the crumbled walls
then told ghost stories

played tag between the rows
of dried corn stalks until we saw
the sky dusted in crimson and gold.

One by one, we left the place
that housed our families for generations.

Over time, “we” became “I”,
no common history or recent memory
except when we were children long ago
in the painted hills of New Mexico.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

After The Rain
















When the dirt road became a stream,
just after the hard rain,
we ran out in our underwear

in view of my mother’s attentive eyes
we forgot about the modesty
preached from the Sunday pulpit

we frolicked in the muddy soup,
semi-naked children, rising
up from the primal ooze.

Neighbor’s peeked out
from behind laced curtains
when they heard our shrieks.

Soon they ran out with white
arms flailing, joining us in the
pleasure of our summer dance.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sandy Turned Fifty-five

This poem was created from a conversation with a guest
at my niece's wedding. Most of it is true.
















In a cheap motel outside of Bakersfield
Sandy stared at her reflection.

She wiped her cheeks where her tears
left streaks in her make-up.

Dennis looked at her and scowled,
“You can’t turn back the hands of time…
so deal with it… You’re fifty-five.”

Choking on the smoke from his cigarette
she grabbed her green sweater
and walked out the door.

In the lobby the TV
buzzed and rattled with the news.

Men in their cowboy boots,
women in their rhinestone skirts,
stood with their heads and shoulders touching.
Sandy could hear them sobbing.

“Are you crying for me?” she asked.
“Buck Owens died today,” she heard someone say.
“I guess there won’t be a celebration then,” she sighed.

Sandy pulled her sweater tighter around
her shoulders turned and walked away

the day Buck Owens died
and she turned fifty-five.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Between the Lines






















The lines on my face
trace the good times
and the bad,

like when my
mother died,
a stone replaced my heart and
my lips never turned up again

but the lines of my face,

especially around my eyes,

still miss her
when I look for her
and see she is gone.