Sunday, July 24, 2016

Madre-abuelita (for manuela & josé)

I long for my grandmother's tortillas
her bold hands that seized fevers and captured ghosts
her guidance, her comales, where chiles and tomatoes sang
she nourished us with food and prayer
to plant flowers
to surround us with family, community and hope
she didn’t want anyone to die
she preferred to die first
than see us suffer
she promised to see us after death
she came back twice
once she alone and the last time she was with her husband José.
She smiled sternly, but she was smiling.
Everything works out in the end
Her bones rest
Her footsteps let us know she does not sleep
Until everyone is safe

She loved
black coffee,
fresh jalapeños that made men cry
and talking back to God.

As she lay dying
Her eyes
Her hands
Her wilting heart
showered us with tenderness and compassion
Even when she recovered from the first heart attack
she didn’t stop working
Instead of resting
we would return from work
to find the house swept and mopped
food cooking on the stove
a stack of freshly cooked tortillas
and she on her feet
challenging us, defying her own heart
her whole body
was a prayer
a thunderous prayer
then she decided to die
after she found out some terrible news
she was betrayed
she tried to strangle my grandfather
who did not resist
he knew what he had done and was willing to let her have what she wanted now
Gustavo and I were in a side room playing guitars
when we heard arguing voices crescendo
then bodies crashing against walls and floors
We stuck our heads out the door and slowly came out
She was choking my abuelito
He just lay there, she on top, still
holding him down with her legs over his chest and knees on his arms
Then she flopped down on the floor
Leaning her head against the frayed sofa
Enraged, spit drooling out of her mouth
Her body was still a prayer
Invoking herself against herself
That summer
She continued working in the fields
Until she suffered another stroke at the onset of autumn
Then winter came
And she died
Her body still a prayer
When we buried her it began raining, then the sun broke through
The winter day became springtime
We sent her off with prayers, partying
Time under the open sky
The stars swelling until everyone cried
because we were going to miss her
we miss her prayers, her praying
her backbone
her food, her caldos, tortillas, her ponqui pie, her lipstick
her curses, her defense

She kept her promises, she waits for everyone.

Will we rest alongside her bones
or will we be scattered by the wind
only to be reached by her voice,
rescued by her prayers?

Manuela, arise
sons and daughters
grand-sons and granddaughters
great-grand-sons and great grand-daughters

Our mother
Our grandmother
does not forget anyone
does not leave anyone behind…

[Poem: 2002 | "Manuela Ochoa on her wedding day," 6"x8" oil pastels, 1994]

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