- Get your speaker this lost; take her off course; plunge her into the middle of the motion somewhere she’s never been before.
In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html
I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.
C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.
It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.
The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.
He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.
C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.
The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.
Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.
I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.
- Try out form. In the creative writing classroom, I encourage students to give themselves their own container. Is it writing something in four-word sentences? Is it using only questions? Is it filling fifteen minutes or four pages? Here is “Saints Day Triolet: Saint Anthony” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/56996. The triolet is a poetic form with only eight lines and two rhymes throughout: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/triolet-poetic-form
- Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?
Please consider joining us. Registration information and a history of the conference is available at: ourlifestories.org/.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Some of my plans for my wild and precious life:
- On the days I must work, as well as those dedicated to leisure, I will commit myself to absorbing the golden tips of daylight into dusk, of lingering with the cats into the cooling of the day—and season.
- I will hold the boundless freedom and joy of summer within me to help me as I strive to be fair and frank and kind to those I encounter on my path. I will leave no strangers in my wake.
- After traveling widely in new lands, I will open myself to learning from thousands of grasshoppers and butterflies. And, I will return with new seeds to sow and nurture.
- I will generously share the harvest and gratefully receive the bounty of others.
Speaking of bounty, fall semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:
Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. They may, as I, have more questions than answers, but they will take you with them as they celebrate our world.
Jack-in-the-Box and Home Depot Parking Lot
Standing in the gravel of the planter box between the Home Depot and Jack-in-the-Box, we had a rather large circle of up to eleven at some points in our conversation. We were talking about a certain politician’s plans for building a giant wall and the problems it might pose to the US as much as Mexico when we all noticed a man with a stroller crossing the parking lot. He was arguing vociferously into his cell phone.
Because his volume had captured our attention, we were all witnesses as the woman he was arguing with on the phone rolled up beside him in a black Honda Civic. And, trying to pepper spray him, she showered the baby in the stroller.
It took me a couple of whole minutes to register what we had just seen and to grasp that some of my students had been exposed to the particulates carried by the breezy afternoon. Pepper-sprayed a baby!
The whole scene focused on the stroller. A man in a rusty old truck threw open his door as he was still rolling and poured water over the girl to try to stop her awful wailing.
A woman rushed into Jack-in-the-Box to get more water. Another gave me the car’s license number as I was on the line with the Sheriff’s department.
All of us saw exactly what happened. (We just didn’t believe it.)
I dismissed the students and stayed around to offer my statement. The man who’d been sprayed could not hold his daughter because, just as she, he had cayenne oils all over his clothing, skin, and hair.
Because she was too young to have words, she continued to shriek after paramedics arrived and treated her.
Daniel, one of the English students, asked me in Spanish, “Who would pepper spray a baby?” Though I knew it was a rhetorical question, I responded, “It doesn’t make sense in any language.”
On my way home, the afternoon’s events raging in my brain, I carelessly wiped my sleeve across my face. My lips burned nearly as much as my mind.
In class, the next day, we debriefed the incident. One student confided that she could think of little else. Another, a veteran, shared that, were we in battle, this woman would be guilty of a war crime.
*According to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” Start with an unequivocally evil act, and help readers empathize with, but not condone the actions of, the evil-doer. This reminds me of a poem titled “The Torturer’s Apprentice.”
The Torturer’s Apprentice
by Doug Anderson
Almost a man now,
he used to shudder
when the old man
slipped hatpin under fingernail
but now he’s got
the master’s calm,
the seducer’s whiskey drift
to ply his subject
to give up his neighbor, tease
from him how many,
where and when.
Next month he’ll have his first,
no more dabbing the old man’s brow
with a cool towel,
no more sopping up the blood,
to mask the lingering stink
of fear and anguish.
They’ve saved a little nun
for him, some dear thing
who still believes
that deep down people
(From the anthology Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination, FROM Curbstone Press, edited by MartÍn Espada. Get the collection for the rest of this poem. It is a powerful anthology.)