My Words

As Americans, when we think of war, we think of soldiers and the toll their sacrifice has on our families and communities. We think of the financial cost of war. We fight over the righteousness of war. This is not a discourse on the socio-political aspects of war, or even its righteousness. What I am attempting to do is to create a window for you, the reader, to peek through. A window of what war looks like for those of us who have been caught, literally, in the cross-fire. For every soldier who comes home in a body bag, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of lives which have forever been scarred by the violence and mass trauma of civil unrest.

I arrived in El Salvador, my Mother’s homeland, from Spain when I was not quite nine years old with my two older brothers and Mother. We left our Father behind in my country of birth and arrived in a land about to erupt with violence enhanced by Reagan’s war on the Russian encroachment of Communism into the Americas. Of course, I knew nothing of this “bigger” picture. All I knew was that my parents were separating and I had chosen Mother. At the time, I did not know that the war in El Salvador would officially last twelve years and take over 100,000 lives. Unofficially, there is no “set in stone” date. I lived through the “invisible” war which began somewhere in 1976 and some would argue that it had been brewing since the first indigenous uprising at the turn of the 20th century.

The stories and poems you will find here are not linear. I, myself, question the accuracy of the details. Sometimes, one event merges into another to fill the gaps left by the emotional detachment necessary to survive. The brain is an amazing organ. It tries to protect your sanity at all costs because it knows that if it doesn’t, it won’t survive either. It takes the ugly, hard stuff and puts it away deep within its archives. It creates a happy place for you to escape during traumatic events so that its impact in your psyche is minimized. I have spent the better part of thirty years by-passing the archives of El Salvador; discriminately pulling files of memory and putting together some palatable stories. But there are some stories I have not been able to access. And there are some stories which I may never dare tell.

Two years ago, I accidentally came across a picture of my cousin, Jimmy the Poet. A beautiful, talented man who found his strength by choosing to not ignore the burgeoning civil war and wrote of the injustices and atrocities being perpetrated against his people by the El Salvadorean government. He found his strength in his words. He used his words as fists against the deafening silence at a time when most of us kept our head low and eyes to the ground. Unfortunately, not even his high ranking General brother could spare his life and he was murdered one hot, April morning. I have carried the weight of his death in my heart since 1980. I have felt great shame and guilt over my silence for over thirty years. My brain has finally decided that I am sufficiently strong to give voice to those deeply buried files in the archives of memory.

This is a work in progress. Some of the words being liberated in this exercise will be powerful, painful, inspiring, and at times confusing. I have no control over the words. I can try to create a somewhat linear format for you to follow, but I can’t promise much. The best for which I can hope is for you, the reader, to understand what I experienced and be a witness to another side of war.

Oh, and please click on the fish to feed them :)

Fish

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Elote






I walked into the Music-Go-Round in Maple Grove, Minnesota for my first drum lesson, nervous, self-conscious, and telling the voice in my head reminding me that a forty-four year old woman trying to learn to drum is ridiculous to shut the hell up. Michael walked up to me with an extended hand and I stopped dead in my tracks.  I’ve seen that tall, lanky, boy before in another life time. Only back then, his name was Elote.

****

There was a time when feeling loved was simple, even while living the realities of a land froth with civil unrest, and where the plain necessities for sustenance and safety were scarce. A ten year old truly doesn’t need much.  Starved for food, safety and affection, dreaming filled my heart, and during that time, my dreams were filled with Elote.

Tall and lean --well, as tall as El Salvadorian genetics allow-- Elote was a Marijuano, a “stoner.”  He had a full mane of dirty blond locks and hazel eyes; and like any self respecting, Marijuano of the seventies, he was a Led Zeppelin follower and Elote took full advantage of his vague resemblance to Robert Plant. He wore shirts and t-shirts too tight and short for him; and I often wondered how he got the crotch of his tight, bell-bottom, low-ride jeans to fade ever so perfectly.  His physique, pale complexion and that unruly mane of dirty, golden hair earned him the nickname of Elote, “Corn Cob.”

 Elote was my first love. A friend of my brother, Juan, who was six or seven years my senior; which is pretty significant when one is barely ten.  I loved Elote from a distance, fully aware that he was not for me.  The first time I saw him, my heart stopped and the entire world disappeared until I was brought back to reality by the heel of brother’s boot as it hit my forehead. Elote was sitting on our forest green, cushioned sofa, with one leg carelessly thrown over the wooden arm rest.  He was just sitting there, lost to the world listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with his head leaned back, cradled over his curls and his eyes closed.  He sat upright, awakened by Juan’s laughter inspired by his excellent aim. I dropped my school bag and ran upstairs humiliated, yet elated.  

Whenever my brother brought him to the house, I’d spy from the stairwell and was ever at the ready to fetch for my brother hoping I’d get to be noticed.  Every time Elote left the house, I would pick up the pieces of my broken heart or rejoice in delight, if when he saw me, he threw me one of those Marijuano nods and “hey’s.”  I would spend hours speculating the significance of those “hey’s” or on the length of his acknowledgment of my existence as demonstrated by a slight upward nod.  The day he said he liked the freedom of my laughter, led to disastrous displays of, what I’m sure from his perspective, looked like maniacal laughter during consequent visits.  He never complimented me again.  I began the habit of having a clean dress available, which I would promptly change into when there was a chance he might visit. His visits did wonders to greatly improve my non-existent, personal hygiene as well.

I stopped caring that my brother would use my crush as another excuse to beat me and call me a whore after Elote left. I liked to imagine what his full lips would feel on mine, while my brother made me kneel in front of the crucifix and pray for my sins for hours. With each Hail Mary, Lords Prayer, kick, punch, slap and insult, I would imagine his thin arms around me and dream of what his warm breath would feel like against my skin. Nothing else mattered around me but dreaming of what Elote’s touch would feel like. I didn’t care that the only time I became visible was to be pushed, kicked, slapped and reminded of my worthlessness anymore.  That wasn’t the reality which I chose to accept. Seeing Elote,  feeling my breath quicken and my palms sweat as my knees weakened when I heard his voice was pure ecstasy for my ten year old heart.  And that was the reality I chose. My days were counted by the possibility of a simple glimpse.  Oh, and how my dreams were filled with him!  The day my brother tried to drown me in the water barrel was the happiest day of my life.  That day Elote told my brother, “Don’t talk to your sister like that man, she’s not a dog.” Aside from the fact that this is the longest sequence of words I had ever heard him speak, they were about ME. Not only did he see me, he knew I walked upright!  So, when my brother pushed my head down under the water I didn’t care. My last thought before the world went dark was that nothing mattered  because Elote saw me!

Two years later, when my brothers were sent back to Father in Spain, I feared I would never see Elote again. But fantasies of him still sustained me while El Salvador became the hell on earth most of us can only dream of.  The civil unrest in El Salvador escalated.  Countless people suspected of being “revolucionarios” were disappeared, though no one would say that word out loud.  “Disappeared” was simply a commonly understood state of being. There was a look in the eye, a special way pain manifested itself on the face of a loved one, a sudden drop of the gaze to the ground when the name of a disappeared came up in conversation.  One just knew that the person was taken.  His or her beaten, dismembered, unrecognizable body would eventually turn up in a “barranco” buried with the mountains of trash that threatened to fill the canyons, or floating down a river, or simply tossed on the side of a road.  At least that was always the silent hope.  Most disappeared were never found. Fear began to affect how people interacted with one another for fear of being associated with whatever caused being disappeared.  It was as if the cautionary folk tales to keep children from wondering  into danger had become a reality. El Zipitillo, La Llorona and now “La descalza” began making the rounds in most neighborhoods looking for “subversives.” There was no clear indication what a “subversive” looked like, so indiscriminately chosen the “disappeared’ were.  All I knew is that if I saw two unknown “campesino” looking men walking after dark, I best find a tree to climb and hide during the routinely imposed martial law and curfews because coming back home after venturing out was no longer guaranteed. It was also during this time that Mother discovered she was a feminist, which to her meant she could party with the boys - one at a time or in multiples. At first, there were overnight outings. With time, days turned into weeks and eventually, I stopped counting and waiting for her return and focused my energy into keeping myself alive.  Little details of leaving me with food, or means to obtain nourishment were inconsequential details that weren’t included in whatever feminist manifesto she had adopted.  Besides, I was old enough to understand the sacrifices she had made her entire life for her children, as she liked to remind me whenever I asked when she would return. 

How does an eleven or twelve year old girl feed and keep herself safe during a militarily oppressive period?  By capitalizing in her most valuable asset: her body, of course. I soon found the company of Don Rosales.  A widower, father of two teenage daughters who took a liking to me.  He fed me, protected me, nurtured me, gave me loose change, and let me play with his daughters’ old dolls in exchange for letting him touch me and helping him fulfill his “manly” needs.  It wasn’t a terrible arrangement.  He never hurt me.  He never beat me. He never raped me. His touch was always gentle and kind.   Besides, It was impossible to not think of Elote as Don Rosales buried his head between my legs. Unfortunately, this only encouraged Don Rosales as he attributed my pleasure exclusively to his skills.  I would squirm and cry out in pleasure replacing this new reality with my default fantasy.

I didn’t entirely hate his touch. I found it perturbing that he oddly enough only had one nipple. I asked him about it once.  Apparently, he was born that way.  I never believed him. If anything about the experience truly bothered me, it was his eyes.  They always looked sad, distant, and full of torment.  I reached out to him once to caress his face, as he began to take off my clothes,  hoping I could ease the torment in his eyes. He dropped to his knees, hugged me and cried like a child. All I could do was hold him while he sobbed against my naked belly. “Shhh... esta bien... shhh.” Empty comforts to a drowning man.   

Luckily, I soon learned that one of the advantages of being invisible to Mother and a burden to her newly found freedom as a woman of the 70’s, was that it provided me with lack of supervision, which meant that my house became the place stoners could come and safely party. My house was a hub of clandestine and illegal activity.  There were drug deals made in the living room and at any random moment, the bedrooms would be taken by young couples who needed privacy.  It was a haven and heaven to many, regardless of what hell those walls encased at other times in my young life.  It was during one of these clandestine soirees that I learned that dreams are possible to achieve.

Sitting on the front steps, looking down at the ants wondering were they had found the scarce crumbs they were meticulously carrying, I heard that old familiar “Hey.” I looked up to those droopy hazel eyes and felt my quivering smile cover my face.  He sat next to me and it seemed like hours before he uttered another word.  After an eternity of uncomfortable silence, while I tried to stop my body from betraying me by making visible how nervous I was, he stood and asked if he could go inside to smoke.  “Sure.” I answered, trying to appear nonchalant.  While I was busy trying to keep my heart from beating out of my chest, he stood and went in the house. I leaned my forehead on my knees trying to re-learn how to breathe.  A few seconds later, he came back out asking, “coming in or what?”  He held out his hand to me to help me up.  I thought the pressure in my head would make me pass out, so I took his extended, warm hand as I prayed my legs would not fail me. He went straight upstairs to my brother’s old bedroom, which was now mine.  He walked in the room, hesitated for a second and sat on the floor with his back leaning against the bed.  Unsure of what to do, I sat next to him as he pulled out a joint out of his shirt packet and lit it.  He gave me a confused look and shrugged when I turned it down, but I wanted nothing to interfere with this moment. I could feel the warmth of his right arm on mine and I focused on that. We just sat there in silence until he, out of nowhere said, “your brother was an asshole.” I couldn't disagree, so I shrugged. “My brother was an asshole like that too. I was glad when la descalza took him” and he looked at me.  I could feel him study my face and I had to turn away as I felt the tears well up in my eyes.  I remember the old guilt for the many times I’d prayed that la descalza would take Juan too. He reached out, trailed a tear that ran down my cheek, and kissed me.  His lips were soft and sweet. His breath warm on my face. My heart was caught in my throat. He kissed my lips, my cheeks, my neck and buried his face there.  I held him and for some unfathomable reason we sobbed. We cried as we locked in a tight embrace.  When we ran out of tears, we kissed again.  This time desperately, as if our very lives depended on this connection. He held my head tight against him.  His hands began to travel hastily over my shoulders, to my budding breasts and down my waist.  He reached down and roughly caressed my legs and tried to pull them apart.  To this day, I don’t know why I stopped him when he got higher than my knees.  Laying on top of me, he looked in my eyes and asked with a mischievous smile, “just a little higher? Just a little touch?” I shook my head and he surprisingly respected that simple gesture.

We spent the afternoon talking about our lives, my asshole brother, his asshole brother, his plans for the future. I learned that his real name was Jorge and that he hated being called Elote.  He dreamed of becoming an engineer and hoped to be able to attend the University next year, he said. He had a plan.  He’d saved the money he made from selling pot to buy his books.  “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to grow much longer because it’s getting too dangerous out in the fields. La descalza has been making the rounds and ‘El Pato’ is gone now.”  We both knew what that meant and we didn’t need to elaborate.  A sudden panic invaded my heart.  I looked at him and threw my arms around him. “Don’t worry.”  He laughed. “I’m always careful and I’ll only be going up there once, maybe twice more.” The afternoon turned into evening and much to my disappointment, he had to leave.  I wanted to tell him how much I feared the dark.  That the dark brought Mother’s men into the house looking for me in her absence and I had to leave, which meant I had to go hide in the forest waiting for daylight to come back home. I wanted him to take me away with him. But I was too embarrassed to let the words leave my lips. I walked him to the door and waited for him to be gone from sight before I followed out the door to find a tree to climb and hide in.  

That was the last time I saw Elote alive. Months later, I ran into some friends of my brother who also knew him.  I walked up to them slowly because I already knew the answer.  Before I saw them look away from me and stare at the ground as they answered, “he’s gone.”  I knew.  I knew that his beautiful, lean body had been beaten and desecrated until dead. I knew that there was no novena for him, no nine days, no chuco and tamales, no wailing Mother at his casket, no funeral.  He was disappeared. The dream that had kept me alive had been erased from existence.

******
October 2010


“So, what do you think?” Michael asked.
“Yeah, sounds good.” I agreed without knowing to what.  All I could do was stare at Michael’s mane wishing I could touch it to see if it felt like Elote’s.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Awakening



I have dwelled in but a dream
Colored by a longing
And passions lived in a moment
Yearning to make reality out of fantasy.

Stripped naked and raw
I have caressed a vision
Penned by lustful fingers
In a morn’ of discontent.

Now, jolted awake…

Bathed under a foolish glow
The fog of illusion is cleared
So logic and reason can once more to reveal
The path from which I’ve veered.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Faces


So many faces
Disappeared into the oblivion
Erased from our consciousness
No nine days for them
No tamales y chuco
No wailing rosaries

Names forgotten
Lost in the fog of our collective denial
Surely someone cried for them
More than once
Before
Before
Before they became
Nameless faces
Perhaps quietly
Safely in the dark.

Head down
Eyes to the ground
Don’t look up to call a single name
Not even a whisper
Don’t make it real

If we close our eyes long enough
Maybe
Just maybe
The sun will shine
And this haze of surreal existence
Will be replaced
Maybe with hope
And all those faces
Will have names again.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The sin of man


The world is made up of lonely individuals who feel isolated and separate from one another.  We seek others in an attempt to fill the void felt by the echoes of our own uniqueness and eccentricities. We make others feel rejected by our own sense of solitude which we aggrandize with a false sense of superiority derived from the fragility of our convictions.  We allow the reality of our insignificance close of the world around us for fear that we might be forced to face this reality and become aware that our self-righteousness is closely related to gratifying our own need for validation rather than be the best human being we can strive to be.  At best, we follow the path of least resistance, as most of nature does, to attempt and feed our inclination towards immediate gratification. At our worst, we delay or not allow ourselves to take pleasure of the moment by our drive to possess and extend the length of what is meant to be enjoyed in the now.  We allow the past to take our present being hostage for fear of truly feeling the pain which needs to be experienced. We drown ourselves slowly in the memories of yesterday and limit our presence in experiencing the reality of today. We put our energy into creating a future based on suppositions that we will be the same person tomorrow that we are today, depriving ourselves of living this minute, today.  We give our power away by allowing our singular insignificance define the strength of our convictions and how we exercise them.  We fail to see that by not being truly and honestly present we close the door to the possibility that change occurs with the self first and ripples to the rest of the world like aftershocks.  We use the “weight of the world” to not look inward and take stock of our values, virtues, strengths, and gifts which can be used every day, at every moment to inspire a better society. We allow our tunnel vision deny compassionate living and we close our hearts to those who need our love the most.

The greatest sin of man is to not allow ourselves to be emotionally present today.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sin Titulo / Untitled

No tires la mirada hacia el firmamento
que las nubes están cargadas
con las lagrimas evaporadas 
derramadas en mi tierra deseca sin anhelo

¡Ay mi tierra agrietada!
en cuales huecos empapados con la sangre de mi pueblo
me he tropezado tan a menudo
sin poder desahogar un solo gemido.

Pero como cuesta expurgar el cielo
en busca de una miga de desahogo
con las manos atadas en cadenas sin olvido

********************************

Don’t throw your sight upon the heavens
Because the clouds are loaded
With evaporated tears
Spilled upon my land dried out of hope

!Oh my parched land!
On whose crevasses soaked with the blood of my people
I have tripped so many times
Without the relief of one single moan.

But how hard it is to expunge the heavens
While searching for even a crumb of relief
With hands tied with chains that won’t forget.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Para el Poeta Jimmy

Es tan sucio el que pone las cadenas como el que lo acepta como algo sin remedio.
 .-Jaime Suárez Quemain (1950-1980) ...

Para el Poeta Jimmy

Un grito colectivo
Escribió mi hermano
A quien me aferro
en la neblina
y la distancia.

Por tanto tiempo he gritado
en unión contigo
- mi hermano anarquista -
pero silenciosamente
en las obscuridades huecas
acompañada por mi dolor y melancolía
--pue’ ya que esta es una proposición honesta--
cobardemente y embarrada de vergüenza
permitiendo que el miedo absurdo
me ensuciara con la misma ignorancia
cual infecto a nuestro pueblo

Pero al fin llego el día
- Mi hermano en la anarquía -
de comenzar a gritar contigo.
Pero espero que me perdones
si mis primeros gritos
Son susurros
Como suelen ser
cuando por tantísimo tiempo
la voluntad ha sido paralizada
por el terror cual aprieta la garganta
estrangulando la voz.

Ojala no pierdas fe
por no ser tan valiente como tu
aunque tampoco habíase permitido
Que mi espíritu se ensuciase por completo
con las cadenas de la resignación.


******************************************************************


He who enchains is just as dirty as he who accepts to be chained in resignation.
 .-Jaime Suárez Quemain (1950-1980) ...
For Jimmy the Poet
A collective shout
Wrote my brother
To whom I cling in the fog
From a distance.

I have screamed for so long
In unison with you
- my anarchist brother -
But silently
In the hollow darkness
Accompanied by my pain and melancholy
--and since we’re being brutally honest and--
If truth be told
Cowardly and smothered in shame
Allowing that absurd fear
To soil me with the ignorance
Which infected our people

But the day has finally arrived
- My brother in anarchy -
For me to shout alongside you
But I hope you can forgive me
If my first shouts
Are whispers
As they tend to be
When for so very long
One’s will has been paralyzed
By the terror tightening one’s throat
Constricting one’s voice.

I hope you don’t lose faith
Because though I have never been as brave as you
I also didn’t fully allow my spirit
to be soiled by the chains of resignation.

Papaya


Miss Lulu and I
 
There is a very distinct sound a bullet makes when it ricochets off stone.
 
A quick, metallic sharp slap
Preceded by a whistling “whoosh”
Cutting through the suffocating, wet air
Thick with the smells of
Papayas, aguacates, tamales, frigoles
And mi gente.
You hear the first “pop” while walking down the Mercado aisles
Filling your empty stomach with the sweet smell of ripe papayas
You hear the ping as you hit the floor so fast you don’t care
that the damp, grimy, smelly floor is going to ruin your only good skirt.
Your eyes are closed before you even touch the ground
Time slows down and a few seconds turn into a lifetime
as the air is cut with the shower of accompanying bullets.
 
More bullets bring more screams
As your arms pointlessly attempt to drown them.
Your senses absorb the chaos around you
Your brain expands to take in all that it unravels.
Chickens panic and become free
Too stupid to know that it’s safer to lay low
Rather than jump around
You wish you could bury your face against someone’s breast
As you hear the muffled cries of children clinging to their Mothers
Instead, you taste the dirty floor mixed with your tears and snot.
Your mind’s eye becomes a movie projector
Translating all the sounds into perfect images.
You wish your mind weren’t so inquisitive
Because you’d rather not know.
You’d rather not know, or see, or hear
the shared terror and awareness
that soon you will take your last breath
with your face plastered on this filthy floor full of chicken shit.
 
And time stops…
 
And you see Tete’s smiling face closing in to kiss your forehead for the last time
before disappearing into the plane
And your dog, Miss Lulu, happily sharing a piece of your last tortilla yesterday morning
And you wish you hadn’t told Cecilia she was dirty for having lice
And not teased Esperanza because she’s a Jehova’s Witness
And wished you’d let Jorge put his hand higher up under your skirt
“for just a little touch” before he was disappeared
And you remember your first kiss
Even as you wish it had been from Jaime and not his brother Adan
And you wonder if your Mother will know that you’re dead
because she won’t be home long enough to notice that you’re gone before she leaves again
And you try to remember if you told your Abuelo you loved him when you saw him last
And you wish you had the memory stick you made together now
But you can’t remember where you put it.
And you try to send your Father a telepathic message
Like he taught you to do before you broke your promise
To tell him “perdoneme”
But you can’t because there is no bright star inside the Mercado
And you won’t dare look up anyway.
 
Slowly, time resumes...

You become aware that your crotch feels wet
And you wonder if you messed yourself
And as you wait for the coldness to come.
You feel someone’s warm breath against your arm
And his weight over you
And you don’t care that he smells bad
because you feel protected
And everything feels calm now
And you wonder if you’re dead
But you know you’re not because you smell your own piss
And rough hands lift you off the ground
And pry your arms from around your head
And the ringing in your ears vaguely lets you hear, “ya pue’ ya esta bien, ya paso.”
And you dare open your eyes now
And as he gives you a cracked papaya from the floor, you whisper, “Gracias Maestro”
And you remember that you’re hungry so you don’t tell him it’s not yours and you take it
As you start to get control of your legs you notice that your skirt is stained with blood
but you don’t want to know who it belongs to
so you start to make your way out
As children are sent to try to salvage their Mother’s produce off the filthy floor.
 
You don’t look back as the women wash off the blood
left behind by the bodies being dragged ahead of you.
Your trembling legs carry you to the main gate of the Mercado
while you pretend that you don’t see the uniformed men and their rifles
or hear them telling you how much they’d like to bite your budding breasts
as they lick their lips while they rub the cocks over their pants
Once outside, you put one foot in front of the other
And walk to Cecilia’s to trade half your papaya for a tortilla so you can feed Miss Lulu.