Brujas, brujas de la brujería
The Woman in Turquoise
La muerte imaginada
The Ends of the World
Brujas, brujas de la brujeríaBrujas, brujas de la brujería; El mundo las odia con sangre fría; Pero no sabe su historia, su simpatía.
Brujas, brujas brujas de la brujería; Sus labios sensuales, su coquetería, Me dejan pasmado de pasmadería.
Brujas, brujas de la brujería; Denme sus cuerpos sabor de sandía, Blancos de noche, dorados de día.
Brujas, brujas de la brujería; ¿Quién tuviera la fuerza, la energía, Para gozarlas de noche hasta el mediodía?
¡Brujas, brujas de la brujería!
The Woman in Turquoise
As long as I can remember, there was something about the supernatural and paranormal that intrigued me. My father used to keep me entertained at night before bedtime with stories of brujas and Satan. He related stories about them in such a matter-of-fact manner and so convincingly that I never questioned their veracity. Consequently, his stories aroused my interest at a very young age. When my elderly neighbor found out about my interest, even though the subject matter troubled her, she encouraged me to visit the local library to quench my thirst for the paranormal and supernatural. Naturally, her sole intent was to increase my interest in reading.
My neighbor’s persistence bore fruit and I decided to visit the library on the following day. Unfortunately, it was a bitter morning when I awoke, but I proceeded to the library, as I had planned. It was cold, drizzly, and overcast when I arrived on the library steps. I ascended the steps swiftly to get out of the inclement weather. The first thing that I noticed when I set foot in the building was the solitary reference desk directly in front of me. A solemn white-haired woman stared at me as if I were an illiterate pícaro intruding in her territory. Reluctantly, she asked me if she could help me locate a book. I replied sheepishly that I was looking for books on brujas, fantasmas and Satan. Her Spanish was limited, but she understood enough to evince a humph and mutter under her breath “These kids, nowadays. Why do they believe in such stupid things!” Then, she raised her voice and commanded despotically “Go to the third aisle to the left and you will find them in the 130s.”
I wasn’t quite sure what her instructions meant, but I followed her directions. When I got to the area, I noticed a sullen but courteous young lady in turquoise-slim, intelligent, sure of herself and her profession-who took to me immediately and said, “The books you want are right here. This one is by Nostradamus and this other one is by Osuna.”
I was surprised by her sharp wit and unsolicited understanding of my interest in the subject matter at hand. But her smile left no doubt in my mind that she was the one with whom I wanted to interact. She had a warmth about her, almost like my neighbor’s disposition, but she projected a much younger version of my retired friend next door. I quickly pulled out three books and took them to the check-out counter. The aged versatile librarian checked them out for me and looked at me with the still-disgusted look in her face. I didn’t pay much attention to her demeanor because I was so excited to find materials on brujería and fantasmas. Just before I left, though, I remembered the kind lady who helped me find the books I was looking for and I entreated vehemently to the “venerable” librarian that she thank her for me. Perplexed and uneasy, she simply said “Good-bye, young man, we are closing.”
When I departed the library, I noticed the weather had not changed; consequently, the walk home was unbearable. I trod painfully on mud puddles and soaked my clothes till I was drenched in the wet streets. But I could not help but think of the kind lady in turquoise: turquoise with shades of blue; strange colors, indeed. There was no blue in the evening, no blue skies, no blue hues anywhere, and no blue at all.
When I got home, I immediately ran to my room to devour the books I had checked out, but not before my mother made me change my clothes, and not before my father proffered another cuento for my bedtime.
I accepted, even though my bedroom was too deathly cold for cuentos. After my father left, I felt the cold chill tightening around me. I also noticed the window was open allowing the wintry wind to creep into my room. I stood up to close the window and looked at the library several blocks away which was visible from my room. A light was still lit and I could discern a blue haze emanating from it. I looked across the flowerbed to my neighbor’s house and also noticed a light, half-lit, almost as if it were extinguishing itself on its own. The moon had finally fought its way through the clouds and was shining a faint blue light on the neighbor’s house. Faint, but visible. “Nothing much to startle my senses," I thought, but enough to make me think.
I quickly returned to my bed, shivering from my travels, and began to read. I read and read and read. Ladies who whispered thoughts into my head; visions of specters who yearned for a place with the living; unexplained noises heard by the living in their houses; drawers opening and closing without notice; wailing women like La Llorona who floated through the night looking for her lost children. I read till my eyes grew heavy, heavy as if I were sedated by the cabalistic words before me.
I had dreams; some dreams I remembered and others I forgot. But I dreamt, most assuredly. I dreamt of the brujas who spy through windows to catch you unawares in order to whisk you away. I dreamt of Nostradamus in his study envisioning the world as he knew how it was and how it would be. And I dreamt about the lady in turquoise. And I was thirsty, craving water, dying for moisture on my parched lips.
When I woke, I saw my worried parents looking down into my eyes. A bowl was next to my pillow and a wet towel was cooling my burning forehead. My mother prayed to her santos and my father gave thanks to God and the neighborhood curanderas for snatching me from the jaws of death. My mind was foggy, and my thinking betrayed me. But after shaking the cobwebs and finding out I had been asleep for 14 days, I felt an urgency to return my books to the library. I reminded my parents that my viejita neighbor had mentioned the importance of returning them on time.
Suddenly, I noticed a sad look in my parents’ eyes. My father told me my neighbor had passed away and had bequeathed her precious books-classics, modern fiction, poetry, and the like-from her personal library for me to peruse and to pursue my readings. He also repeated that she had stressed the importance of returning the public library books to their proper home.
Although I was still weak and my parents counseled me against it, I made my way back to the library. The sky was bright, azure and cloudless. The streets were dry and crisp. As I ascended the steps to the library, I noticed the same old librarian at the reference desk, frowning and stern, as usual. I returned the books to her and expressed my appreciation for the loan. I told her I had plenty of books to read at home and that I probably wouldn’t return soon. She looked at me and said “Figures, young man, you’re all alike.” Not quite understanding what she meant by it, I ignored the comment but insisted that she thank the young lady in the turquoise dress who had helped me two weeks earlier. The librarian frowned again, and exclaimed that my humor was not impressive in the least. She assured me unequivocally that we were the only two people in the library when we had our previous conversation; that in recent memory she had not remembered any librarians dressing in that color except a young library assistant who started her career there fifty years ago, a librarian who loved dressing in turquoise.
“But she’s gone, now," reminisced the aging librarian. “She was a good friend of mine, and she passed away two weeks ago. Here’s a copy of her obituary. You should know her, if the address on your library card application is correct, she was your next door neighbor.”
I thanked her for the information and returned home in what was still a bright, sunny afternoon. I was determined to study the classics, poetry, and modern fiction, and leave the supernatural and paranormal works for somebody else. But I swear that, on occasions, I still see a faint blue light switch on at the house next door as my own light goes out and nods me off into a deep, lifeless slumber.
La muerte imaginada
El general Rosendo Quintín era un enemigo nato de Porfirio Díaz y de la opresión. Luchaba por la liberación de su pueblo contra la opresión de los pelados. Ese era el único propósito de su vida. Pensaba en su esposa y sus hijitos que había dejado en el rancho, desamparados contra el gobierno, como la gallina que no puede juntar sus polluelos.
Y ahora el desgraciado se encontraba en aún peores dificultades. Estaba encajado en una celda tan pequeña que apenas podía mover su cuerpo. Tenía los pies hinchados en grillos y sus manos-desgarradas--atadas por detrás. El día era caluroso, bochornoso…. enigmáticamente silencioso. Por fuera, se oía el sonido apenas perceptible de los federales platicando durante su comida cotidiana de frijoles, tortillas y chile. Pero, debido al día abrasante, ni los pájaros salían a explorar el terreno por su propia comida, ni la brisa emprendía sus canciones celestiales entre las hojas de los árboles. Sólo los buitres se aventuraban a cercar el campamento a la distancia como globos perdidos en el cielo.
Por dentro, el general Quintín se limpiaba el sudor con las rodillas. El calor era aún peor en la celda; no había ventilación y el aire era sofocante. El general se entretenía--si se puede decir así--con las trayectorias de las cucarachas. Caminaban de un lado a otro buscando qué comer entre las grietas secas del piso de tierra polvorienta. Unas se trepaban sobre él, pero el general ya no las molestaba. Sabía que iba a morir y no quería molestarse con matar a esos bichos que Dios había puesto sobre la tierra. Ni los ratones le hacían caso. Ellos se preocupaban por alcanzar a las cucarachas que huían de ellos cuando los veían. Y el general se entretenía con estas curiosidades de la vida: los cazadores contra los cazados. El mismo había jugado ese juego. Pero lo había hecho de manera justa y correcta, preparando el camino para la victoria. Pero su destino era el de morir para que otros vivieran; y ahora esperaba.
De repente oyó la voz del guarda que lo ordenaba ponerse de pie. El juego estaba por terminar. Los grillos fueron aflojados, y él fue guiado hacia el paredón. El sol caluroso era cegante. El general, después de tantas horas dentro del “pozo” no podía discernir el lugar donde estaba preso, y apenas podía caminar, pero sabía cuál era su destino.
Ya puesto junto al paredón y ante el pelotón, le vendaron los ojos, acción inútil porque nunca había recobrado su vista total. El sargento alineó al pelotón en fila y les gritó las órdenes letales (mientras el general Quintín también interponía): “¡Preparen sus armas!”,--“¡Viva México!”-“¡Apunten!”,--“¡Viva la Revolución!”-“¡Fuego!”- “Vivaaaaaaaaaaa!”
De repente, una sacudida despierta al general Quintín de su pesadilla. El sargento, algo triste pero cumpliendo con sus órdenes, le dice al desdichado: “Ya es hora, mi general; ya llegó su hora”. Y el general abandona su celda sofocante y calurosa para repetir su destino.
The Ends of the World
When I lived in Idaho as a child in the 1950s, I thought the ends of the world were as far as I could see, as far as the mountains and no farther. Beyond them was mystery, emptiness, obscurity, nonexistence: Thule, if you will. I lived in Rising River, just north of Blackfoot. Rising River was a large farming community of white and Japanese American bosses and Mexican migrant workers. The land was beautiful, especially in late spring and early summer when the potato plants, beet plants and barley started cutting through the surface and groping for the warm rays of the sun. During that season, the fields transformed from a freshly plowed, damp brown hue to the moist, light green shades of the sprouting plants. One could see for miles and miles nothing but the green, plush carpeting of nature’s gift to man. Miles and miles to the ends of the world, so I thought.
When I would gaze at the Sawtooth Mountains, and Mt. Putnam, I was always awed by their majestic beauty. Mt. Putnam towered over the Snake River Valley like a Mt. Olympus or a Mt. Popocatépetl: these mountains were the home of the gods, the home of truth which had the answers to all my questions; the omnipresent and omniscient mountains of the world and the universe. To the northwest of Rising River were also the three sister buttes: the Big Butte, the East Butte and the Middle Butte. Finally, there were the Teton Peaks, which encircled the eastern rim of our valley. But these peaks were only visible in early morning when I accompanied my family to the fields and the sun rose behind them casting bright silhouettes for our eyes to take in and enjoy nature’s pageant.
In an isolated situation like this, what could a child understand of the world when his parents had nothing but a grade school education in Mexico and no knowledge of geography and history? When someone is ignorant of science and the world, one turns to answers which are mere conjecture and a yearning to explain the unexplainable, thus for millenia we have been offered beautiful, awe-inspiring myths that add color and detail to what we don’t know.
Following the ways of the ancients, I invented my own myths since I could not explain what I did not know due to my young age and lack of education. For hours on end while I walked to the fields with my family or hunted animals for our food, I would gaze at the mountains and was amazed how Mexico and the rest of the world, for that matter, were all confined within their boundaries and fit into this land whose limits I could discern. I was a child in the fields with nothing but a great imagination-the stuff of great fiction!
Cuentos were my father’s way of entertaining us. He would tell us about the battles between the sun and the moon, the witches that fought to destroy the mountains so that the valley would be inundated with molten lava, as the lava rocks in the area attested to previous ends of the world. After all, we Mexicans knew all about the end of the world-four previous times the world had ended, and the fifth end of the world-the fifth sun-would bring a flood of lava to the Snake River Valley to end the world and our livelihood, to end our suffering.
But I didn’t want to die! I was too young to die. I wanted to travel to those mountains, climb their steep promontories and patch up the earthen dikes so that the lava would not penetrate the fissures and crevices and destroy our families, our friends, and us. All I knew was what the valley manifested: green meadows of curving, wavy carpeting in the spring, and yellow sun-draped, ripened fields like the blonde flowing hair of a beautiful maiden. The small towns of Blackfoot, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls were also well known to me. Caldwell, where my family lived a couple of summers before we came to the Blackfoot area was the only other town I knew and I was positive it was certainly situated close to the mountains but not beyond them. I had no books at home, no teacher to instruct me in the discipline of geography and no knowledge whatsoever of the immensity of the world. Rising River was my world; the land was my sustenance; the animals were my neighbors; and my parents were my protectors.
This was the world in which I grew up. I was a migrant child from migrant parents and a migrant family. The family had traveled from central Mexico-a place which I also thought was within the valley-to this flat, agricultural land, rich in minerals provided by volcanic rock, and abundant in sagebrush and wildlife. This was a world created by a serpentine river-el Rio Serpentino as my father called it-carved out by centuries of its endless, restless progression through Idaho and to the stormy sea.
Thislife of a young migrant child was full of wonders. I was awed by the world, especially the natural world around me. When I was not busy carrying water and food to my working family in the fields, I would go hunting in the lava rocks to find rabbits for our meals. The lava rocks had been created as late as 2000 years ago and as early as 4000 years before our time. But thousands of years of their presence had created a habitat for rattlesnakes, bees, magpies, sparrows, and rabbits. These lava rocks were my domain and I knew them well but I was always leary of the snakes who had bitten many a hunter. But hunting was also essential for our survival, so I did what I could to complement my family’s income.
My faithful dog would always accompany me on these hunts and I grew to respect and admire his loyalty and hunting skills. I would kill the rabbits and he would retrieve them-this was our understanding and we worked well together. We were inseparable in the lava rocks and he saved me many times from rattlesnakes that I would have stepped on if he had not alerted me to them.
But my foraging with my dog had to end in early afternoon. My job was to take water to my family in the fields in mid-morning and mid-afternoon with a lunch at noon. Consequently, I would come back to our boxcar early after lunch with rabbits ready for my mother’s preparation for supper. I would get the water jug, insulated with wet burlap to keep it cool, and I would head back to the fields. By this time, the sun was burning hot and searing everything with which it’s rays came in contact. This was a time when the farmers found cool shade at home or in the potato cellars and the animals found a cove or brush to hide under. But there were very few of us migrant workers who could afford the time to break for cool shade. We worked the fields and there was no shade anyway within miles. Consequently, I was a welcome sight when my family saw my dog and me struggling with the insulated water jug, approaching them with manna from heaven and water to quench their thirst.
You see, we had little to look forward to; our future was bleak and we lived from day to day. The money the family made was for paying bills. We had no insurance, no education, and no high paying jobs. All we had was ourselves and our strong backs to work the 12 hour+ days that we put in six days a week, except for my father who worked for the rest of the family on Sundays, like a man who took on everybody else’s sins and taking no chances if the end were near.
But Sundays, for most of us, was a day of rest from hard labor. My oldest brother would take us into Blackfoot to go to church at St. Bernard’s Parish. This was the only Catholic church in town, a small church like an island in a sea of Mormon stakes and wards. The Mormons controlled the town and we did what we could to stay together-church being a place for the Mexican families to visit, talk gossip about marriages, elopements, stabbings at the Mexican dances the night before, deportments by the Migra, and bragging about which boss paid the most. It was a way for Mexican culture to survive as a strong cultural unit, an enclave in a valley where Mormonism reigned supreme. Consequently, we rested on that day as my father worked even harder, taking on the burden of our work. Our rest was his sacrifice so that we would be ready for another week of backbreaking toil.
This was my world as a child, a world that extended to the mountains but not beyond; a world of hard work, communion with nature, my father’s cuentos at night and my mother’s endless housework, keeping us fit and trim with nutritious food at home while we went out to the fields and the lava rocks. This world was hard and thankless, but as I reflect on it, I think it was a gift-in a hard-to-understand sense-of a pure, pristine life of youthful innocence growing up in the country. I was entertained by nature and cuentos; the evenings were like symphonies composed of my father’s thought-out words, the coyotes’ musical howling in the background, and the crickets’ ceaseless chirping-this “symphony” put me to sleep in the early evenings so that I would wake refreshed for another day of hard toil in the country. And as I dreamed I traveled to many places, across the Snake River to the mountains and to the ends of the world!
Empero la serpiente era astuta, más que todos los animales
del campo que Jehová Dios había hecho….Génesis, C. 3, ver. 1.
Filiberto was a laborer, nothing more, nothing less. He worked in Tabor, Idaho; rich land albeit rocky and lacking in flora but bursting with a wide variety of fauna. And of all the animals, none was more clever, more deceitful and wily than the rattlesnake.
Snakes in this part of the country lived in the lava rocks, under sagebrush, and thrived in the hot summer sun. They never attacked human beings but they did retaliate if they perceived being assaulted-and they were deadly.
Filiberto was very much the same way. He was passive and only fought when his life was in danger. He came from a poor family from across the border. He was a hard worker who never spent his money but saved it for his family who was still in the old country. He worked and labored and labored and worked. His daily back-breaking toil was for a purpose-a dream in a promised land. Day in, day out, he worked the fields, fields that gave him sustenance, fields that put food on the table, fields that fed him and provided for him. It was an understanding he had with the land. He helped produce the food that would, in turn, help him survive. Truly, a harmony existed.
Then, there was Cóatl, the rattlesnake. She was strong, although she had lost energy from bearing her children. As most people know, a snake's litter struggle to survive in a hostile environment. Most of the litter die young. Only a few survive. Only a few grow to adulthood and the mother rattler knew that. It was a harsh world and she had to make do with what she could find. Every day, she went out to scour the lava rocks and adjacent fields for food-rats, mice, and other critters were her delight. But she also had to find food for her children and they were too young for these delicacies; they needed insects to feast on. Later, they could be more like their mother.
So Cóatl went out that morning. Nothing much was different about that day. Cóatl quitted her den. Nothing edible was close to her haven, her home. Nothing was close by; she had to travel farther, farther where man's noise could be heard, where the steel machines worked her land, a land that was once rich in animals was now providing for Man instead of her. But she had no choice, her children had to eat and she had to venture closer, ever closer to Man.
Filiberto also had to provide. His children were hungry; his children had to eat. And so he ventured out, ever so far away from home, from his friends, from his culture, from his country. It would be inevitable. Man and beast would have to meet. Cóatl and Filiberto would cross paths.
It was a bright, warm sunny day as Filiberto walked to the fields where his tractor awaited him. His boss, el mayordomo, was gone for the weekend. He trusted Filiberto with everything he owned. Filiberto had been with him for six years. He always came to Tabor in the Spring and would stay till after the harvest, when he would return to the old country. So Filiberto was in command of himself and his responsibilities. He knew his job and performed it well.
As he walked to the fields, he thought about the beautiful day, what he would buy with the money he had saved up: a house for his family, a car with a radio, clothes for the children, a new dress for his beautiful wife, so many dreams, so many goals, so many aspirations, so blessed was the land!
As Cóatl slithered closer to the fields, it too thought about its offspring, their hunger, their needs, their future. She wanted to provide. She wanted to be a good mother, she wanted to the very best for her children. She knew most of them would not survive. That was the law of nature. That was their fate. But she wanted as many to survive as possible. It was her burden, but her commitment as a mother, it was the law of survival; her survival skills were at their peak, honed to perfection, nothing could dissuade her from her destiny: survival.
And they met. It was inevitable. She was hungry; she was fenced in. He was hungry; his family was desperate; and they were fenced in.
It was an unanticipated meeting. Cóatl was tired and was warming herself on top of the tractor tire. She had needed a respite from her hunting. Filiberto walked to the tractor waiting in the field. He leaned forward to climb the tractor to his seat. Just as he had done numerous times before, he leaned forward with his hand grasping the tire tread on top. He grasped and Cóatl dug her fangs into his arm. Seconds later, Filiberto was clutching his arm in excruciating pain. The die was cast, the venom was injected into his veins; it had no turning back.
With his other hand, Filiberto grabbed Cóatl below her head, and slammed her on the hard steel fender. He repeated this act furiously until he thought her dead. She fell to the ground and he collapsed near her. His mind was on what to do next. He had no knife. He tried to suck the venom out of his arm, but to no avail. His breath was weak and he could do nothing. He felt nauseous. His arm was swelling beyond comprehension, or so he thought. Although the day was warming to a pleasant early summer morning temperature, he felt a coldness about him and wondered why the temperature was plummeting. He vomited and could not keep anything inside. His stomach felt vacant, empty as if anything trying to enter would be unwanted, foreign, trespassing. Filiberto felt weak, his tongue was numb and tingled as it had done in the old country when he would drink mineral water. His skin was burning but he felt cold. The sun shone down on him but he only felt the frozenness of a winter morning, the numb feeling when you have been out too long in the freezing Idaho winters. His vision was blurred. He tried to make out the horizon and tried to make sure the snake was no where near him. She was the cause of his demise, his pain, his gloomy future-crumbling in ruins around him. He noticed that his other arm was bleeding from his fall. He apparently had hit a sharp corner of the tractor fender, but the bleeding would not stop. His muscles were twitching out of control. He knew he was fading fast.
Cóatl was also still alive, although terribly mangled. She wanted to live. Her motherly instinct forbade her from dying, at least, without desperately letting her steadfast determination keep her alive. It was her natural will to survive. She had children to feed. She needed to provide. Without her, her unprotected children would surely die, exposed to the threatening environment, the threatening desert. There were plenty of animals who could feast on them; they would be a banquet for a hungry coyote or bobcat. This was the law of nature. It was the law of survival.
Filiberto too wanted to survive. He thought of his family. His dreams. His will to provide. He was too young to have such a fate. "¡Ave María Purísima!" he cried, barely audible as he slipped closer and closer to unconsciousness. "How can I die like this? I have so much to live for! This land has been so kind to me. How can it do this to me now!?" "¡Quiero vivir!"
Snake and man side by side. Late afternoon. The sun setting, the wind blowing dust in the horizon, the buttes towering over the valley. Hot, heavy suffocating heat. One could hardly breathe. Hungry children in the old country. Lonely wife, far away, cheerless and yearningly crying.
The offspring waiting for their mother, hungry, anxious, anticipating full stomachs, dying to relieve their hunger pangs, to see their mother again.
And the dust slowly covered man and beast in a fine film of suffocating dryness. Snake and man waiting for a supernatural succor. A twist of fate had left them there, lying in their death throes. Both victims of an unexpected, cruel destiny. Neither should have been in that situation, but both of them were.
And as the winds increased, and the night covered the land with a speckled, twinkling canopy, nature took its course. The beasts of the desert night made their sounds; the predators became the prey. Solitude reigned supreme. Man and beast took their last breath and gave up their souls to their Maker; the day had come to an end and night had gained the upper hand.
Amando Álvarez April 30, 2001
When I feel old and far away
I think of you and nearly cry;
Not for a death or life betrayed,
But for your fields of gold alive,
And for your streams in mountain ways
Fed by the hues of azure skies.
Potato fields that garb your vales
Could never once upset my eyes,
For in your snows, your mountain trails,
Your sunset warm and cool sunrise,
I feel a kiss through heaven’s gate
Descend like gentle morning light!
Una mariposa vi ayer en el jardín
Anunciando primavera mucho antes de pensar.
Y se esfumó antes de decirle que no era aún abril.
Fue una tontería de ella a Cupido esperar,
Si las flores aún duermen en sus lechos de jazmín
Y los aires calurosos no se vienen a quedar.
Una mariposa vi ayer en el jardín
¡Llorando por las rosas y las brisas de la mar!
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AMANDO ÁLVAREZ HOME
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The Mexican Experience in Idaho
The Old Man
Juanito and the Library
The Coin (by Daniel Rodriguez)
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