Posts Tagged 'culture'

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.


Predators and prayers

Plucking up my nerve, I nuzzled the horse’s neck and his gallop was reward enough.

I’m not a clean girl, I’m not that type. I’m dry, dusty, grit flying off of me and only a horse could love me I think when I run across these wild sage lands. There’s a fly riding with me today and I’m so full of love I can even sing a song to that fly, although later I did smash him flat. Horseflies bite.

However, I don’t believe in poaching on the lives of other creatures, by and large. I’ve seen spiders tremble with fear, I’ve heard coyotes stutter in the night, shedding their shattered prey, rehearsing tomorrow night’s performance as the blue night fades into the bloody morning. There’s a smattering of mortality in this nightly dance, the gleeful cackle of the successful predator, I can see the coyotes wink and dance across the river valley until they come to their cool dark sleeping spots, spelunking into quiet, damp riverbank beds. The sun comes up and makes a slam-dunk over the watermelon mountain and in the quiet sunrise every small animal hears the crunching footsteps of the big kahuna, the biggest predator with his bikes and his wolves on leash. Every den, every hole, every river nest is alerted as he walks by and they frown, concentrating on the sound of his feet, the flattened sound of his bike shoes scrimping through the still damp leaves. Each animal is afraid of procrastination, worried that if they wait too long the long thin bike man may transform into a blast of gun or a sudden flare of arrow and so they do not trust, they do not waste their time on wonder.

 Wipe all thoughts of neighbor or brother away, expunge that thought. The fear is expansive, the little ones excoriate all things man, all things man inflate, conflate, desecrate and if bunnies were vicious they might eviscerate this frightening one, only all this does is cause them to argue, germinating wave after wave of discontent within the burrow. This fall the beavers have stripped away every leaf, every shoot from every plant that grows by the river’s edge; they’ve missed nothing, the riverbanks crumbling down into the red muddy water, no place for little claws to hold onto, no way to clamber away from the water and in their endeavor to defy gravity and water and time, some of them fall in, small sacrifices made to the river gods.

Jennifer and Stephen

Jennifer and Stephen

“We’ve had this discussion how many times now? How many?” She is talking in that tone of voice, the patient tone she uses with unfortunate people, and Stephen feels unfortunate, which makes him want to leave even more.

“We’ll keep having this discussion until we can make some kind of decision that we can both be satisfied with,” he says, meeting her tone for tone. He mediates for a living, has the conflict resolution skills of a grand master, and feels like tearing his own face off of his head and running through the streets of Santa Fe screaming until someone calls a task force in to take him down. He sighs.

They’ve been talking to Sofia, their daughter, about the discussion, but have refrained from fighting in her presence. In retrospect, Stephen thinks this may have been a bad idea, a throwback strategy to his parents generation. Staying together for the children, never go to bed angry, and so on. They’ve talked and processed and reasoned their way through every step of their relationship, from day one, when they practiced “When you say this, I feel that” in their interpersonal communications forum for undergraduate students at Santa Cruz. Stephen wishes now that he’d majored in theater instead of communication, or design, or engineering. Something less or more something. Contained. Rational. Soft science with a hard frame. Jennifer has her parallel regrets, Stephen knows. Right now, he doesn’t care.

In the airport

Ms. Desiree Staunton listens to people on their cellphones as they rush by on their way to and from. Knits together their snaggled conversations into word blankets and collages made of paper and wood and glass and hair and sells them to the designers guild to put in model homes in developments all across the Southwest. Round shapes, a letter here and there, a confession, a complaint. The corner of someone’s face, caught without notice. An invasion of privacy into a conversation taking place publically and very close to a runway. A runaway, Desiree calls these.


All Saint’s Day

On the day after el día de los muertos, I eat sugar skulls and imagine meeting God face to face. My cousin says “el señor dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has even seen or can see”. I asked her how the saints can see Him then, if no one has even ever seen Him or even been able to approach Him? This makes her mad and she goes to church without me, because I like to stay home on Sundays to read the funnies. I am staying with my auntie only for a few days, while my mom and dad are considering getting a divorce.

Divorce is a sin, I believe, but I’m not being raised Catholic so I don’t know if it’s venal or mortal. My cousin, Florita, is being raised very Catholic and is considering being a nun, if she can just feel the calling, which she hasn’t just yet. Florita is irritable and doesn’t like me much because I don’t really speak Spanish and I’m not Catholic and my eyes are green, which she envies in my opinion. I am pretty sure envy is a sin also, though, so she always finds something else to be mad at me about.

My aunt Josefa is actually my great aunt and is too old to have a daughter Florita’s age, according to my dad. Florita is three years older than me, and I will be glad to go home again, hopefully sooner not later. Tia Josefa smells like powder and her feet are very sore. That means Florita has to rub her feet, which does not seem to make her happy, even though serving the lord by serving others is one of the things that makes a young girl know that she has the calling.

When I go home, the first thing I will do is go through the pile of mail that is in the bucket next to the front door, just outside the coat closet. I like mail, especially when there are magazines and coupons for free things like buy one Blizzard get one free. It’s been hard to get anyone to go out for a Blizzard lately, though, because of the divorce discussion, which is making both my mom and my dad pretty distracted. I’m not sure why they want to get a divorce, which I think is because I’m too young to understand.

My grandmother saves wedding announcements and especially 50 year anniversaries. I looked at my parents wedding announcement in her book: Jennifer and Stephen Madrona-Patterson, July 17, 1994. Jennifer and Stephen met while students and knew right away that they were right for one another. They will make their home in Santa Fe, NM.

Jennifer and Stephen

“We’ve had this discussion how many times now? How many?” She is talking in that tone of voice, the patient tone she uses with unfortunate people, and Stephen feels unfortunate, which makes him want to leave even more.

“We’ll keep having this discussion until we can make some kind of decision that we can both be satisfied with,” he says, meeting her tone for tone. He mediates for a living, has the conflict resolution skills of a grand master, and feels like tearing his own face off of his head and running through the streets of Santa Fe screaming until someone calls a task force in to take him down. He sighs.

Bottom feeder

another giant squid

This is what it’s like to be a bottom feeder. First of all, we love ink. Ink is invisibility. Ink is darkness. Ink is what we write our history with. Look out there, out there into the vast whiteness. It has nothing to say until the ink drops into its wide open. No turning back once the ink has been spilled.

You want to tell your history, that’s fine, nobody’s stopping you. You want to tell someone else’s history, that’s different. There’s danger there, smells like sulfur, smells like burning cactus, smells like the brushfire or the war that can rush in and wipe out an entire clan.

Once I was playing cards in the back room of a little trailer house in Four Corners and I heard the wind pick up suddenly, and it was like I could see them even from inside, tumbleweeds rushing across the black night and suddenly igniting, igniting like monks in red robes, self immolating and taking down the fragile open country and everything that lives there with it.

I understand the meditative life of the tumbleweed, I understand the need to move, to feel the wind catch and carry us somewhere new. I knew about that even before I left Navajo country after the fire. I found my home on water, water green and blue and dark, almost black, where I fell in and never went back to dry land again, not for more than two, three days at a time. Long enough to find myself lurching when I came back to dry land, feeling the hitch and pull of gravity and rotation more strongly than I felt them on the water.

My family’s been landlocked for hundreds of years, most of them. My sea ways made me foreign, weird and unrecognizable as a giant squid, coming up from the deep only rarely, with gifts for my sister’s children, and then her grandchildren, until I am the only old salt on the Navajo nation, bringing seaweed ristras and monkey balls and painted tentacles. I stay a couple days, give them the salty sweet taste of my bottom feeder’s life, and then I leave again, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ink, and a history they can fabricate from the secrets hidden in the bright open sky and the black mesa reaching in the four directions around them.

For me, I add two more directions: straight up into the heavens, and straight down, into the cold, dark waters, where the wild shy ones live, where I feel most at home.

The singing beggar

gold lame

There once was a beggar who loved to hear himself sing. He started out as a child.

Most singers start out as children. I remember, myself, singing to my small dolls, which were made of popsicle sticks dressed in fabric scraps. At that time, gingham was easily come by, but my small dolls did not sing back to me until after the war, when the fabric samples suddenly bloomed. The gingham was still there, but also sequined fabrics, gold lame, bright silks, rayon, some thin gauzy fabrics that were neither silk nor satin. My popsicle dolls dressed more and more for evening wear, their little painted faces had rosebud mouths and eyelashes drawn on for many nights on the town. They put on little plays, some geisha action, but with Debbie Reynold’s moral sensibilities, and these popsicle girls were terribly conflicted. I didn’t know what to do with them, exactly, and put them away for some time. Took singing lessons, etiquette, even found a small Korean book on how to entertain American service men. This was in English, marginally, with many grammatical errors but the basic message intact: listen carefully, your face must mirror your companion, no extra movement of body, hands or face.

I taught my dolls to keep their faces still and their stick bodies well dressed. We learned to sing simple Korean songs, little jingles that had two or three American English words. I learned to tilt my head at the exact right angle to convey interest, kindness, and willingness.  My dolls had red rosy cheeks.

Then one day my uncle, who was an American serviceman, came by to say hello and to bring us presents. When he saw my dolls, he took them and crushed them and screamed at my many Korean moms, who were raising me to be right for them, right like they were being, and I felt sad, confused, and angry, too, to tell you the truth. Then I went away to school at the American school where Ken, my American sponsor, sent me, until I was 17, when I went away to the U.S. to go to college, where I studied music. And that is another story.

The sighting

green tractor

Bubba likes the pit stop at the Possum Kingdom best. Nice lake there, keep the skeeters down by using industrial strength bug spray, enough to kill the catfish when they eat ‘em. Catfish is good eating. Best fried, but then what isn’t? Think about it: donuts, turkeys, corn dogs, ice cream. There aren’t many things that aren’t best fried. Bubba says the exception is fried pickles, but I like those fine, as long as I got something big and sweet to wash it down with. Only thing about fried food is you gotta have extra napkins or else old jeans, either or.

What changed Possum Kingdom the most, for the best, some folks think, was when the miracle happened. Face of Jesus on a green John Deere tractor seat. Big as life: that seat was muddy from Bubba sitting on it after wrestling with a couple hogs out by Clearwater, and the imprint of his holy hiney was a dead ringer for the risen savior. Bubba’s wife LouNesta spotted it and showed it to me first, I gotta tell you that, but don’t think I’m bragging or nothing, only God can take credit for a miracle. But I took the pictures and uploaded them onto my church’s Face Book page and next thing you know the donations are flooding in, for forty days and forty nights that money was running fast and green as young wine. Bubba’s sister, MayLou, was Dairy Queen that year and handed out over 400 chocolate dipped cones at the state fair, proceeds of which were given to the church, but that was nothing compared to the donations flooding those Paypal gates of heaven. I took another look at the tractor seat after it all hit the fan, but I feel like I should say truthfully I never did actually see Jesus there, just old Bubba’s buttcheeks and a smudge that people told me was the crown of thorns.

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September 2019
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