By Marilyse Figueroa *
“Pies, para qué los quiero, si tengo alas para volar.” –Frida Kahlo
A red bandana.
A holy smile.
The brown skin I adored and pitied met my light skin I skin I loathed and pitied. You took the five dollars—five because it was Sunday and la iglesia was getting a big tip—you, brown street corner angel, retired cholo low rider, you kissed my hand as if I was a Spanish señorita and you a gentleman.
The next Sunday, lo mismo corner, lo mismo brown angel, did I mention I wondered at your joyous dancing? No cardboard sign for you. No wave unless it’s the wave of your arms praising the cars going by. Are you dancing? No, you are beating your arms up and down like a brown street corner angel.
And the 84-year-old woman I was told to call Mamó, not my real abuela, says, Irena, No. Not him. Takes my dollars with her arthritic hand and stuffs them into her bra. I don’t offer to take her to church again after that. I’ll spend my minimum wage anyway I want. She can stay in that damn house on Theo.
Is it true you were there when they stabbed her cousin? Outside of St. James Church where everyone should have been safe. He was a pachuco, Mamó, la mala abuela, la abuela de chismes, says with the yellowing newspaper clipping in her hand.
84-year-old self-hating Mexican who saves the obituaries of her friends in a cookie jar. Pulling them out when her sons come to visit, to excavate memories and push them onto blood. As one of her son’s stepdaughters, I get the stories, too. You look like him, my cousin, she says. But I am not blood, I tell her.
I can’t move out and I wish I hadn’t moved in. The agreement when I moved to San Antonio: Mamó needs someone to live with her. I’m not sure who is doing who the favor. Mamó’s cousins live around the corner, but no one visits her or calls, and Mamó complains to her blood and me now, too, and I wouldn’t visit her either after all she said, chismosa, but then I see Mamó sitting at the table and sorting her coupons, then I see Mamó alone in her bedroom with her back brace on and saying she’s giving up cable, then I see Mamó stroke the black and white photo of her son, the one who is still lost to Vietnam, and damn if she doesn’t make me hug her. La mala abuela.
I drive until I find you running across the busy streets like you know where every car will be, like you care, then don’t care. I call you over to see your smile. You could take me into your storied mouth, the absence of molars a novel each. Are you blood?
I listen to Padre Davíd make sense of the world’s injustices every Sunday. The floods, the shootings, the hatred, put into wafer and wine, into prayer altars and offerings; there is a moment where I always cry in the quiet without the cicadas and Mamó’s TV.
One Sunday you’re not on your corner. I circle until I’ve missed the homily, and you can’t take communion without the lesson.
Mamó pushes her walker to the window. Tells me to see. Whats. Going. On. I’m putting my hair into a bun for work. I’m no good at smiling for customers anymore. All I hear is cicadas and realize a sound is missing in Theo’s cacophony. It’s the neighbor’s dogs. Got out of their yard. Blood in the street again. Real ugly, she says. Then you, brown street corner angel, stop dancing. You help the neighbor’s 11-year-old son get the dogs out of the road. You don’t let him cry.
84-year-old anti-semite who makes me pork chops and corn on the cobb every night. Did you eat? She always asks as I come in. If I say yes, ella esta enojada. I cooked, she’ll say. Unlike my mother who would slam pots and cupboards, she still welcomes me to the table to talk. She hasn’t had a call all day, the cars wailed as they scraped their axels on the potholes in front of the house, and the neighbor’s new puppy only barks and hides in a cardboard box when he sees her. The dog is caramel like her skin.
I leave at 9 pm and Mamó worries. Too late for a girl, a woman to be out. I drive. Mamó didn’t know how until her husband died. Her sons say she used to come home after the bailes with a cup still in her hand. I drive and find you sleeping under a Live Oak. I put a paper plate down on the grass and leave. Porkchop and corn on the cobb. I hope you have enough teeth for the meat.
When Grackles fly from the river reeds, I pray for you, but it turns into a prayer for me. Your beating wings could take me high above the Missions, past Padre Davíd, above la taquería Michoacan, and far, oh please take me far, from the iron bars on Theo.
Mamó returns from shopping with the viejitas and calls her sons. Voicemails. Calls again and hangs up. Why don’t they call me? Mis hijos, why?
When I dream in Mamó’s house, I see into the soil. I see the worms and the maggots and the lost tin toys of her hijos. I see a woman buried in a shoe box, roots pushing out of the top.
Dear Lord: Make us agaves. Make us agaves outside of the old steel factory on Flores Street. Let us sit like sentinels as our spikes grow to fifty feet.
You, brown street corner angel, retired pachuco, zoot suiter, addict, lover, father, brother,
you don’t let me cry.
You and I fly,
far from this corner on Theo,
with our teeth buried deep under cement and river bed,
brown & yellow & white
* Marilyse V. Figueroa is a queer Latin@ who grew up hearing fairytales, myths, and her mother’s cuentos from el campo. These inherited stories are the places she returns to write about the magic, light and dark, of este vida. Marilyse is currently the Director of Barrio Writers Workshop of San Marcos, Texas, and is pursuing an MFA in fiction in Central Texas. She has works published in Acentos Review, St. Sucia Zine, Chiflad@ Zine, Ellx Blog, and her debut collection of stories, Benevolent Altar, is forthcoming from Broken River Books. Her zine All My Ays is available at Resistancía Bookstore in Austin, Texas and through Libro Mobile in Santa Ana, California.