Thursday, March 27, 2008


she only wore white around the rancho, because it kept her cool, she said, in all that central valley stagnant dry heat. but the truth was, it reminded her of home, of her family in their soft clean lace and silk, flowing, pure, fresh. she knew she romanticized home, but one minute detail, the smell of honey or jasmine on a windless morning, could take her back. back to the hidden turquoise pools and her older sisters' laughter as they tossed mangoes from the treetops, how the fruit would bounce on the earth and sometimes split, and Matilde would run pick up the sticky chunks, red juice dripping off their fingers, licking her fingers like a little monkey to the sounds of her sisters giggles and secrets.

she had been fixteen years old when she first saw walter. she was dazzled by the angle of his tall frame, the foreign sounds that jumped stacatto from his tongue, and his suits so bright the sun bounced off his chest. he came to talk to her father, el General, choosing men from their village to help him in the mines. he was a leader and a doctor, he knew everything, that was obvious. he carried pencils in his pocket and wore spectacles; he looked young and old at once. she smiled at him, furtively as a mouse, and then scurried back outside to sit with her sisters on the porch and fan themselves and glance shyly at this tall stranger.

recuerdos, she thinks fondly, and then pushes them from her mind, coming back to her farmhouse with its great wooden table and the road going in outside her front door. heading out to retrieve the laundry from the line, she stops to gaze at her silver crucifx hanging by the door, a gift from her mother, a trinket, which matilde carried with her all the way from honduras to the phillipines to california, like some tuft of bird feather stealing softly over the world and leaving no impression. this cross hanging here protects her home, and she whispers it aloud, "dios nos mira" and then looks at la virgencita across the room, so she won't feel left out, and says, "tu tambien, mamacita," and giggles at herself for the mild blasphemy of her affection.

the little ones run past her and she calls after them, "hijos! no me molestan!" as they nearly tear the clothes from the line. maybe i am too old to have little babies like these still, she thinks sadly, sighing as she gathers slowly the loose nightgowns, undergarments, stockings, and camisas, piling their soft floaty shapes into the basket by her feet. too many ghosts in this viejita's mind, she thinks, and refuses to let the tears gather in her eyes. her mother never cried, not when the General died, not with the Great Hurricane, and not when her youngest daughter Matilde left, crossing the seas, never to return. Her mother, Josefa Chepita Garcia Cordova, with the fierce black eyes and the softest touch, with a laugh as loud as a man's and as rare as a blue butterfly. Josefa with her constant but impossible urge to hide her smile behind her hand, behind her fan, closing her lips around her horsey teeth and wildness. ah mami, matilde thought, i will not cry for you, i will never see you again, but i will not cry now for you.

instead, hoisting up her basket and stretching her arms up, holding it up on her head like a great african queen and daydreaming of her mother's irrepresible smile, matilde laughed all the way to the door.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

matilde sola

matilde looked around as the dust settled, moscas and ants, skittering up the gravelled road, beyond the wooden sign and the well and the oak tree, following that car as it sputtered out of sight.

Her oldest son, proud and strong and handsome. Too handsome, she thought worriedly, thinking of his espejo, the way he peered into it for too long, reflection of his father's tall grace. walter walking on the farm with the younger boys; matilde alone in the white house, shading her eyes, crying again, for her sister, for her sons, for the old songs and dances of home.

she cooked a pot of rice and slices of fried pork for dinner. the boys came running when she called them: i must remember, i am blessed. but this is a small world, these are narrow roads and slow cars and horses and fields. there, san francisco, money and expenses and big wide roads and women and trolleys. the dangers her son faced, he who had held his baby brother high in the air and looked at her proudly, saying "mama, mama, look how strong i am." he who knew mathematics, counted first on his fingers and then in his brain, giving his father advice about the ranch. You should hire three men, papa, and grow corn, cabbage, there is the money.

matilde thought again of her sisters, her mother, her country. their house on a hill with the ocean in the distance, the mules bringing packages of silk, satin and chiffon for new dresses. her father, the General, he would have been so proud of her californian life now. ah, well, better that he would never know how alone she was, how her husband preferred to talk business, smoking cigars and winking at his compatriots, how she served their cognac on a tray, mild, silent, alone.

"ah Adela, no me olvidas," she thought. her son carlos took her for a jaunt on the buggy through the farm and she swatted mosquitoes, dreaming.

"walter i need to talk to you," she suggested late that night as he removed his thick pantalones and boots. in her slip, combing through her long snarled curls. "i need to see my sister. i really need to, there is no question."

"well we talked about this before, matti. when the corn comes up maybe we'll have the money to fly her here."

"listen walter, i can't wait."

he paused, quieted by the catch in her voice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

california dreaming

secret roads lined by eucalyptus take you out to lagunitas. there are wineries and pear orchards and pumpkin patches, hayrides, mount tamalpais, sea lions. north of the golden gate, the climate is almost mediterranean: apple trees grow out of sandy soil, firm and tart fruit, blossoming trees with petals floating on coastal breezes in march and april. champagne is made here, and up north marijuana grows in fields cultivated with care and precision, and all the world is green.

where i was born--hidden, the word means. what is hidden here? spanish treasure, hidden in the green valley between the desert and the sea. or is this place itself hidden, tucked in, like kissing an infant good-night, among avocado groves, peacocks, pomegranites, plums. chicken feathers and dirt roads, a mysterious house that burnt down to its spindly frame, hospital, down the hill, loose and free, out to the mall, the cinema, the sea.

or older, the people that made jewelry from shells and bowls from soapstone, baskets from seagrass and sumac; whose mourning ceremonies lasted a week as the dead traveled into the land of the Great Spirit. who sailed in boats, fished and sang and prayed.

who worked to build the missions? what powers created, what powers destroyed? what is left, where is the land, the spirit, the tears? how many boats have entered these harbors, what shouts and shots have filled the air, what smoke? what mysteries hide under the tracks through the canyon, in the windows of rusted trains, in the ruins of quarries and lumberyards? what memories linger mildly in the fog of big sur, under the spiny arms of the joshua tree, riding out across death valley, hiking up into desolation?

where is the spirit of the grizzly bear, chased away long ago from his mountains, no longer safe to eat and dream in the caves of the sierra nevada.

all the secrets live deep in the earth, rising up through the trunks of the great redwood trees, ancient and alive, sinking with the sun into the pacific ocean, swirling back into tidepools, burrowing into the sand like tiny crabs you must dig for and catch and then watch wiggle back into the safety of the sand, home under all this, under our feet, secret lives.


here i have a blog of my very own tiny corner of the mysterious and indecipherable cyberworld.