Prayer To The Mantis

teach us, mother/sister
the moment for teeth
we are tender-skinned creatures
seduced by softness, softened
by a slow caress and close
breath

teach us, show us
when and where –
quick
before limbs are unraveled
just
below ear, left or right

(A very old poem I wrote once up on a time when I was very mad. It wasn’t supposed to be funny, but…)

Bad Monkey Woman

“Get down from there,” he says to me on my perch in the tamarindo tree, “or you’ll turn into a bad monkey woman.”

I think he is joking, so I throw my head back and laugh my best carefree laugh.
He is teasing me as if I were his little girl.  In my country they tell children they’ll break their necks.  Monkey woman!  Ha ha.

“Get down from there.”   He says it again.  “It’s bad to climb trees in Semana Santa.  You’ll grow a tail like a monkey.”

“Me?” I ask.
Is he serious?  This man honestly thinks climbing a tree this week could turn me into a monkey?  Oh my.
I smile my most reassuring smile.

“Yes.  Get down from there.  Now.”

Suddenly I can’t move.
He is serious.  Holy God.

“Come on,” he says.

His eyes are shifting and they won’t look at me.  His voice has gone cold and his face is turning dark as night.  Everyone has grown quiet.  Everyone is looking away.  Only the radio continues to blurt out tinny salsa music.

Suddenly I sense the fear.

I try to swallow my disgust as I swing down out of the tamarindo, embarrassed.
How in God’s name was I supposed to know that climbing a tree in Semana Santa puts you in danger of becoming a monkey?  How?

And don’t tell me they really think that.

“Let’s go back to the house,” he says and it isn’t a suggestion, it is a command.   We start back to the house.  His face dark and fearful.

Tears of humiliation begin to prick my eyes and nose like pins.  I am being taken home like a disobedient child.

I didn’t know.  Geez.  I’m sorry.

“You can’t climb trees in Semana Santa,” he explains.  “It’s bad.  You can turn into a bad monkey woman.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, my lip quivering uncontrollably like the child I feel I am being treated as.  “I didn’t know that.”

“I know,” he says.  “Don’t cry.”  He pats me on the arm and laughs nervously.  “Don’t cry.”

“Ok,” I say, wiping my nose with the back of my hand and feeling the start of a flood.  I want to turn into a bug and crawl away.

When we get to the house, I go into my room and quietly cry out my humiliation and frustration.  I don’t want to be a bad monkey woman.  I want to be happy and good.  On one hand, his believing I could turn into a monkey and my crying about it are equally ridiculous.  But he can’t help it and neither can I.

Thinking about how funny it is makes me cry harder.

strange dark

get the hell out
of my dreams
can’t you see my husband
lying here
slightly snoring
you have your
own wife
who adores you
young and
sweet

get out of here
what’s wrong with you

are you
sorry now
about what you
did then

you are
looking for me
in this strange cold dark
trying to speak and
take my hand

(Note:  The original poem starts out with a stronger word than “hell” but I can’t quite bring myself to post it that way.  So you can read it whichever way you like it best.)

From the Journals, November 1995: Generosity

(Guaitil, Cost Rica.)

I have seen and known the generous heart of the Earth and I keep praying to God to give me a generous heart.  I find that, at least comparatively,  my culture is not one of generosity, but of stinginess and fear.  Stinginess and generosity are fear and love dressed in other clothes.  And perfect love drives out fear, they say.   If I keep more than what I can use, it is because I fear I may need it later.

Today I went to Santa Cruz and when I finished my mandados, I started walking home.  I got almost to the Cooperativa when the same guy who picked me up the last time picked me up again.  He risked a 20,000 colone fine for taking me on his motorcycle without a helmet.  As we flew back I thought about Generosity – him taking me and even risking a fine.  And in this country, you can count on Generosity.

I thought about the generosity of the Earth that we barely see in North America.  Here, the lemons and oranges and papayas fall from the trees.  Cows give their milk and one tiny kernel of corn gives 2 or 3 elotes.  It requires work, but work to gather what is being freely given.  The 20th century thinks that milk, corn, wood, water, fruits have to be extracted from the earth, and extract them we do.  In quantities immeasurable.  We don’t receive them; we demand them.

But the truth is that the mango tree, if you leave it alone, has a generous heart and the hen and the cow, too.  The mango will make you more mangos than you can eat and the hen will leave you eggs whether you ask her to or not.  The calf will share the milk of the cow.  Irma will bring choreadas and Maria Elena will give arroz con pollo when there is extra and the river always gives Renan fish to bring home for us to fry.  The nature of Earth, when it is left untormented, is Generosity.  I guess the orange tree doesn’t worry about the other 10 months when it has nothing to offer but shade – it gives what it can.

Slowly, I am reading the gospel of Luke and, I think, understanding some things.  Jesus wanted to be a teacher, but he had the same generous heart and couldn’t turn people away.  That’s what got him.  That’s why the Pharisees became interested in him and felt threatened by him – he couldn’t turn the sick away.

I have thriftiness ground into my being so deeply that generosity is hard for me.  The open-hearted generosity of Martina who bought me fried chicken when her money was running out is not in my culture or my habits.  I would not have done that.  She called me over and invited me.  She could have just as easily let me walk right by.  That is the ridiculous generosity that amazes and shames me and demonstrates to me a life that is truly without fear.

I guess believing in the generosity of others helps to eliminate fear.  Hmm.   I came home from Santa Cruz and cleaned the entire house.  Generosity in favors is part of my culture, even if generosity with money is hard for me.

tell me about the telaraña

give me your arms
quiero ver las venas
quiero sentir la piel
entre dientes
quiero ver las formas que hacen
the negative spaces
while you talk to me of máscaras
of música
tell me again about the telaraña
and use your hands
quiero ver los movimientos
de las cosas escondidas
los músculos que se mueven
en la oscuridad completa
inside and under skin

(title poem from Tell Me  About The Telaraña)