Granma’s smile. That sarcastic, bitter kind of hiss she tongues and out the corner of her eyes brushes you away saying, “Sacase a bañar.” Her joking dismissal of everything not Catholic and in Spanish. Shoots down smart-aleck, know-it-all backtalk, cool kid tongues, soaps out English bad words, and inserts Spanish ones. “Carajo, habla en español, en la escuela ingles, en la casa español.” You always cut us down with the same set of sarcasm, same sass and harsh sound, just not in English, “solo español.” To be Mexican Chicago, migrated your Mexico barrio to Logan Square, apartments along the way to the house on Artesian, and then move back to Mexico, run away from the cold. Old bones need to burry where they were seeded.
Dismissal of everything not Catholic and Spanish, but learned and keep the prayers and worships, the Word in Latin. Always still cover your head at church. You are the Eve that sold Mexico to Cortez, so cover your head. She is Indian skin and eyes of water. “Don’t drink the water.” Always, “No tomas el agua.” We learn to keep ourselves from self and earth. Industry and America taught your Mexico how to suck everything, last drop of the soil like long Indian braid hair and corn husk. Suck everything, last drop out of glass bottled Coca-Cola collections on shelves of new many tiendas taking over your smoke filled streets. Coca-Cola for water to drink in commerce, consumer society, capitalism in your third world. When does priest preach that message against that sin? Then I’ll go to church too. Dedicated walk from church to home, home to church to make community. Walking quick, cutting through the noise and smoke, keep head covered.
Abuela's breath. Air out your kitchen. Heat of your hands like tops of stoves. Cover yourself to keep warm. Wrap up tight, socks and wool skirts you made yourself. A blouse you made from a flower print fabric you made the curtains with the same. You match your kitchen. Frilly apron always first thing on after prayer. Prayer like sweater to keep you warm, keeps your arms from falling off. Sun rises with your dawn, yawn me new day bendiciones before I can leave the house. You bring in the sun push those curtains aside with psalms and platitudes. Feed the birds. Kill the chickens. Cook our favorites and love our smiles. Don’t serve me Granma. I can serve myself. Like you say, “¿No tienes manos? Haz lo tu mismo. Eres Capaz.” Yes I am. So I do. You taught me to do, so you can sit and not always serve us, me, men, daughters and grandkids. I teach myself how, to teach you to not have to.
The rough of soft skin, something like dough you’ve kneaded your arms into flabs of used to be strong, working class arms melted, cleaning bathrooms and cooking for nuns and doing their dishes, laundry, on your knees scrubbing the floors is prayer. Learn and unlearn the points of Catholicism. Brown here and brown there and still cleaning up the white people’s messes. The earth they’ve shat in the very water to drink. “No tomas el agua,” you always taught me. So I don’t. I drink horchata and boiled tap only if a have to. Coca-Cola, agua con sal, un tea con avena cuando estoy enfermo. Your brown flavored remedies, kept pressed leaves of all kind, collections of medicines in your purse, wrapped in napkins leaves and petals, magic you condemn and practice. Tissue when we sneeze, keep quiet in church, en la casa de dios. “But Granma, you can’t keep god in just one house.” Faith like knickknacks you’ve clutter collected compulsive disorder on your selves. Faith like leaves to heal everything stuffed in your purse. Teach me to appreciate thorns like you do.
Assembly line responses to the world. Rote readings to the world and ways to condemn your daughters, where did you go wrong? Self pitying, Catholic guilt Granma. Tight hold on your house like espoons made de plata. The taste stuck in my mouth. Missmatched rummage sale, found in the dumpster, back of the house alley collection of chairs in your kitchen. Assembly line day of family and candles. Tiendas and slight drop of sweat dripping down face, stuck in your eye. The kitchen is the warmest place in our house. It’s where we all go to keep warm these Chicago winters. Scarves and sweaters you pull us tight, still holding espatula, when the boiler breaks.
Tamales for Christmas and my birthday. Watch you pull the chicken from the bones, blood on frill apron. The chicken heads somewhere buried in the yard, or did it slip into the soup? The dog, named Taco, chewing a bone. A feather stick to your skirt. Poor chicken, never had a chance, and your pajaritos cantando-ing in their hand made cages, many colors and kinds of canaries, an egg in a nest, the spell of blood broth. Mix the mole. Chocolate never washed off your finger tips. Assembly line at Marshal Fields, Godiva chocolates you never tasted, never touched your tongue.
Only smell of your chocolate skin incense. Lingering spiced air at misa, your kitchen. Where you create yourself, tight yourself around rosary and beaded prayers, bead pray bead, day and shroud, cover your head and keep warm. Factory your day to keep us warm. This is your law. To keep us Catholic and speaking Spanish. Your creed like Apostles. Hot tongues, tacos de lengua. Tight our heads and hands on like dolls. Twist and snap us together just right. Practice what we preach. Actions and words. Sew up my frayed end pant legs when they get to baggy, draggin ‘n on the floor, under my shoes. Call me “cantinflas” Complain about my long hair. Dress us for misa, tell me to pull up pants, tuck in shirt, walking up cold stone steps. Pull heavy door, keep winter out the church. Dip fingers in ice holy water. Sprinkle and sign of the cross. I wonder what the water tastes like, many hands and washed away sins. What does sin taste like? Gum stuck at the bottom of the pool.
No tomas el aqua, granma. Don’t drink. Drink.