made of glass

they left me on a hospital cot against my will,
those doctors. my pleas and
threats only furrowed their eyebrows and
clenched their teeth.
i believe you, says aunt irene.
they think i’m crazy, i reply.

her eyes remain motionless as she smiles
towards me. she kneels beside my cot,
and murmurs a prayer. i close my eyes
to soak up its energy.

i hear her get up. she says, i’ll see you
next tuesday
, and leans in to hug me.
i shriek.

aunt irene jumps. she apologizes and says
she forgot. how can you forget when
you’re looking right at me, i ask her.
she pauses. i’ve just learned to see
through the glass
. i’m made of out of
carnival glass, so you can’t see
through it, i snap. i remind her that if anyone
touches me, i shatter.

aunt irene sighs. she leaves the hospital
room, gently closing the door behind her.

creative, fun writing exercises (including this one):
http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises

maps

there is a narrow set of two flights of stairs, open to the public. crammed between a law office and the local spa, this entrance is easy to miss. at the bottom of these flights, i see the dull gray paint peeling off the stairs, and a screen door that separates the two. i climb up the steps and on my right, there are several rectangular, black mailboxes patched with rust. the screen door, always unlocked, is usually propped open by a rough, gray brick. at the top of the steps, there is a faded burgundy carpet that floors a large room. there are 5 apartments here. i walk to the left.

my first time here, i had trouble finding which was mine. there are no numbers by any of the brown, wooden apartment doors. the bottom door latch doesn’t work. the landlord, an old man with the whitest sneakers i’ve seen in a while, assures me that he’ll get it fixed.

we walk inside, and i am in awe. my first apartment.

the living room and kitchen are only separated by a rectangular island near the kitchen window. above there are cupboards, nice cupboards, ones that fully close and are sturdy. the bathroom is attached the kitchen, and our rooms (for my roommate and i) are joined to the living room.

the landlord is speaking, something about needing to fix something in the bathroom. i nod while observing the carpeted floors and wooden furnishings. i hear him say, let me show you the rooms, and i follow.

he shows me a large room, with a long window on its north wall, and a small closet that is closed by a white curtain and metal shower rings. this impresses me, and i imagine my dresses hanging inside the closet, with my twin sized mattress nestled beside the window.

we leave the room and go to the other one, and i feel my eyes widen with excitement. this room is much smaller, with no closet, save for a wooden pole horizontally stuck to wall. but the windows, they are so beautiful. three large window panels are attached together, on the far eastern corner of the room, overlooking the roads below. i tell the landlord it’s beautiful, and he supposes it is.

naomi under the harvest moon

A small blackbird soared between the bare tree branches and landed on my left shoulder. The blackbird, Annikah, cawed and as it ruffled its feathers, its coat shifted into a pearlescent white. She’s great at camouflage–which is why I bought her. All students of witchcraft need a pet.
I had sent her off in search of the heart of amethyst. The heart of amethyst, a heart-shaped pastel purple stone that evokes peace, is the last ingredient I need to conjure my protection spell. I had been hiding for three months now in rural Grinnell. If they find me, they will do their best to change me. They will do their best to strip me from my magic.
I transport Annikah and I to a Louisiana home with tall, French windows–my mother’s old home. I walk along the porch and recalled my mother whistling to the sound of my neighbor’s pop music on her rocking chair. This rocking chair should suffice for the spell.
I sit on her rocking chair and sprinkled red sea salt around it while whispering the names of my enemies to the harvest moon, in hopes that she’ll hear me. They say that she listens to only those deserving of light in darkness.
From the rocking chair, I hear a loud thump on the roof. Maintain concentration, I tell myself. This is what you’ve been studying for.
On the wall adjacent to where I’m seated, the shadows change and I heard my heartbeat accelerate faster than the pitter-patter of rain. They’ve found me, they’ve found me.
“I know witches who’ve tried to do that protection spell. Lucky for me, it never works.” said the familiar voice.
I stand from the rocking chair and face my uninvited visitor, Donald Gines–my father. His silver-rimmed glasses reflected the moonlight, obscuring his eyes from my view. Did his deep skin always have so many folds? While rocking back and forth on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back, he examined the tattoo that adorned my collarbone. On my brown skin, the copper-ink outline of three roses glistened in the moonlight that shone through the windows. My father clucked his tongue. “That’s new. I don’t think your mother would’ve approved,” he remarked as he glanced at the rocking chair.
I crossed my arms. “You don’t know my mother.”
“Remember,” he said, as he walked to the window. “I knew her longer than you did.” He paused, and looked at the bare branches of the evergreen tree outside. As I watched him, I sprinkled red sea salt between us.
I rolled my eyes. “People don’t stay the same,” I said. “They change.”
“Then I guess you’re the exception,” he shot back. Gines clasped his hands together, and sighed. A silver ring with a sapphire stone softly squeezes his thumb. “Naomi, let’s make a deal. Come with me now, peacefully, and I’ll make sure that the Guardians don’t hurt you.”
I laughed.
“If you refuse this, they will come for you.”
“If you only came to warn me,” I began, “you’re wasting your time. I will not let you or the Guardians rid me of my powers because they are all I have left of my mother. You can tell them that I’m not afraid to face them.”
My father furrowed his eyebrows and scratched his graying mustache. His mustache, reminded me of an unkempt broom–frayed and stiff.
“I rather die on my feet than live on my knees*,” I said as I took a few steps back. I raised my left arm and clucked my tongue, and Annikah glided into the room. She landed on mother’s rocking chair.
“You’ve always been a warrior.” He rolled up the sleeves of his navy blazer as he whispered, “At least give me one last hug.”
I stared at him. He looked so different compared to what I remember. The image of his tailored navy suit and graying hairs stunned me all of a sudden–I hadn’t seen him in years. He didn’t look back at me. Instead, he examined his bronze cufflinks. I wonder if the Guardians gifted those to him.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
He shifted his gaze to me and smiled, raising his arms out to embrace me. As I wrapped my arms around him, I revelled in his warmth that juxtaposed the cool air of the house. I smelled his aftershave, a classic old spice, and a memory of the three of us engrossed me. He, my mother and I locked in an embrace one night on the couch. We were watching George Lopez and laughing together, eating Doritos. I remember father saying that he was funnier than George.
“I’m sorry,” my father whispered.
I felt a warm pulse on the area where he injected the needle. A thick liquid oozed through my veins, and as it overfilled the chambers in my heart, a rush of heat washed over me. I collapsed, and everything went white.

**This is what I wrote for the writing exercise, “Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…”**

*quote by emiliano zapata.

un cuentecito / a little story

mi papá me llamó–las lágrimas de su niñez corriendo por las
arrugas de su carota de seis años. un niño
con los cachetes inflados porque tuvo miedo
subirse al avión y volar por los cielos vacíos.

se entierra bajo las montañas de california,
bajo la luna oscura de sus sueños. cuando llora solo,
oigo sus gritos y la tierra tiembla bajo mis pies. me recuerda
que soy una hija de las montañas y no de los cielos–
no fui creada pa’ volar.

te quiero papi, te quiero
más en retrato que en foto.

___________________________________________________________________

*english interpretation*

my dad called me–his childhood tears slipping through the wrinkles
on his chubby six-year-old face. a child with
swollen cheeks who is afraid of getting on an airplane
and flying through the empty skies.

he buries himself under California mountains,
under the obscured moon of his dreams. when he cries alone,
i hear his screams and the earth trembles beneath my feet. he reminds me
that i am a daughter of the mountains and not the skies–
i was not made for flying.

i love you daddy, i love you
more in a portrait than in a picture.

the women who wear shawls

we attended mass at an old, large cathedral. its outside is a light beige color that is heavily decorated with carvings of angels and saints. its steeple, incredibly high and wide, displays sculptures of the virgin mary and jesus on its upper tiers. the church’s grand stained-glass windows are unclean, the images they attempt to illustrate indiscernible. the large, round cupola is the only element speckled with hues of burgundy, navy, and deep purple.

the inside of the cathedral intensifies its gothic design, the tops of its walls lined with more angels and saints. square spaces are carved inside of the walls, where life-size statues the virgin mary of guadalupe and other saints are placed in each one. lit candles lay at their feet, with folded notes that ask for the health of a loved one, blessings, the happiness of the dead, a wish. stone columns align the edges of the nave, and the mahogany colored pews situated between them. the alter’s background is embellished with gold, ornate depictions of divine icons and paintings of jesus ascending into heaven. there are an overwhelming number of red flowers that fill the alter, and the tall, white candles flicker beside them.

despite the air conditioner, women are fanning themselves with white church pamphlets. an infant begins to cry, and the older women who wear white or black shawls turn their heads towards the noise and shake their heads in disapproval. i find these women the interesting. they are seated up front, with other families and couples seated behind them. they sing with the choir in compelling voices of learned wisdom, wear rosaries around their necks, and raise their hands the highest while the priest recites a prayer that professes their unwavering faith.

the priest announces that mass has ended and that we may go in peace. everyone mumbles a thank you, father, and makes their way to the exit. the families who were sitting in the back are already in their cars now, driving away—they had left a few minutes ago when the end of the hour struck.

after 10 minutes everyone has left, except for the older women who are now kneeling at the feet of jesus, the virgin mary, or a saint. praying. they touch the feet of the divine and bow their heads even lower, placing their heads behind their clasped hands. before leaving, they make the sign of the cross.

who are these women, the ones who always wear shawls to mass despite the heat? why do they judge the unintentional disturbances of those around them, and recite prayers so loud that the voices of the other families are muted? do they want god to hear them and no one else? do they raise their hands higher than the height of those next to them so they can feel heaven on their fingertips? … they intrigue me.

an american dream

Elena arrived in Texas shortly after Anthony, her 9 year old son, declared for the thousandth time that he wanted to be an architect. For years, he drew a variety of buildings on blank sheets of paper: churches, corporate buildings, schools, castles, and houses. He constantly asked Elena what she thought of them. She always said, ay mijo, que lindo, and Anthony would always remind her of his chosen career path.

I thought it was a phase, but he’s been saying this since he was 5, Elena said to me. I held the receiver closer my ear. Elena sounded like a nice woman. She spoke in a friendly, gentle voice, occasionally laughing about Anthony’s tendencies as a child. Initially, Elena told me that she was calling our organization to see if her son had qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now, she was explaining their life in Mexico and the U.S.

When Anthony was 8, his father left. He left one morning, casually, after promising Anthony he’d bring gum from el mercado, where he was going to buy meats. Elena had no idea that he wouldn’t be returning from that mandado. She said that she told Anthony that his father went on a long business trip, and wouldn’t be back for a while. Everyday after that, for about a month or two, Anthony would ask his mother if his father came back from his trip. Elena only shook her head, and, after a while, Anthony stopped asking.

A year later, Elena decided that she and Anthony would go pa’l norte because there was nothing left for them in Mexico; the only family she knew besides her husband, her parents, had died. She also reasoned that she would make Anthony’s dreams come true by going to the States and enrolling Anthony in an elite, private school, like the ones they saw on television. He would then have the option to fulfill his dream as an architect, if he still wanted to do that. She was ready to fulfill their American Dream.

They had no family in the U.S., so when they made it to Texas, they were homeless for a few days. When Elena was offered a job at a restaurant that also had available lodging space above it, she accepted the offer immediately. She worked in that restaurant for most of her life; she saved the money she earned and bought a small home. To this day, her and Anthony reside in that house.

Their lives seemed to be going well—she had a stable income, paid for the rent and utilities on time, provided meals, and Anthony had achieved a high grade point average. He also volunteered at a youth center, was a member of the basketball team, and was still set on being an architect. It was his senior year, and he had a college in mind, one that wasn’t far so that he could commute from home. He had also planned buying his mother a lovelier home, one with a front and back patio, soon after he graduated from college and began his career.

During the college application process, Anthony realized that he was ineligible for colleges, including the schools of his choice. His mother couldn’t afford to pay for tuition, and Anthony couldn’t apply for federal financial aid—he was undocumented, and so was his mother. They still are.

Elena fast forwards her story and informs me that Anthony is now a construction worker who injured his back while working. He being undocumented, his boss decided it wasn’t necessary to pay for his health insurance. It has been difficult for Anthony to pay the medical bills and continue getting necessary treatment.

Elena’s voice breaks on the phone. She says that she can’t help Anthony financially because she is disabled and stays at home. They still live together, and although she’s told him to go and start a life of his own, he doesn’t want to leave her. He knows I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything on my own, Elena tells me. He’s the best son I could’ve ever asked for.

There is a pause. I hear Elena take a deep breath, and she sounds like she is no longer crying. So, does he qualify for the program? The other day I asked him to gather all his paperwork from high school and middle school because I know that’s some of the proof the state requires.

I tell Elena that it’s great that she found the paperwork ahead of time. It will make the application process much quicker. I hear the glee in Elena’s voice. She thanks me and Obama for this opportunity.

I grab a DACA application from a nearby folder and write her son’s name. How old is he? I ask Elena. She replies confidently. 32.

My palms sweat. I breathe deeply. I tell Elena that I’m sorry, but at this time, the age limit is 31. He is a year too old.

She answers unfazed. He is just older by one year. One. He grew up here and everything. Surely they will understand.

I apologize. There is a silence. Elena cries. After a minute, she sucks in her breath and thanks me. I apologize again. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my supervisor. He mouths, ask if she wants to be a member. I hold a finger up and nod.

I don’t feel like asking her. But I do anyway. I’m really sorry, I say in a low voice. The legal system is really messed up. There are so many people like Anthony, who barely missed the age requirement. But, if you have time on your hands, you can join us and start a movement for reform. We can fight for your son. People like your son.

I wish I could volunteer, but I can’t leave my house, she says in a small voice.

I tell her not to worry. Before I can say anything else, Elena clears her throat. You know what? she asks, her voice unexpectedly firm. I know how I want to help—tell Anthony’s story, she says. Let people know. Maybe then they’d understand.

I force back tears. Of course, Elena, I say.

She thanks me again, and reminds me that if we need anything from her—anything she can do from home, of course—to give her a call. I take down her number. For the last time, she thanks me, and then hangs up.

inevitable tensions

the landlady and i don’t speak to each other.

she’s a plump, pale woman who always wears chunky, black sunglasses, even when the skies are cloudy. her hair is dyed with blonde highlights that accentuate her light brown hair, which is usually wrapped in a messy bun. the wrinkles oaround her mouth make her look like she’s frowning although her other facial features are inexpressive; i know this because that frown doesn’t leave her lips while she smokes. when she smokes, which is quite often, she sits under the white umbrella that is stuck in the middle of her round patio table. she puts her feet on a nearby chair while sitting on another, often staring at her two-story house or scrolling through her smart phone. i see her do this everyday. every other day, i’ve heard her blast old hip hop and r&b songs like 112’s “Peaches and Cream” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song”.

one evening, i was on Facebook. i saw that my older half sister had commented, “That’s not funny, that’s my dad :(” on the landlady’s status. her and i share the same father, so, out of curiosity, i clicked on her comment so that i would also see the post.

now, i had always disliked the landlady. when i was a tween, i heard her making jokes to her girlfriends about my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s inability to speak english well, and our financial struggles that my father had confided in her. it was a typical friday night for her and her friends, sipping vodka with limes, gossiping, howling with laughter. they all sat by the round patio table, under the white umbrella, toasting to their friendship.

i saw her post and my heartbeat sped so rapidly i felt my chest rise up, clogging my throat, clamming up my hands, tightening my mouth and deeply furrowing my eyebrows. on my computer screen was a picture of my drunken father and his large beer belly, without his shirt on, bending over, his reddish face oblivious to the camera. Underneath the picture, she had written a cruel joke, my father being the punchline. No one had commented on the photo yet, except my older half sister, who had commented a few hours ago.

the overwhelming mix of emotions fueled the long Facebook message i wrote to the landlady who was in her late 40s. even if she doesn’t like my family very much, it doesn’t allow her to publicly shame any of us, to mock us, to use us for her entertainment and the public’s. my message was a big Fuck You, except without those exact words because i wanted her to understand the reasons why what she did was wrong.

an hour later, Facebook indicated that she had read my message. she did not reply. she did, however, take down the post.

she has not acknowledged me since then. when i saw her after the incident, i waved. i waved, and still wave because, she is the landlady. i see her everyday, and i didn’t want too much tension between us—but i did figure that there might be some no matter what.

she did nothing but stare back behind those sunglasses, her frown more pronounced than ever. sometimes i still wave, and she still doesn’t.

lost in menstruation

i have a small white scar on my left arm, near the crease of my elbow. i got it a few years ago during my period.

i remember i didn’t go to school that day. i mostly stayed in bed and drank hot broths and chamomile teas. during this time, i hadn’t discovered ibuprofen—my doctor never mentioned it to me. she told my mother and i that the only way to get rid of my cramps were by taking birth control pills. my mother, who had heard about the possible significant change in hormone levels, acne, weight gain, and potential blood clots through her favorite radio nutritionist, told the doctor that we would find another way, a more natural way. since then, during my period cycle, my mother would warm up tortillas and place them on my lower abdomen to ease the pain, give me warm liquids, and administer calcium and msm vitamins. she also did this for me on the day i got the scar.

it was late afternoon, and i was covered in a thick blanket, the breeze of a mini fan caressing my face. my body temperature felt both hot and cold, but more cold than hot; i figured that if i kept the fan on, it would cool my body down and i can just warm myself up. although my plan was successful, my lower abdominal area still ached terribly. i rose my knees to my chest, laying on my right side and then on my left, my body unable to determine which side felt better. “I Love Lucy” reruns murmured in the background, and as much as i tried to laugh with Lucy and Ricky, the pain was too distracting. i whimpered to myself. the cramps were too sharp and lasting too long, like the months before. i prayed, begging the virgin mary to let me fall asleep so that the pain would be gone for just a little while.

i finally fell asleep. i felt much better when i woke up, and by this time it was late evening. i needed to use the restroom, so i headed there confidently, pleased with my body, thanking it and the virgin mary for stopping the pain. as i shut the door to the restroom, i collapsed on the full length mirror that was propped up against the wall.

i don’t know how long i was laying there before i regained consciousness, but i wasn’t there for too long because i was still bleeding. pieces of the mirror were scattered across the restroom linoleum floor, my legs and thighs poked with shards of varying sizes. strangely, it didn’t hurt.

i got up, swept the floor with a broom, and questioning what had just happened. i had never fainted before. as i was putting the broom away, i noticed a piece of the mirror stuck near the crease of my elbow.

note: i tell this story because i’ve encountered girls and women who feel that their menstrual pain is only unique to them. i felt this way at one point in my life because at the time, i didn’t know anyone close to me who suffered from severe menstrual cramps. once i met others who also experienced awful cramps—some worse than mine—i realized that i wasn’t alone and that they weren’t alone. women and young girls who experience severe menstrual cramps and those who don’t experience cramps at all, you aren’t alone. none of us are.

a little surprise

on stop signs, underneath the word “STOP”, there are black and white bumper stickers that say “GENTRIFICATION”. the stickers appeared shortly after the small, plaster-colored RVs, the young pale men with long, scruffy beards, and the white women with ray-ban sunglasses and birkenstocks arrived. they often ride colorful cruiser bikes and loosely lock them outside of small shops that sell paintings, antiques, books, and other latin american goods. our guests don’t seem to notice the stares of middle-aged hispanic men sitting on brightly graffitied benches—instead, they talk amongst themselves and take pictures of murals that depict la virgen de guadalupe and skeletons dancing with sombreros on their skulls, some wearing pink folklorico dresses.

there are more mariachi groups playing on saturdays in our community’s outdoor rotunda, which at one point was empty for months, the inside of it used by the homeless as a spacious bed. the discolored white, almost yellow rotunda seems more beautiful and lively now. the upbeat mariachi songs and the augment in attendees wearing large canon cameras around their necks seemed to have illuminated the once ignored rotunda. sometimes, outside the rotunda, there are now street vendors selling apparently self-beaded rosaries and self-weaved, vibrant satchels that feature a little house, fish, tribal designs, or mayan hieroglyphics, among other goods they deem handmade.

there was also a flyer that encouraged people who wanted to live in downtown L.A., the supposed heart of Los Angeles, to look for residency in our community—we are close by, have a rich latin culture, and have inexpensive living costs compared to downtown’s. when we heard the obnoxiously loud machinery of construction taking place, we had assumed low-cost apartments were being built, which usually happens, instead of the chic lofts that now tower over our homes.

i don’t think many of us can afford live in the lovely lofts others would lust after. i’m afraid the cost of living will go up and that our community will no longer be ours, but will instead belong to our visitors. the memories of our streets, our shops, our neighbors, and our childhoods would only be persevered in photographs, the possibility of coming back to relive them, gone.

resting with work shoes

“los mexicanos son bien machista.” – a saying

Licha, a slim, middle-aged woman, drops her small, faux-leather purse on her bed just after she arrives home from la fabrica. She glances at her watch. It is 5pm. Her eyes close, and she imagines her body sprawled on the bed, her latte-colored skin feeling the breeze of the metal fan behind her. In a bit, she tells herself. In a bit I can rest.

Her husband had been waiting in the living room on their brown, suede sofa. He arrived an hour and a half before Licha. When he came home, he took off his shiny-black work shoes and changed into a pair of basketball shorts and a muscle shirt. As he sits on the sofa, he stretches his legs and rests his hands on his belly. He greets Licha as she makes her way to the kitchen.

He tells her that he wants enchiladas for dinner. Make them real spicy, he says. Those are the best. Licha nods. Her husband smiles at her and continues to watch las noticias.

Licha begins to make the chile. She decides to use the chile de lata—he won’t know the difference, right? She pours the red chile into a pot and stirs, adding other chile powders and herbs. Meanwhile, she heats corn tortillas, careful not to burn her fingers as she flips them. She places the tortillas on a plate and makes the stuffing: baked chicken with cilantro, chopped black olives, a little cheese, and a drizzle of the chile sauce. Now, the chile is done; she dips the already heated tortillas inside it, coating them red. She sets it on a separate plate and fills the tortilla with the stuffing. Licha folds the tortilla like a taquito and places it on an oven-safe tray. She repeats this process until the tray is filled.

While Licha sprinkles cheese and black olives over her enchiladas, her husband appears in the kitchen. You made enough so that I can some take to work, vieja? he asks. Licha replies, claro, viejo. Her husband nods at her response. He loves when Licha makes his lunch. See, you won’t have to prepare anything for my lunch tomorrow, he says. I’ve done you a favor, querida, he says. He serves himself some apple juice and talks about his day at work. Licha listens as she slips the tray in the oven.

Licha is washing dishes while waiting for the enchiladas to cool—she took them out a few minutes ago. It is 7:30pm. Her husband enters the kitchen again. He opens the fridge and grabs slices of ham, sandwich cheese, and mayonnaise. What are you doing? asks Licha, confused. The enchiladas will be ready in a few minutes. They’re just cooling down, she says.

Her husband snorts. You should’ve made me something else in the meantime. You know I have to wake up early to go to work. I have to go to bed soon, he says while spreading the mayo on wheat bread. I’m tired, he says.

Licha protests. I work too, and I’m also tired, she says. Are you really going to waste my time and energy? she asks. He sits down on their sofa and ignores her. She raises her voice. She tells him that he is a malagradecido, among other insults. He shoos her away. Déjame comer en paz, he says. Licha continues to express her frustration and her husband continues to disregard her.

Before shouting, Licha thought her husband would listen to her this time. One day he’ll realize he can’t do that to me, she thinks to herself. He won’t be so terco.

She serves herself a few enchiladas and walks to their bedroom, alone. She situates herself on the bed and lays against her fluffy pillows, sitting upright against the mahogany headboard. She turns on the television and begins to watch a novela called, Lo que la vida me robó.

Licha doesn’t realize that her work shoes are still on.

meanings of spanish words used:

*los mexicanos son bien machista: Mexicans are machista
*la fabrica: the factory
*las noticias: the news
*de lata: from the can
*vieja: (in this case) old woman, used to refer to one’s girlfriend or wife
*claro: (in this case) of course
*viejo: (in this case) old man, used to refer to one’s boyfriend or husband
*querida: (in this case) beloved
*malagradecido: ungrateful person
*Déjame comer en paz: Let me eat in peace
*terco: stubborn
*novela: a television soap opera
*Lo que la vida me robó: a tele-novela titled, What Life Stole from Me