Thursday, January 8, 2009


Roasting chile, that’s how it began; my nose, full of the smell of the burning skin of the long pale green chiles as they scorched on the fire. As they roasted, the scent carried me away to childhood memories of my parents doing the same. I roasted enough to put into the corn chowder, with plenty left over for the next morning’s eggs. I remembered how my Dad would always like to have fresh roasted chile for his breakfast eggs. Smells have the power to take us to distant and familiar places as they awaken our memory.

With the smell lingering in the air, that night, I dreamed myself back to New Mexico.

Mom had passed away a only a few months before; now it was time to return her memoria to the land of the saints and the spirits that had followed her throughout her life. We followed the scent of the roasting chile.

In the dream, upon arrival, New Mexico was under attack. I’m not sure who it was that was after us, but I knew I was one of the “us” and had to remain on the run and hidden. Those who were caught were rounded up; worn, tattered, beaten, all resistance gone, people were being loaded up and carted away by the busload. Others were being slain in the streets. I knew to survive I needed to be clever, and lucky, and have friends. I ran, hiding close to the ground, pressing snug against the walls of buildings to hopefully go unnoticed. Running from place to place I sought refuge and safety from the round-up. ‘They’ were a powerful force, with extraordinary powers to root us out; to find, enslave and kill us.

My refuge? It was the library. I ran inside where there were children waiting for the story hour. A young chicana came out with her books and stories, and we sat on the floor, children and adults together. She began weaving her stories, spoken in English, while on the other side of the room another woman translated the stories into Spanish. A large aquarium stood between the two of them. There were no fish in it. Instead, there was sand that would rise to the top, then float down, landing at the bottom mysteriously in columns. These pillars of sand she said, were miraculous forms of the saints manifesting. While we listened, I watched the sand rise up and then fall, drifting through the water, forming these aqua-saints she spoke of. I cried.

I realized how the saints and spirit helpers were a constant in my mother’s life; how they had followed her from the southwest, to our new home in the north; how she had made sure they would never leave nuestra familia, by the building of small shrines and altars - on a table top, a shelf, a dresser. Paintings and statues of the good ones watched over us. They were our friends and allies: Francis, Joseph, Mary, Jude, Therese the Little Flower, and of course Jesus in his many forms - crucified, resurrected, and as the small child Prince of Peace. They were always with us; and here they were again, reminding us in the miracle of an aquarium with santos of sand. Only in New Mexico -- the land of enchantment, where the milagro of the face of Jesus can be found scorched on a tortilla; where the plow of a farmer reveals a cross hidden in the earth, and the dirt becomes a miracle, sacred and healing: the miracle of sacred red earth.

Here, in the library, we were safe; no aberrant destroyer could find us. Outside, our world was being destroyed, while here, we were protected by a young chicana storyteller and her saints.

Suddenly, I was no longer in the library, but instead was transported to the safety of the home of friends. The siege was over: we were safe. I was looking at the family photos on the wall. One of the photos was of three dogs. Inside of the frame, the photo began moving. The dogs romped, playing in the foreground of the photo, while behind them, many white horses were running; and as they ran, their hooves rumbled like thunder, kicking up dust and sand that swirled in a white cloud storming the land -- sand that would rise and fall again to the earth as saints or healing dirt.

~ Storyteller sculpture by Beatrice Loretto


Stella Magdalen said...

I love Little Flower.

Sandi said...

Libraries have always made me feel safe and small. Storytellers protect us by making sure that the past visits the future. We cannot really die if our story continues to be told. You tell stories of your mother and I will never again smell roasting chiles without thinking of her and Little Flower.

el poquito said...

yep, the keepers of the stories...

we need to hear the stories, gather the stories, tell the stories, pass the stories on...

we all are the storytellers.