Ruben Rodriguez

Lost in Transubstanciacion -Une filme de Maria Coca-pola

I am a cyborg of my family. They my phantom limbs.
Muscle memory. De mis tios.
De mis abuelas. Ellos me dan.
I am soaked in their blood.
They form a circle around me.
Skills and old knowledge move to and from the circle.
I pick and choose. They teach.
In this circle we move like the wind in January.
Febrero loco, Marzo otro poco.

I wear the palms of my father.
They grip tight and lead the way.
Me and him. Him and me.
We only talk about my finances.
That’s our communication.
When he says “ya pagaste el teléfono?”
Edged between the space of el and telefono is
“how are you, you good?”
But what I think is wedged in the space between the el and telefono is
“you are an irresponsible pendejo.”

My uncle Arturo.
He makes gray and maroon cement bricks.
He piles the bricks in a step fret motif so that they don’t collapse.
He tells me he is making “Mitla, the place of rest in the city of Oaxaca.”
Because of him,
I can see the turquoise double-headed serpent
in undulating metal bike racks.

My uncle Jesus.
Who owns a bulka, a tire repair shop.
He drowns the punctured tire tubes in black dirty water looking for air bubbles, then marks the 
puncture with a chalk and holds the puncture with his right thumb.
When the tube dries, and he needs to know where the exactly the hole is,
he licks his finger and then taps and lets go, taps and lets go, taps and lets go.
Little bubbles accumulate like frogs mating out of the froth of his saliva and the air coming from 
inside the tire tube.

I do the same with the things inside of me.
Curled in a wad of; hair, bones, nails, and a dried up placenta
latched on to the skin of a chupacabra.
I try to drown it at the bottom of the river.
It clings to my hands with its sharp nails penetrating my skin.
When the air bubbles stop coming, I let the river take it.
Its dead weight rises to the surface, a clump of hair, dried up leaves, and bone going in circles 
and circles following the current.
I lick the scratches of my arms.
My T shirt sprinkled in water of the deed done.

Mi Abuelita Maria
I grip tight to her memory.
An invisible membrane ties me to her.
A devotee to the virgin. She gave her pearl necklace to the statue of la virgen at the church of 
San Buenaventura in Villa Lopez, Chihuahua.
After fifty years, no one has stolen it, yet.

Every week she has las comadres over to say the rosary. I like how las vecinas come in droves. 
Filling all the seats in the sofa.
Chairs are brought from the dining table. Some ladies with old black orthopedic shoes and 
orange checked skirts tell my grandma her plants are lovely,
“mira esta” says one of them.
“Que bonita le salió la bugambilia este año” le dicen a mi abuelita.
They offer each other cuttings while they wait for anyone who is late.

The next day, during breakfast,
la señora Cecilia brings to mi abuelita a tiny cutting of geranium with red blooms barely opening.
The bucket is too big for the tiny geranium.
The bucket is orange and and from Home Depot.
I figured that one of her sons from the other side/my side put something inside the bucket with
things to bring back to Mexico. Her son Jose must've found it easier leaving the bucket behind.
In return my grandma cuts an offshoot of a succulent with red spots and leafs that bend like the 
jaws of baby crocodiles.
Not a good barter, but my grandma does it in good faith.

There are now rosy peaches on the peach tree that lives in front of the house of mi abuelita 
Maria, who lives in front of the secundaria.
During lunch and once the school kids get out at 2:15, my grandma Maria sits in a chair 
guarding her tree, sometimes she stops a kid to tell them to say “tu, yes you, de quién eres hija.”
Then and there she remembers old allegiances with old families, and memories formed by the 
kids of so and so.
Some kids ask for peaches, she gives them some.
But others, and neighbours that should know better
come unannounced.
Like the nasty birds that sit perched atop of the peach tree to drill their beaks on the the fruit to
take before crepusculum.
They take at night, when the moon is a crescent of itself and a billion visible stars as their 
witness that comes with a small town like that in the middle of the desert.
Nights like that,
where lilac trees release fumes of nectar that were heated all day by the sun.
Their fumes rise up into the night sky,
like invisible dust during a sandstorm.

I wear my grandmother Rafaela’s dentures.
Clip tight.
Don’t let go.
Grind and grind like molcajete.
Chile piquin.
The meat of carne asada.

Mi abuelita Rafaela.
The great healer.
She rubs my stomach when I have aches,
ang gives me yerba buena from her garden.
I like the way her big hands yank the mint so hard that even roots are pulled from moist desert 

Once a bull chased me down because I got too close to where it was tied in the back of the
corral. Too entranced by its horns,
the hooves holding firm its massive body
The sheen on its black hair
and long tail braiding itself.
It chased me down, and I screamed.
Mi abuelo Gabriel grabbed me by the shoulders before the bull could trample my body.

After that incident, I had susto. For two nights I couldn't sleep, with the memory of the bull still 
present in my head. My grandma rubbed an egg on my head. Then grabbed a rock called 
piedra lumbre. It is translucent, acidic and and salty and it breaks easy. She prayed all night for
me. Using the rock and the egg. Padrenuestros, ave marias, ten rosaries and focus precision to 
get the susto out.
The next day, I felt better, I had a good night sleep. My abuela Rafaela told my father to light a 
fire outside with mesquite branches. She told him to bury the egg and to throw piedra lumbre 
into the embers of the fire. Then to slowly pick up the rock, and to watch for the any smears of 
the blackened ash left on the rock. My father did as my abuela Rafaela requested. He turned 
the piedra lumbre over and over, until he noticed the shape of the bull smeared on the clear

Once, her hijo Joel was driving back from Santa Maria, its twenty minutes away, and he's 
coming back from a dance, Los Reileros Del Norte played corridos all night. He's still elated with
the music and drinking of all that dancing. He could set the road a blaze. He has the sunroof
down. Right in front of the road, he sees a giant lechuza, at least five feet tall, the owl starts 
sprinting, darting towards him with huge eyes set on him.
Right before my uncle Joel steps on the break, the lechuza flies out of the way. Then suddenly 
its back and flies low in front of him. My uncle thinks the lechuza is going to crash into his front 
window, but the owl tilts its wings up just enough so that it soars up to where his roof window is, 
open. My uncle closes the skylight of his car and drives even faster.
He tells us this in the morning while eating eggs sunny side up.

“Before the narcos came, we only feared brujas” my grandma says “this town and the towns 
around here are infested with brujas” She tells my uncle Joel, the youngest of her sons. This is 
the first time he’s seeing a nagual. The animal spirit of brujas.
Mi tio Raul says that “once he was with his novia out in the middle of nowhere, the trees started 
glowing red,” they followed the red glow and saw las brujas dancing by a fire.
He says “they saw one of them spit fire from her mouth and rolled it into a huge ball that the 
witch climbed on to chase them down, burning the trees behind her.

“Maybe it was the nagual of the one we caught, te acuerdas” says my uncle Gabriel to mi tio 
Arturo holding a piece of sliced pork on his fork.
“No mames” says mi tio Arturo remembering what happened.
“Estábamos en la labor, doing the night shift on the pecan trees. Making sure no one would 
come at night to steal. A lechuza came and chased us around, it screeched as it kept trying to
claw us with its talons” my uncle says.
“It was huge like how you described yours says my uncle to mi tio Joel” But me and Gaby threw 
a tarp at it. And trapped her in the outhouse.
All night she dirint make a sound.
It was only when we got close that we could hear it breathing.
The next day, we knew it had turned back to a human.
When we unlocked the door, she told us that if we ever told anyone who she was, that she
would curse our family.

None of my relatives seated at that table that morning asked who the nagual had turned to. Mis
tios finished their eggs quietly and left the table going about their day. Perhaps it was out of 
respect, perhaps because my abuelo Gabriel lay in bed with prostate cancer, perhaps because
the cancer kept him from walking, it made his right leg inflamed. Perhaps because now at the 
end, his skull was starting to crease and concave all over his mouth and cheekbones. More of 
his bones started showing up in places where the body bends. More hands needed to clean 
and feed his feeble body.
I hardly ever knew mi abuelito Gabriel. Hardly ever knew him before he was bedridden. He was
a man that always was assigning chores to all his grandkids. I stayed away from him, because I
only wanted to play. He was brusco and intimidating. But my mom told me once that when she 
had doubts about whether to choose my father or someone else my, grandma Rafaela told my 
mom, that “my dad wasn't good looking, but that he was hard working like her father, and that he 
would give her a good life.” That night I watched my back, filled with things that were unknown 
to me. Things lay open. Soon, a casket would too. Two days passed after all the pecans were 
picked when my grandfather died. The shadow of his sweaty cowboy hat was cast on mi 
abuelita Rafaela. The brim under a sweaty hat: acres of pecan farms, the property, the towing 
truck business and the loss of her husband.

“Your abuelito is dead” my grandma says to me. But I already knew this, and I think she's just
telling that to herself, waiting for someone to tell her it's not true. It was her three daughters that
had to take off the heaviness of an old hat like that. They had to do it while still here, before 
they go back to the el otro lado. My aunts, two plus my mom.
They whisper things I’m not allowed to hear.

First my two aunts and my mother cleaned my grandfather's closet.
Then they packed all his clothes and gave them all over town to those that needed it.
On sunday a week after his funeral, I saw a man wearing my grandfather's belt. Two new holes 
were made to accommodate the new user.

And on monday.
The homeless man that sweeps our house for food was wearing his thick brown tweed jacket. 
Its July and he won't wait for September to put it on.
In fact, he'll never again take it off.
He also wears my grandfathers loafers.
They are too tight for him. But he wanted them anyways.
He dips his foot in a bucket of water, so that the leather comes malleable to his feet. He does
this everyday even though the brown shoes are now bespoke to his feet.

I can hear him outside.
His squishy feet.
The mud that gets soaked by their wetness.
Wet leather that will eventually smell of potting soil.

*Years later I come back to attend the graduation of my cousin Ruth, the summer between the 
8th and 9th grade. I notice my grandpas blazer on a boy too skinny to wear such a big blazer.
This blazer will not see the light of day for two more years, until her second oldest graduates 
from the 6th grade.*