by Alberto Ríos
or The Unfortunate Story of the Unmarried Flora Carrillo
And the Man Who Loved Her Before He Died his Famous Death,
From Whose Single Liaison a Daughter Was Born
And the Advice, Rather the Explanation,
Both of Them Left for Her, And the Story Also
Of What She Became, and That She Was Happy
Three did not count.
A fourth was forgiven by the Father Torres
In exchange for reasonable payment,
Two full days of the Hail Mary.
Bigger than priests, the fifth
Indiscretion was born on a Thursday, early
Evening in a November not too cold.
No rain had fallen
And the birds had not yet gone.
She chose a black dress, this Flora, Florita
+ here evoke the names of saints +
Underneath which she carried tonight
An old blade, but of fine Toledo forging
Long as the member of this man
In love with this woman standing at his door.
Her head was filled with the vines of the jungle
The noises of a lion, the feel of ten birds
Trying with their beaks to get out.
All anger: that she had hoped he would
Come to her bedroom.
And that he had.
Faster than !that she took from him his rolled tongue
Hanging there between his thin legs, his two-fingers,
This girl’s wrist and fist of his
Its central tendon and skin that moved on itself,
This small and second body of his
Which had found its way to her second mouth,
This part of himself which he had given her
Then taken back on this same day, earlier
His ugly afternoon of loving her too much.
He would scream as she had
When she had taken him in first as a leg-bone
And held him there too long, too much
Until he had become a pinky-finger
+ here evoke the holy names +
Which she !took now and put in the dowry
She would make for her new daughter.
With it she would write a note,
Nothing else was left to do:
Daughter, you will be an only child.
The story of your birth will smell on you.
Do this: take baths filled with rosemary
With leaves, with pinched orange peels.
Keep secret the fact of yourself.
Be happy enough, happy with this much life.
Ask for nothing. Do not live for a long time.
He sang to her the oldest song
That he was a piccolo flute in the small of her heart
Or, if that were not convincing, too much filled with flowers,
A small noise, then, a smart, a cut which is healing
Its face feeling good to be scratched
The way even wild cats like;
A piccolo flute in the small of her heart
Nothing more, and nothing more necessary
A noise different from all the rest
Louder and more shrill, a good sound of haunting
The voice of a Muslim caller at dawn
A bird, a Saturday, four directions and a need.
He sang this and did not sing
In that manner of speech afforded the heart:
That he was a man
Came to her not from any words, not like that
But from the measure of his breathing
From the five-ladder depth of his left eye
The one that did not move, his one eye which
While his right eye could move through the everyday
Could only stay looking at her.
When she looked at this eye at first
The sight of it made a noise in her, a start,
A note somewhere at the top of the piano scales
Fear, almost; a grasped breath; a glass dropped.
In the moment was the music of being wanted.
Or of wanting, but she could not think it.
Certainly she could only say no
The way anyone would after a glass falls
No and Jesus. And as an afterthought, that he should go away.
Many years later she read a book and it took
Her breath: how neatly the glasses for champagne
Thrown by the fine heroes
Broke against the walls holding fire.
That this was a celebration.
That this was the Continental, the European.
No, she said, to this thick railroad tie of a man
Who sang to her the oldest song, the one
Of being young, that he was a piccolo flute
In the small of her heart. No
She said, but said it with her mouth, not with her heart
Making no a spoken word, like all other words
So that he did not hear, so that he kept singing
Until one day it was enough, but not for her, not now:
Now, instead, the afternoon, which was kind
Which is what she was earlier, had only pretended for him
I am her, whispered it to him, let him be strong
In its arms one more time before it took him,
Holding tighter than a grandmother.
This was not at all what he wanted
But what he wanted he could not have.
No, she said, and he could not get close enough
Could not put the ear of his song heart
Against her chest
To know what the word meant, no.
He had written no note for his daughter.
It had not been necessary.
She knew now what it would have been,
What the word no means
When it is pronounced, when the last half of it lingers, o
Imagined that the o was like this
Together as if it were new nude in the afternoon
They must have danced the wild Apache
Without lunch, into the hours
Imagining themselves French, striped shirt and berets
Two carp on a rug in the ocean of the room
Two June beetles, two bees
Beings with impossible wings, pulleys from the roof
Pulling the two of them up like birthday piñatas
Two of them, then four: hands and legs
Tied more expertly than the best dream of an old salt sailor
Bread dough wound round and again into afternoon cakes,
Two, four, then six of them: all the parts of the face
Then twelve of them: their two faces together
Twenty-four then and thirty-six and words and breaths
Inside each other their tongues
Like the wings of hummingbirds in flight
Like bees, his fingers, faster than possible
That it was like this exactly.
Her fame was as a maker of oval mats many years later
Mats for placement behind photographs,
How the old ones were, sometimes in colors
Sometimes to highlight, sometimes for support simply,
Always making the best faces.
But what she loved most, what was true for her
Was her firm putting of the tongues and most heavy parts
Of several men of the town, each on a different night
Sundays being specially reserved for the troubled boy
On a rancho several kilometers out of town,
Putting them slowly into her mouth, this best of all
And sucking there at them better
Than if she were drawing out the juice of an orange
Small hole made in it, the way children do
Squeezing out the everything.
It was, better described, this deliverance of her men
This taking out from their baby-arms
What it was that troubled them
So much all at once, so much like the stories
She had heard of the ghost being delivered,
Being let go, from the mouth
Exactly at the point of death.
She would trade nothing for this
For being able to say yes where others had said no.
To say yes, and watch her men die.
Die and then be brought back, to be strong at this
This was her power, this is what made her laugh
Being her mother and her father both
Being happy for them all
Never once making love to a man.
Last updated November 21, 2022