From behind the ridge, the sun ignites a cloud in its morph above the cliffs. In one instant, it takes the shape of a familiar face which morphs into another and yet another until a wind wisps, and just as quickly as they appeared, appears a cloud. In the dusk, a flock of native turkeys struts across the ridge beneath Bear Peak, making their way across the hill. They walk paths through the forest, learned from their parents who learned from their parents before them. They’ve been strutting these paths for millenia. A star appears above the horizon. My people followed this star so that I can see it shine. I see the light that was cast when they walked. I see the curve of their loving faces in the starlight’s long arc.
From a young age, phrases such as, “your real parents,” spilled from the lips of people talking to me about being adopted. I knew what they meant, yet felt that my parents were real — their flesh felt soft in my embrace and their heartbeats pulsed strong with my pulse when we hugged. Was I a “real child,” was I “real” or “unreal” and if so, in what ways? Was I a legitimate member of society or somehow marginal and less powerful? Through my childhood, there was born a belief that within me dwelt an absolute self which, if only it was known or felt, would be freed, or would free me from, the subtle feelings of alienation I felt from society and I would at last, belong. Yet grasping only increased my suffering. It became clear that an aspect of who I really was, or am, is as amorphous as the shifting cloud above the mountains — filled with water vapor, wind and light.
What I reflect is something ancient, essential to Earth and so, humanity. My blood is indispensible as the earth in the sandstone of those towering cliffs — the vision of this song. As the reflection of a face in a coursing stream, I am the song the river sings. My name is a quality, an emanation of vision, itself also mor phing within each person who speaks it. After years of trying to finally name the face in the shifting waves’ pulse back from shore — or to choose one of myriad appellations I’d been given or assigned — I slowly became the molecules of water that composed the feeling of my face’s image. Then, the world opened and felt alive. Instead of feeling impeded by adoption or race and perceived to be as one belonging to a subaltern, or “other” group, I felt deeply linked — more fully connected by the basic quality, to every tree, stream, and person I saw or who read my name. I felt my citizenship within the community of Earth — of which we’re all a part — deepen and unfurl. I felt my inextricable linkage in the circle of natural law. Concomitant with this vision, the power of my ancestry’s legitimacy took hold in America.
When I walked in through a metal screen door of a ranch house in the dark windy moors of Wyoming, a svelte, elderly woman sitting on a couch, draped in a handwoven blanket, appeared. She stood up and looked at me through her glasses, covering her mouth as her eyes teared up. The glint of her tears shimmered on the surface of my eyes. Antonio, my birth-father, formally introduced me to Juana, my birth-grandmother, and we hugged. I held her until I could feel her heartbeat and mine synchronize. Eighty-six years old, she had traveled two days by bus from Mexico.
I asked her of healing herbs as Antonio had told me that they never went to the doctor growing up in Mexico, but when sick, picked their medicine from the abundant, uncultivated and free lands near their home. In their lives, all healing and nourishment came directly from the earth. She told me of a few herbs and their uses. Her hands gestured their feel and shape — their effect on the body.
Antonio told me of ancestry. He came from a tiny town called El Cocono, or the turkey, in southern Mexico. Of this fortuitous bird, one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wrote to his daughter of America’s Eagle/Seal, “I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides… a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” Antonio’s father, Trinidad, had been the local law enforcement for 30 years in his little town. When he died, the police force closed down the highway for the procession. In Mexico, Antonio later told me, funerary practices are different than in America. The body is taken home, if not already there — rather than to a mortuary. Everyone who wishes to come, comes, praying with the family through the night, singing traveling songs as the life passes along in its ongoing journey.
In the ranch house, the TV was on. A Spanish language channel made the background sound. My birth-grandmother’s daughter, a quiet, kind and loyal person, sat near Juana’s side, who spoke only in Spanish, asking my age —
“Treinta y dos,” Antonio said.
There was a pause. She looked sternly at Antonio.
“She’s mad at me,” he said.
“No,” I said, “It’s not his fault.”
She laughed, then asked my name.
“Rico,” I answered.
“Rico?” she replied inquisitively, going quiet and looking at me — the presence of my name sinking in.
Antonio’s brother was there and he told me the way by which they came from Mexico. Their journey was long and arduous. Many times they were without food or water in the harsh desert heat. At times, only wild berries and streamwater kept them alive. Traveling thousands of miles on foot, their stories had an air of adventurous joy — as if they were continuing an ancient circuit.
In fact, chocolate residue in bowls, copper, as well as Macaw feathers and paintings of parrots on American canyon walls have surfaced or been unearthed in Utah and New Mexico. Each of these treasures have their origins in Mesoamerica, suggesting that Indigenous people have been cycling north and south since at least the late 8th century C.E. Now, there is a Wall that marks a politcal boundary, bisecting the circuitous, ancient route. It reminds me of a dam. It reminds me of a river, dammed — a blockage in the hydrological cycle that prevents equal distribution across the whole system. I recently heard of two dams in Washington State that, for a century, ceased the flow of the Elwha River, preventing wild Chinook salmon from spawning in their ancestral waters. This prevention weakened the entire coastal ecosystem that the salmon’s life supports. The dams were recently demolished. A week later, a ranger said, “The wild salmon knew, somehow and began to run upriver to spawn.” Something pulsed quicker than a wave through the water — signaled their return. We are all akin to both salmon and rivers. I wonder of their constitution and our rights under an American Constitution. What are we trapping behind our dams? The construction of the border wall is said to disrupt the migration of las mariposas. What is the fluttering song of the breach?
I continued to talk with my long lost birth-relatives.
“Antonio left when he was 16?” I asked.
They all answered, “Yes.”
“Do a lot of people leave that area?” I asked.
“All the boys — when they get to a certain age — take off,” Antonio replied. “A lot of them come back but many never do.”
“You didn’t have a lot of things,” I said, “But were you happy?”
“We always had enough to eat,” Juana said through Antonio.
I turned to my birth-father and asked, “Will you ask her where we descend from?”
“España,” was her reply.
“She’s Spanish,” Antonio said. “Her grandmother is from Spain but she doesn’t know where.”
They continued, “With the war in Spain, a lot of muchachas came to Mexico.”
Juana said something in Spanish and Antonio laughed.
“And grandpa took one,” he said and we all laughed joyfully.
“¿Y papá?” Antonio asked his mother.
“Jalisco,” she replied. “He was an Indian from Jalisco,” Antonio said of his father, Trinidad.
Birth-Grandmother continued to speak:
“She had Indian in her family also.”
“De Michoacan,” she spoke of her indigenous ancestors. ¿Los Purépechas? I wonder now as I write, unable to ask. Time passed in wonder.
“Gracias,” I said to her.
“Nunca,” she replied.
“She never thought she was going to see you,” Antonio said.
“Es bueno,” I replied.
“Bonito,” she said.
“Ah, bonita,” I replied.
“Contento mi corazón,” she said.
“Sí,” I replied.
As I write, my birth-grandmother’s phrase, “Contento mi corazón” — my heart is happy — echoes from my body to the page, resonant in the sentences. Months after the moment of its utterance, I look up the etymology of her phrase, “Contento mi corazón,” to gain more deeply her meaning by way of linguistic archaeologies.
Contento translates to the English as “happiness” or “joy,” which alludes to the simple and powerful feeling of meeting a long-lost birth-grandson whom she thought she never would. Both the English word “content” and the Spanish word contento stem from the Latin contentus, which means, “satisfied” or “contained.” Interestingly, whether we search back from the English or the Spanish, we arrive at the same linguistic root. The suggestion of satisfaction matches with happiness or joy. The feeling of contain, however, has another source. “Contain” comes from the late 13th century Old French, contenir, which branches or stems from the Latin continere, which means “to hold together, enclose.” In light of this, my birth-grandmother’s phrase might be translated as, my heart is held together.
Looking into continere, we find the Latin com or cum, “together with, beside, near, or by.” Combined with the Latin tenere or tenet, meaning “to hold in mind, take in, understand,” we have another, yet equally rich interpretation of Juana’s phrase — my heart understands.
My heart thinks by beating, only ceasing when it ceases — its final outward pulse linking to another being. The imbrication of these interpretations creates diversities of ancient beauty for us. In her honest phrase, there are layers of music playing deep within us all. As rivers trace to spring and source, so too our words course perpetually on. The melody of these lines is partially spun from her love song, Antonio is born.
The sky had grown dark and deep against the backdrop of space as the days of early November were shortening in length toward the winter solstice. My time with my birth-grandmother had come to a close. Antonio and I got into his truck to drive towards home. Silence ensued and the dark prairie flew by. The stars began shining.
“Even though the house we came from is made of stone,” Antonio said, “We were happy. It’s not about appearance. To us, it was home. We always had enough to eat. We never thought, ‘I want a car’ or anything. We just got up in the morning and said, ‘We need meat, let’s go hunt.’ It was simple.”
“But now, in Mexico,” he continued, “It’s so bad with the drug dealers. They just — I’m scared — I will not drive over there. I know that you’d like to see where we’re from but I wouldn’t go now. There are so many different things that happen, like kidnapping people for money. The first time I go over there with my kids, will someone kidnap them and ask for money? And in the end, they’d still kill them. That happens a lot. I’m really scared to take my kids over there. I won’t take them.”
The writer Claudio Lomnitz writes in his article entitled, “Three Causes Behind Mexico’s Crisis of Corruption and Impunity,” “The U.S. has decided to criminalize the economy that services its huge appetite for recreational drugs. Because Mexico has a weaker and more corrupt system of law enforcement, the temptation to outsource illegal activities to Mexico is natural — even perfectly predictable. In addition, the U.S. allows legal, and minimally regulated, sale of guns, which Mexico does not… The results of this combination are lethal, with Mexico paying a disproportionate share of the cost of American drug and gun habits: including calculations that run as high as over 100,000 deaths and 22,000 disappeared since the start of President Calderon’s drug war in 2006, not to mention the current corrosion of governmental legitimacy.” Antonio’s thought echoes chorically.
“What are some of the differences between then and now?” I asked.
“We enjoyed life a lot more then. Kids these days — all they do play video games. They don’t know about anything else,” he said.
“And the knowledge that your mom and dad gave you about the wild — about the earth, animals, seasons and herbs?” I asked.
“Something happens to me, it’s gone,” he replied.
“There’s no connection with Earth,” I said.
“With Nature,” he replied.
“There’s an oil — ”
“There’s another one there — ”
“Fracking.” I replied as we passed a fracking oil derrick.
“They’re all over the place,” he said.
“Who knows what’s going to happen if things keep going the way they are,” he said, continuing, “And then those politicians — they talk about helping people to get elected but when they get in power, nothing happens.”
“They lie — ”
“ — To the people.”
Much silence and prairie passed as we sat in the feeling of the thought we’d made together. Flames poured into the darkness from the pierced earth. Antonio’s eyes looked like mine — there was a share in the glimmer.
“What was Mary like,” I asked.
“She was fun — it was real fun,” he said. “I wish things would’ve been different, you know — it was nice those years that we — she was real nice.”
“I thought a lot about how things could’ve been different. I came to acceptance. It’s just the way things are and the reasons… can’t really be known. And now, I have relationships with you and Mary. I see that as a gift. So many adopted people have never tried to figure out whom their birth-parents are, out of fear or simply not caring to know. Some seek but never find, though I’ve never heard of them. It feels as if there’s some force enclosing the search. I’ve always been so glad to have met you and Mary. I don’t regret it. I hope you don’t either.”
“I would never… I waited for so long. I always wanted to talk to Mary and ask her…” his feeling trailed off from his thought.
“How was it?” I asked about a recent phone conversation they’d had.
“It was nice. There were things I needed to tell her because when we split I never had the chance to say — it’s like you and I here talking — that’s the way it was. That’s what was so hard. Things were going really well and then one day she stopped talking to me. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong,” he said.
“Did it help to talk?”
“It did,” he replied. “I told her how I feel. She was somebody very special to me. ‘No matter what happens,’ I said, ‘I just want you to know that I’ll always feel that way towards you. I’m glad you’re happy.’ I’m glad she’s happy,” he said.
“So you still feel the same way towards her as you did back then?” I asked.
“Yeah, I still feel the same.”
“Wow,” I replied softly, somewhat shocked. To have the same feelings toward Mary after all these years of never having talked was astonishing. To be the creation of that feeling made my heart feel whole. There was a new song that coursed the whole length of his journey — from Mexico, looping back and forth from then to now and here to there.
“But, it’s something,” he said, “That I just have to let go of.”
“I don’t think it’s diminished,” I said, “I think it’s the feeling’s life that matters.”
“At least it gives me a chance to tell her. Because when she left, I just drank — day and night — for months. And finally, one day I thought, ‘It doesn’t do me any good,’ so I slowed down. I probably would’ve been dead by now if I would’ve kept going that way.” I thought of the vision apparent when self-loathing blooms into one’s realization of equality.
“That you felt so strongly about Mary… your love for her… is wonderful. That may be why I’m here,” I said.
“The way things worked out,” I continued, “I don’t know if I can even explain it to myself — about how they threatened you from adopting me because of your nationality — your race — preventing you from raising me.”
“I cannot say who it was. I’m not going to blame anyone. Mary probably never knew anything about it. She would never do anything to me — she would never do that,” he said.
“The difference between me and her parents,” Antonio continued, “I understand that — they had their own farms and I’m just a worker.”
The belief in an inherent cultural divide — one of inadequacy — between the Mexican-American and the European-American had been so prevalent in his life because of the years of its incessant assertion by the cruel hearts. He believed that his identity as a Mexican-American was one of fundamental difference — an unbridgeable gap in which he always was stuck on the other side.
I stood on the bridge of myself and spoke, “But you’re not — you’re a person and you should have been able to choose.”
“That’s not how people see it,” he replied.
“I know it’s not the way things were for you but it’s the way they are. We have seen.”
Mary appeared in his mind — she was, in ways, still his enigma.
“Do you have any pictures of her?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. I showed him a picture of Mary.
“She looks the same,” he said — his looking bound to the moment of losing her. “She hasn’t changed much. You have her hair. She had curly hair. I have a picture she gave to me when I went to Mexico. She has curly hair — long hair,” he said, “It was a big picture.” I can sense that picture, as if printed in my own hand in ink on a page. I can see it in Antonio’s old stone house, near a window, where the wind breezes cool from the north. In this Boulder evening, the trees are still, awaiting such a wind.
He looked at her picture, feeling through time as the traveling light of a star before it’s arrival.
“Well, thank you,” he said. “But, I wouldn’t want you to think — I wouldn’t want you to put any blame on them. It was just something that happened. We’re just glad that we got to know each other before it’s too late. I’m happy. This is a real happy time.”
“Mary said you used to sing together,” I said.
“Mary used to like the song… “I love the rainy nights…” The old music… We’d hear it on the radio and start dancing — we’d always do those crazy things,” he said. “Those things that you’ll never forget.”
“I’m glad to have come from that space,” I said.
“We really cared about each other when it happened. I know she feels the same way. And when that happened, they lost the farm. They lost everything. So I’m sure it was tough on the whole family. When that happened they lost the whole — they went broke — something happened — you know how it is — they auctioned the whole thing. I’m sure it was tough for them to deal with all of those things at once.”
I got out of his car and gave him a hug. The lights from the gas station cast a faint light on the bluffs beyond. We said goodbye and I stepped into my car, turned the key and then drove south, feeling fully the complexity of his difficult forgiveness.
I have adopted my name and emigrated from those whom I might have been. Had I been Antonio’s son, Mary’s son, Antonio and Mary’s — some other parents’ or parent’s child — orphaned, et alia. There is no closing of circles that never begin. What has begun is but a continuation of what will never end — this fugitive, migratory love. The imaginative fragments of this story — its elegant diversities — as potsherds, aren’t of a whole vessel but make one when felt together in mind. Each awaits the piecing vision of a loving hand — to be sifted from earth and arranged into the semblance of the necessary.
The vessel or vase — the body, my person that came to be — was once comprised of mud or wheat. By certain laws, I — the being who writes — the anima of the words on the page — came into being. In a similar sense, the vase, of riverine clay, was shaped by living hands and etched with features identifying a culture born and dependent upon a particular space of earth, say, a vast, windswept prairie, a mountain ridge, a river or the ocean into which the rivers flow. On the vessel also, the animals — birds and deer — coyote, cougar, otter, bear, salmon and whale — butterflies — are preserved, at least in part. Apart they then become a part of a song that waits — a light cast off that will arrive some time from now. As this vase was filled with water by ancient hands, so I’ve filled these flat dimensions with curve. When the people who made the vase passed on, the sherds of the vase sunk into mud. As when I dissolve, my song disappears to surface again.
Over millenia, the images dissolve, becoming rivermud — alluvial sediment somewhere. Some sherds remain as the rivers change their course or dry and leave a desert space — intact — preserved fragments of the images of the life they once contained. Some emigrant will walk through the wild, uncultivated and abundant, fields, finding sherds by the shadows they cast — will gather them — pushed as they are from earth, as splinters from skin.
At a creek, whereas before I’d attempted to name each shimmering aspect of sunlight on stream, I notice another sherd. With all of the other sherds I’ve collected, from different places and times — shaped by differently shaded hands — curved and carved by winds from differing lands, I hold them in my hand. An image appears — the feeling of this changing life fuses the sherds. I move my fingers across them in my palm and the roughness of my skin causes them to sing. My companion hears and listens deeply. I lay them down near the stream, whose gentle roll over stones is musical. We rise and walk away. The river swirls and rushes, drawing in and dissolving the memories of the story into its course. The origin song multiplies — echoing — in each gust of wind and misty veil of moon-shimmer on stream. In each gentle touch of a hand. As I walk across stones, leaving watery footprints that disappear as they dry, so I walk from this page. The sky overhead turns dusk, grows dark. The horizon of earth curves, revealing the arc of galaxy. The night-wing emerges and earth feels a sphere in a yet greater sphere. It feels as if I am looking through the walls of a transparent vessel — a space where stars float as motes of dust and the sound is one of soft, twinkling gold, and stillness — the feeling pulse of heartbeat echoes. I close my eyes and feel the stars roaring toward us. I offer you the coming of their song. (the end)