by Perla Flores
It was always a thought but no one ever did it, and then,
father started gathering logs and twigs, sparked a fire and that fire grew large
the smoke going steady upwards, I was safely away but could still see how wild this fire was, as wild as my father seemed that day, with sweat dripping from his dark long hair, his eyes swollen and sharp, keeping his gaze away from me, as I desperately sought his
he was walking around tall and fearless, his arms at the ready, clenching them and letting them go...clenching and letting go...and so on...as if he was pumping that very fire outwards
kept inside for so long that no living thing could contain it
this was unusual for him and all I could do was stare in alarm
He looked pretty pleased, dangerously pleased with himself as he stared at the flames
Then with a surge of energy, he went to our "house," the concrete room we had
and fetched the first cuadro he found, the first image of saints he found and tossed it to burn into the flames, tossing his faith and confusing mine, freezing my stare.
Was he really doing this? The actions were clear, but my head could not accept what was there
Mother's saint portraits were so important to her, and now my father screamed in pain
calling out to God asking why he abandoned him, why was he lost, defeated
why couldn't he make it in the forsaken land of Mexico, where he had worked so hard, keeping horses, keeping their strut steady since he was six years old, his sons the same, his father the same...and now things were not working, he could no longer keep things in place, and he asked himself why a day’s work was was no longer enough, why was everything spiraling out of control, why couldn't he stay calm...and think, but the flames were raging.
This went on for hours, father tossing portrait after portrait of angels walking the good towards heaven and the wicked burning in hell, some of God sitting at the top with angels crowning his feet, and others of the Virgen de Guadalupe and her child looking down at the world…
Dios te salve Maria, llena eres de gracia, Mary full of grace…
There was nothing to be done but to stare, feeling numb, afraid of moving, of losing hope
He could have burned them all, yet some still remained until this day
I remember mother's Virgin Mary outside of the room’s walls, were we lived crammed, and how it survived this massacre
How important it was to guide us to El Norte, mother invoking her always, making the sign of the cross in the front of my face, having me kiss her fingers intertwined, teaching me how it was to pray and say Amen.
And the fire remained there, raging, the dark smoke going steady upwards…
I am unsure why he hurt so much, what triggered this pain
that it was enough for him to cave and lose his sanity, sanity that he never got back
replaced by insanity that betrayed him, and left him cold
Cold despite the fires he ignited again in this new land,
consuming evidence that immigration would find useful for us
to shed the wetback name callings.
But my father had those wild eyes again,
and staring at my mother wickedly threw proof
of our existence into the fire and said "here is your green card"
incinerating it, as if incinerating our lives and our hope
but he didn’t realize that hope can cling onto my mother and I,
like Mary and her child, we kept it,
and when the fire was put out, he lost it all
this is how my father played with fire, and burned his soul.