Being Brown and Believing in Magic

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From Tarot del Fuego by Ricardo Cavolo

Walter Mercado told me to wear gold to ring in the New Year so I did. Walter and his gorgeous, extravagant gowns. Watching him growing up, I believed in his magic. He struck me as regal, optimistic, and vivacious. I knew to stop talking, chewing loud, hold my breath until I heard him say “Leo” and finally end his astrological analysis with a circular motion around his heart and a kiss to the camera. Magic was a constant in my life, until it wasn’t.

I believed in god, angels, leprechauns, the chupacabra, the spirit of a bloody woman named Mary. I feared death at a very young age and I prayed every night for another chance to wake in the morning. I was a vain child too, I prayed for the static in my hair to waver and my fluffy hair to calm itself. Nunca me peiné. I asked god to forgive me for my vanity all in the same breath and then called to him to make me pretty. Not pretty in a brown way, pretty in the way of the mujeres on the TV. Como, Topanga or la Gwen Stefani. I was convinced I was ugly. It was a joke in the family that I was adopted because I didn’t look related to my siblings or my amá. I wanted lighter skin and golden hair like my brother and sisters. As a small child, with my hands pressed hard against each other I was convinced being morena was not ideal.

I look like my father: a beautiful indigenous man named Otaniel. He was a quiet, well-read young man from Guatemala. He only saw me floating in the womb, he never held me in his arms. I only wonder if he’s alive from time to time because I want to know my medical history, I want to know how similar we are, maybe we’ve read the same books. I think this is the part of me that still depends on magic.

otaniel
My Great Grandma, Otaniel, and my Tía Rosita

The photos of my father belong to other people. I have only seen two photos of him, one via text, and another in person. The photo I received through a text is blurry but I enjoy the fact that Otaniel has his arms around my bisabuela and my Tía. The sun illuminates off of  their skin. The photo I saw in person is focused on my pregnant mamá and my abuela. You can only see half of Otaniel’s body, as though he’s stepping into the photograph so I could catch a glimpse of him only to find him completely gone the next time I hold the picture in my hand. When family members talk about him, I think of a ghost. “Mija, you look just like him” Looking into mirrors, I can see the parts of my mother and then everything that isn’t her, I assume it’s Otaniel. I am thankful for my eyes/his eyes, dark as wet soil and my hair/his hair, like roots embracing the earth underneath them. I am thankful for my beautiful brown skin that is kissed by the sun in the summertime. I carry the remnants of this ghost in the blood rushing through my body. The curvatures of my finger prints cradle a sliver of his past.

There is no anger or confusion attached to his disappearance. I was only angry during my teenage years. I was volcanic eruptions of outrage and confusion. I wrote a lot of bad poetry and cried in disdain about the horrific men and boys who crossed my path. Otaniel was just a blip in the history of teenage anger.

I understand that people roam around and dissipate into dream matter. When I dream about Orcas or humpback whales, I know they are representations of the women in my family. I can see my great grandma being led by the tranquility of water into the next life. I think if Otaniel ever shows up, he’ll be a bird. Maybe a Quetzal or an owl or a flock of crows shouting at me, waking me up, telling me, our fate to decompose into the earth is inevitable, so keep creating and writing and dancing, keep praying into the wind and listen, listen, listen, maybe our echoes will ripple out enough to crash into each other.

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9 thoughts on “Being Brown and Believing in Magic

  1. Beautiful piece, Rios. I spent my childhood calling pay phones in the hallways of unknown hotels and shelters across America trying to keep just one tendril of contact with my biological father. I became better acquainted with his charms and frailties as an adult but I still question whether I ever actually knew him. I did learn from him that Father is something that we do every day, not something we are by virtue of the final resting place of our sperm. I try to use that lesson in being present for my daughter everyday because I know how easily people can slip from one another’s orbits. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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