Our Lady of the Iguanas, by Alex Pruteanu
Señora de las Iguanas
It’s a straight line across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, north to southeast.
(I still love Mexico.)
You go from Veracruz right down to Juchitan de Zacagoza.
You go in a yellow 1968 Volkswagen Beetle with a broken cassette player and a furry rabbit’s foot dangling from the rearview.
You go past adobe and mud huts and smoke an Indonesian black clove.
There is no illusion of time, just the Mexican countryside rolling at one hundred kilometers an hour.
You think: this is what it’s like in my own country, so you’re not shocked when you see outhouses, poverty, clotheslines.
I love Mexico.
Misery is somehow transcended here.
By what? By whom?
In Juchitan you hit the Pacific Ocean where you catch the sun going into the water.
Coronita beer is five cents at the Salvador bar where a beautiful, brown, Mexican woman with a missing front tooth smiles and serves you even though you’re sixteen years old.
Juchitan is in Oaxaca province.
It’s an ancient, communal, matriarchal society.
It’s fiercely independent.
Everything that is run by women is beautiful.
Everything that is done by women is beautiful.
The goat’s dance precedes the slaughter, and even that is sadly prepossessing and resplendent.
You watch the blade slowly go into the flesh and don’t turn away.
Grandfather did it that way, too.
Only he needed help to hold down the swine.
And the animal’s cries were horrendous.
Do you remember that?
I told you about that; about how when I was a child, I’d run to the room at the back of the house and cover my ears and hum.
But the women even slaughter beautifully.
They give life so elegantly.
And take it back just the same.
You are in Juchitan to try to see through Graciela Iturbide’s eyes.
Only you cannot.
You can just recall her photographs.
And listen to the women of the town spin their tales: Long ago there were two hunchbacks. One was kind but the other was mean and spiteful. The two hunchbacks could not work in the village because everybody made fun of them; therefore they went into the hills to cut wood. That is, the kind one cut all the wood since the mean and spiteful one was very lazy and was always telling his companion:
–Ay!, how sick I am today. It is better if you go and cut the wood this week.
His partner, being kind-hearted, would go into the mountains and do all the work week after week…
That was Domingo Siete.
Well, part of it.
The woman who sat with me and told me that tale also used a needle to dig out a splinter from under my skin.
On my finger.
She sterilized it in the fire in her home.
She told other stories while she worked the needle into the flesh and somehow never drew blood.
El Principe Oso, Blanca Flor, El Conejito Verde.
And El Chupacabra.
Not the tale, but the drink.
Banana, orange juice, pineapple juice, guava juice, and rum.
Clemencia y José:
–Very long ago there lived a couple who had a daughter named Clemencia. The mother, who was a witch, did not like Clemencia because she said the girl was a fool who was always going to church…
A fool. Always going to church.
She tells you about Graciela Iturbide.
–She went back to your country to photograph Texas.
–That is not my country. I don’t have a country.
And then she laughs because she knows you’re just a child.
Speaking in child tongues.
Speaking child words.
–Mi hijo, everybody belongs somewhere. Even if in the end, it’s just in the earth.
Other short story by Alex M Pruteanu: http://yareah.com/?p=1922