Category Archives: Mexico customs

The Tile Layers

 

The Tile Layers

The tile cutter on his knees whistles “Fur Elise—”
five measures over and over—all day with no surcease.
A younger man behind him, in another room,
whistles tunelessly in rhythm as he wields a broom.
Hod carriers laugh and loudly call. Comida will be soon.
One of the youngest sings out a jolly ribald tune.
Their labors hard, their hours long as they hauled and carried,
and yet they have not seemed distressed, back sore, stressed or harried.

As they go to take comida, they move with one assent
as if to be relieved of where their labor time is spent.
Outside my wall they line the curb, their legs stretched in the street
to eat their warm tortillas­­­­––their chiles, beans and meat.
The only time they’re quiet is now their mouths are chewing,
for they are never silent when they are up and doing.
Five minutes and then ten pass as the silence swells around me,
until I feel the magnitude of silence might astound me.

Then one quiet voice is heard, and then another slowly after.
But still no music, calling out, whistling or laughter.
I can imagine well the scene. They’re spread out in the shade,
on their backs just resting in the shadows trees have made.
An hour’s camaraderie, like school kids taking naps,
their ankles crossed, their dusted clothes, their work hats in their laps.
Against their quietness, a motor hums out from afar.
Persistent birdcalls interrupt the tire crunch of a car.

A lawnmower chops at grass below. My clock ticks out the time.
This hour’s quiet interlude is almost sublime.
They must wonder what I do clattering on these keys––
my room cut off from all the dust , but also from the breeze.
The large dog’s bed is in a cage with an open door.
The little dog forsakes his bed to curl up on the floor
nearer the larger, older dog, although he’s sound asleep.
They too prefer to sleep as one, their brotherhood to keep.

An hour passed, the jefe wakes and jostles all his neighbors
who find their voices as they waken to resume their labors.
The gentle scrape of trowels sets the rhythm for
young men shouldering hods of what old men spread on the floor.
The jefe scolds for tiles mismeasured, rails against the waste
of both time and materials lost because of haste.
After the day’s siesta, they work three hours more.
They measure, chip and cut and smooth, then fit and trim each door.

By day’s end, hands are coated, and collars ringed with sweat.
The dust of their day’s labors in their work clothes firmly set.
But folded in each backpack they once rested heads upon
is a fresh change of clothing that later they will don.
Cleaned and pressed, they’ll walk on home unmarked by dust or dirt,
ready for the ladies to admire and to flirt.
For a man’s not made of merely the work that he might do,
and when he leaves his labors, his day begins anew.

Actually, I was imagining the scene described in the poem as the house hushed for an hour after a morning and early afternoon of extreme noise. Diego and Morrie were imprisoned in the small run outside my door but in sight of the front entrance gate all the men had vanished through, tortured by observing all the activity they couldn’t get their paws on, not to mention all those lunches in the back packs.  Then, after I wrote the poem and started to hear a few voices from what seemed to be a direction not anticipated in my poem, I went out to the living room to see the younger members of the crew hunched over their smart phones on my patio, first watching some drama, then talking to what sounded like female voices. One lay stretched out as expected, but by the pool rather than out on the sidewalk. (I had earlier invited them to eat at the patio table and the table in the gazebo, but they had preferred to warm their tortillas in my microwave and then go eat in the street.) My former stereotypes dashed, I then ventured beyond my walls into the street, and there found the older generation living up to former experience and present expectations.

(Click on first photo to enlarge all.) 

Lighting a Candle for San Antonio: Five Days, Five Photos, Five stories, Day 1

Five Days, Five Photos, Five Stories, Day 1

Lighting a Candle for San Antonio

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When I arrived home and found the candle burning next to the virgin of Guadalupe on the counter between my kitchen and dining room, I took a fast survey.  It wasn’t mother’s day as there was no photo of my mother next to it.  The celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe was months away.  It wasn’t Dia de los Muertos.  What could this new conflagration represent?

I had left soon after Yolanda arrived in the morning. She had run out to the car with coffee in my go mug and a bottle of water.  Sweet Yolanda, who was half mother, half sister.  She had been helping me since I moved to Mexico fourteen years before: cleaning my house, bringing a local healer to my house when I was ill to “cure” me via massage, now and then bringing her babies for me to dance around my house as she cleaned or ironed or washed clothes.

We had a wonderful symbiotic relationship.  She made my house a home and relieved me from tedious tasks so I could write.  I was her chief bank and no-interest loan officer…loaning the money for their new house, more land, a new used car when theirs was totaled by a drunk with no insurance. She always paid me back, either via installments deducted from her salary or in lump sums sometime down the line.

Yolanda, Pasiano my gardener, their families and I went on short vacations together to the Guadalajara zoo or to see the wildflowers in Tapalpa, loading up my full-sized van to capacity. This happens in Mexico.  Your gardener and housekeeper become your extended family and you become theirs.

So it is that Yolanda occasionally sets me right in the world as well.  The first year I didn’t build a Day of the Dead altar for my husband, she queried.  “Oh, so you no longer miss your husband?”  I built a shrine.  On mother’s day, she was the one who moved my mother’s picture from the guest bedroom onto the counter next to the virgin and lit a candle.

What was the candle for this time?  I asked her on Wednesday, when she arrived for one of her three-times-weekly three hour sessions.  This time, Senora, it was for San Antonio.  He was the finder of lost things, and we had been searching in vain for weeks for the lost cord and microphone for my amplifier.  The bowl of water under the glass with the candle in it was to cool the glass so it didn’t shatter.

I had let the candle burn all day until I went to bed.  When Yolanda arrived two days later, she lit it again.  Then hours after her arrival as I still sat at my computer blogging my blog, she came into the room carrying a large Ziploc plastic bag.  It was the cord and mike!

“Where did you find it?”  I asked.

“It was in with the sheets,” she answered.

“We’ve been losing a lot of things lately,” I said.  “Remember when we looked for weeks for my bag of lost keys and I found them in the drawer with the light bulbs?”

“Yes,” she answered.  “And do you remember that I lit a candle that day as well?”

Let me say right now that I am not a religious person.  I don’t pray, although now and then in a really stressful situation, I will address the God of my youth.  But, I am coming to have faith in Yolanda.  When she tells me to light a candle, I do so. And I’ve never missed a Day of the Dead Shrine since her last reminder.

I was nominated by Irene Waters for this challenge.  You can see her first day’s submission HERE.

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