Vicktoria Peru

 

Coyote Dreaming

¡Ay! que bonito es volar
A las dos de la mañana
Me agarra la bruja
me lleva al cerrito,
me sienta en sus piernas
me da de besitos.
–¡Ay! dígame, dígame,
dígame usted,
¿cuántas criaturitas
se ha chupado usted?–
–¡Ninguna, ninguna,
ninguna, no sé!
ando en pretenciones
de chuparme a usted.–

                           --Mexican Folksong

 

BIO

Vicktoria Peru is a recent graduate from the University of Arizona where she received a BA in English and Creative Writing. She currently lives in Tucson, AZ. 

Instagram: @sangre_tucsonan 
Facebook: Vicktoria Peru 
Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/vicktoria-peru 

I hear the soft crunch of the dirt shifting beneath la bruja’s huaraches as she walks through the valley. It’s nighttime in the desert, the full moon encircled in a golden, red halo slowly shows its face from behind the Catalina mountains. She stops suddenly and drops to the floor pausing to inspect something. Pressing her finger to the ground she brings it to her nose and sniffs it, then smiles a long toothless smile. She jerks her head up and releases a cackle into the night that resonates throughout the illuminated valley. Almost immediately, cackles from every direction answer in turn. She cackles again, this time more like a chirp. The voices answer back with different chirps, some short, some longer, some indicating hunger, others excitement. I’m panting, hiding behind the palo verde I so desperately wish was thick enough to conceal me. The moonlight shines on her fingertips for a moment and they glisten with fresh blood. She cackles again and this time, as if she were aware of my presence all along, her eyes quickly shift to the exact spot where I am crouched and breathless. The cackling and chirping from all directions turns into one single unified howl. We share eye contact for a moment and she smiles. Her smile touches her eyes, an almost warm smile at first but then her lips pull back from her toothless, blackened gums and she jerks her chin up then cackles one last time, this time turning into a blood chilling scream. The howling responds by turning into multiple high-pitched screams, finally closing in from all sides.

I lie in bed shivering, hearing my blood pumping in my ears and for a few seconds of confusion I think the dream has carried over into reality, that demons have surfaced on Earth or that we’d descended into hell. The screams I realize are real, the cackling not from a bruja as I had imagined, but from something far more terrifying and bestial. In my freshly woken stupor it takes me some time to recognize the horrific cacophony outside my window and what the cause was. The high pitched screams turn into vicious snarls and barking. One scream stands out from the rest. This scream was unlike the others in that it exhibited fear. Pure, animalistic fear. Still half asleep, my eyes watering from trying to wake up too quickly, I can’t help but do anything except lie there paralyzed with terror and incomprehension. I don’t know how I’ve learned to recognize the sound of a dying animal but I do. Perhaps a primitive sort of recognition, or maybe because this one was a smaller more depleted scream in sharp contrast with the others which exhibited excitement, and I recognize it as belonging to a rabbit. The rabbit screams out from the snarling and tearing and I reorient myself. I remember where our house is– planted right under the Catalina mountains in Oro Valey and directly in the path of a coyote pack’s hunting territory, more often than not hunting in the early hours of the morning. My German Shepherd Naíla lifts her head in response to me waking. I run my fingers through her fur and she lays her head back down, completely and bewilderingly undisturbed by the mesh of animal noises right outside our window. The dying scream slowly ebbs away and the pack moves off with its kill, yipping in the distance. Naíla yawns and stretches her body. I grab my phone off the nightstand and check the time– 2 a.m.. I still myself, controlling my breathing and I can hear the pumping blood in my veins starting to relax. I begin to pray.

The Sonoran Desert, with its harsh and unforgiving landscape and equally unforgiving wildlife, its monsoon season, and its breathtaking sunsets seem to be teeming with undiscovered magic. As a child I grew up in several towns north and south of the border: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Nogales (AZ and Son.) and Cananea. The first person to teach me about magic was my cousin Margarita– her mother was a bonafide bruja. Margarita’s mom, Maíte, came from what my mother once referred to once as “a group of Indians” people with strange ways and, ultimately decided, evil and anti-Catholic customs. Maíte was decidedly evil. She was deemed evil because she rejected her motherly duties, leaving Margarita in the care of our Abuelita. It was decided by my mother and my Abuelita that through her brujeria she must have seduced my Tio, then his brother. She spent her time drinking and reading cards, growing herbs, sleeping with various men and lighting black candles to Santisima Muerte. Margarita confirmed all of this when she would tell me her mother also had a pet snake that she’d sleep with because it was the reincarnated soul of the devil.

When I was five she took me to Maíte’s and said I’d see some real magic. Maíte always had a smile that never reached her eyes. She never smiled in pictures and never had any joy in her laugh, except sometimes a malicious one when she was making fun of something or someone.

Que? Quieres hacer brujeria? She asked me with a sly smile.

Ven te voy a enseñar.

Almost immediately I regretted my decision to come. Sensing my reluctance she said No tengas miedo ven, te voy a enseñar algo.

She led me to her room with Margarita walking behind me. I kept thinking about how I was at Maíte’s house without permission. My mother had expressly forbidden me from setting foot in her house and would have been furious had she found out. Her room was dark and smelled a bit damp, qualities I assumed to be those of a bruja’s bedroom. My eyes nervously started to look around for her pet snake. She pulled out a small, wooden box from her dresser and told me to look inside. From the distance where I was standing I wasn’t able to see and I was loathe to get any closer to her.

Ven! Ven! No tengas miedo. She repeated more forcefully.

My cousin giggled behind me.

Ve! No te va asustar Vick Margarita said, snorting from trying to contain her laughter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect and I knew running out of the room would not be an option with my cousin forcefully nudging me from behind.

I slowly inched forward and saw nothing but an empty box, but before I could say anything my cousin poked my rib hard and made a loud hiss. I screamed and ran out of the room crying, with my cousin and Maíte laughing behind me.

         My family consists of mainly women. We grew up with half or completely absent fathers and husbands. My Abuelita’s house was run by the grand matriarch herself with little to no male presence. The females made their presence and dominance known even when the men were home. It was their house.  None of their bullshit would be tolerated at Abuelita’s. When parties and festivities happened Abuelita kept a watchful eye on both the girls and the men. When the men got too drunk and started misbehaving, like a pack of coyotes the women would close in and scream at the men and kick them out of the house or berate them into place. Not a single man dared lift a hand towards them while they were at my Abuelita’s. They knew who fed them, who gave them a bed when they were too drunk, and who would come after them with a vengeance if any of them touched the girls under her watchful eye. But recognizing that her eyes could not be everywhere at once, on every daughter, every granddaughter, Abuelita would usher me to bed first.

Pero no me quiero dormir I’d tearfully complain.

Abuelita would get mad then and start cursing. Tail between my legs, I’d retreat into the bedroom where either my mother or a Tia would sleep next to me with their arms holding me protectively as I tried to fall asleep while nearly being smothered.

Pero la Margarita y la Araceli no se tienen que dormir I’d say with one last attempt at letting me stay up late.

“Margarita and Araceli can do whatever damn pleases them, you’re going to bed” my mother would answer in English with a final tone. Realizing it was no use, I’d do my best to sleep in spite of the laughter, the music and my mother holding me tightly in her arms even when I was no longer considered a child. After parties like that I’d wake up early, almost hoping that the party would still be going on but to my disappointment everyone would be asleep already. On one particular morning I woke to hear my Abuelita and Tias huddled around in a pack reprimanding my cousins for their loose behavior. Even with all her strength there were times my Abuelita couldn’t get a handle on the men and their drunkenness. When this would happen she would curse and hit the girls and the rest of the pack would follow suit.

The women in my family reflect the landscape on which we were born and raised–unforgiving and rough. Not surprising as the flora and fauna reflect this too, especially the cacti and ocotillo that ward off any physical contact and offer no water and little nutrition. Like the wildlife and vegetation, we had adapted too. We descended from the Pascua Yaqui, a native tribe which had roamed this land for countless generations. They knew where to find water in the desert when there was none to be found, which plants you could eat, where you could hunt deer and rabbit. We were tied to this land just as the flora and fauna were with their roots. Truly mestizas for we were mixed with Spanish blood. I’ve often heard my Abuelita and native Sonorans say Aqui naci, y aqui me muero. My great-great grandmother Amparo, was a Pascua Yaqui Indian and a midwife, back when Cananea was in its developing stages. Abuelita would tell me stories about how her grandmother was the one doctors would call when they were faced with a difficult labor or pregnancy. Her form of brujeria was she knew how to turn a breech baby and how to prevent a miscarriage. Her brujeria was that not a single mother or baby had died on her watch. Our family lost touch with this part of our heritage somewhere along the generations. Our tongues no longer spoke Yaqui for we had replaced it with Spanish. I have always wondered what secrets and wisdom Amparo could have imparted on me. Like a protection spell, I have called on her name to shield me. It was Amparo’s name I would call on tonight. I believe she came and with her magic chased away whatever shapeshifter bruja wished to enter my dreams. On this night I pray and invoke the names of all my mothers and their mothers to guard me as I slept through this difficult night. Like praying the rosary, except with every bead I repeated their names instead…Martha, Theresa, Francisca, Amparo, Victoria…

Like the monsoon season which offers life and relief from the scorching heat, our women could be nurturing too. But when their love came it came in torrents and could sweep you away until you drowned. They equated love with pain, to them there was no in between. You were either smothered with affection or loved so much sometimes you needed to be reminded of it with a beating. I would sometimes try and justify this love by observing pack behavior in other social animals. When a member of the pack is off course or disobeys, the pack leader will make it known, usually with a snarl or a hurtful nip at first. They were there for one another when it truly mattered and that was all that mattered. They kept each other warm on cold nights, ate and slept and wept together, though rarely in each other’s presence. Weeping was permissible sometimes, but mostly it was a display of weakness and each one had to know who she could do it in front of, who wouldn’t use it against her later. Weeping was displaying the soul. To them it was rolling on your back as a sign of deference, of submission.  

I was sensitive and cried a lot. These displays of emotion would often mark me as the weakest member of the pack as far as some of my relatives were concerned. My cousin Araceli would dabble in brujeria too, but hers was a different kind. Hers was putting all her energies into creating a mask, one that would shield her from any attack.

“You gotta make them think that you don’t care” she’d say to me one day.

“You gotta make them think that they could die and you wouldn’t even cry.”

Her brujeria was sculpting a mask that gave away no sign of emotion, in other words no sign of weakness. She did this slowly and painstakingly because she would no longer allow herself to be considered the weakest member of the pack.

“When they hit you, you gotta take it and you gotta say ‘hit me again!’” and they’re gonna hit you again. They’re gonna hit you harder and harder but the way you get through that is you get angry. Get so angry you don’t feel the pain. And then they’ll get so tired from hitting you but not getting you to back down that they’ll walk away and that’s how you win.”

My Tio would beat Araceli mercilessly. In response to this she had learned to rework the saying “turn the other cheek.”

I was in awe of her strength and bravery and that of my family. Qualities I felt I never would possess. I was the weakest member of the pack, and everyone knew it. I was the only one who didn’t have magical powers, didn’t have a form of brujeria to call my own. I was the one who would scare easily so I was fun to prank and I was the one that got put to bed first.

Because of this walking through the desert for me was usually a quest in search of magic. When I’d see the air shimmering from heat, I was sure it was me stumbling on something magical and those times I was sure I could be a bruja like the real ones in my family. That I could transform myself like they could too.

In the months of September and October, Catholics make a pilgrimage to the city of Magdalena in honor of San Francisco and also to behold the bones and resting place of Padre Kino. Pilgrims walk when they want to accomplish a goal and the walk is considered a form of devotion. A plea for a favorable outcome when pursuing one’s goal. Others walk as a form of tribute or remembrance, such as when a loved one passes away. My mother made a promise to San Francisco that if she could find her brother, dead or alive, she would make the trek from Cananea to Magdalena– a 394 mile walk and that she’d do so for five years in a row. My mother did find her brother, but not alive as she’d prayed. While attempting to cross the border illegally, my Tio Pancho was separated from his group and died from exposure. Nevertheless my mother had made her promise and San Francisco had completed his. She would make the pilgrimage five years in a row.

One can dedicate themselves to San Francisco two different ways: by walking or providing aid to the ones who walk. I had no goals to accomplish. No one to mourn or pay tribute to with the religious fervor my mother had. But on the fifth and final year of my mother’s promise, I dedicated myself by driving from one checkpoint to another, waiting for my mother and her group to arrive and providing water, pan dulce, burros de papas y huebo, and candies. Then I’d drive ahead with supplies in my car, a few miles at a time, and repeated the process. Waiting hours at a time for the others to arrive. After taking off and waiting at a checkpoint, my sisters and I waited in the car and I fell asleep. My sisters complained of the heat and boredom but I leaned my seat back and closed my eyes, letting myself fall into a trance one falls into during hot days.

When my mother’s group arrive to Magdalena, their first desire is to collapse on the ground after walking close to four hundred miles but they know they mustn’t. First, they must go inside the church and light a candle to San Francisco for whom they have dedicated their pilgrimage. They wait in line to touch the feet of the icon and lift its head carefully, lovingly. Some kiss and weep at the statue of the saint that kept their tired, blistered feet going. Then on to see and offer a prayer at the bones of Padre Kino. In the church plaza, the Pascua Yaqui perform their dances, one being the deer dance. During this dance, the dancer blinds himself by wrapping a cloth over his eyes and places the head of a deer on top of his own. His dance mimics the movements of the deer, bowing its head to graze and looking up suddenly in response to danger. The dance is a tribute to the deer who provides warmth, meat and many uses with its hide.

This dance entrances me every year I watch it. The dancer’s movements, the beating of the drums, the singing and chanting all paired with the ebbing heat at dusk put me in a quiet state of reflection and near hallucination. When the dancer lifted its deer head suddenly in response to a hunter I could feel the lifeless, taxidermy eyes of the deer looking straight at me as I stared back at it. It’s eyes glimmered from the light of the plaza and I wondered if this was how the deer looked at its hunter before it was shot down. I wondered how they had been able to capture the fear in its eyes when they preserved it. In that moment, I felt I saw the deer blink its eyes at me and I in turn blinked back at it. I told my mother this and she laughed softly, in a state of joy and reverie that she had finally completed her mission. She told me “We’re all tired mijita.” It brought me back to my suspicions that the desert had magic in it, if not in the air as I had thought then perhaps through the wildlife and through the native inhabitants. Before we left Magdalena that year I got in line to touch the icon of San Francisco. I held its feet then lifted its head, unsure of what these gestures meant but recognizing that it was a sacred moment, then thanked him for whatever moment of reverie I had had in the plaza.

Lucille Clifton wrote “the ones who live in the desert, if you knew them you would understand everything.” We are the still ones and the rough ones. We are the cacti that you have heard carry water within them, but when you break us open you find nothing but dust. And yet we survive. We’ve discarded those things, you see. We’ve discarded water, for we need none or very little. We’ve discarded our fear of predators because they shrink away from our needles. And yet we blossom during the spring months. We produce life even when you think we have none to offer. We’ll even offer you sweet fruit, but ones that will make your tongue bleed. But be careful not to get too comfortable around us. Take caution not to fall on us for support. We’ll prick you mercilessly and our needles will latch themselves to you so you never forget the sting. Such is the nature of the desert, of its plants and its animals. You wonder how we survive here. We wonder why anyone would require coddling.

 I think I may have discovered what kind of bruja I was, surprisingly, many years ago when I was a young child but I recognized and felt it then on that pilgrimage, in that church plaza. On one of the rare walks with my father as a child, we walked through the desert along a cerro and the heat made me tired and quiet. I remember concentrating on my shoes because looking up was too bright with the sun in my eyes. I kept my mouth closed because breathing through it made my mouth unbearably dry. I remember withdrawing into myself then. The heat makes one withdraw, it creates a stillness I have often heard others who visit the desert describe. For me it also allowed me to be still enough to retreat deeply within myself. The heat didn’t bother me, nor did the walking, nor the thirst. I learned to erase my thoughts entirely. To not just see my surroundings but allow myself to be part of them too. This stillness I realized had carried over into my adulthood.

I was still even when the others were running. I was the coyote dreaming while the rest of my family ran. They ran from abusive men, from their daughters, from their mothers and most importantly from themselves. But while the others ran I learned to be still, to not react immediately to suffering, nor to anger. I learned to breathe. And wait. To call on my mothers for strength in times of danger for they were fierce and they knew I was the still one. Araceli’s craft had taught me to make a mask of my own, to be like the deer head in the plaza impartially observing those around it, not immediately reacting to pain, nor to fear. To wait with the heat. Wait through the moment. Then keep walking.

 

I wonder if I should take her

inside, she howls all night dreaming

this she-coyote as it were

She walks upright and goes hunting

with us, and howls with us but she

is soft inside and longs for warmth

 

 

 

© The Acentos Review 2018