Taino

it took about three hours to get to Los Angeles Street

from Mission Avenue

with its grandiose blocks of junked cars

guys who waved flags like bull fighters

funneling you into their driveways

to get your muffler fixed for $75

i thought about Hemingway’s story

looking down at the dirty greased earth

wondering why i wasn’t dead that afternoon

trying to find the lesson or the meaning

of that certain event in my life

my body hurt

the concrete was harder than i had ever remembered

the worn sole of my one right Chinese girl shoe

mouthed slowly at every step i’d take

as it “peeoed-peeoed” at me

like baby birds demanding food

i thought of my left shoe

it became a casualty

strewn under a fire escape at Werdin Place

i imagined my shoe there

embalmed with bum urine and cigarette ash  

never really felt self-pity

until that moment

my one black sock

still on my left foot

i stank like Camels and latex

i was dirty all the way

deep into the marrow

i consoled myself

tearing the bandages from my throat and my left ring finger

the bandages caused me to admit defeat

worst yet

victimhood

i sat on the curve of Sunset and Spring St.

to cry amongst the scent of taquitos and Peking duck 

knock knock knock bang bang bang

“Ay! I goingg, cheeett!” said a husky voice from behind 303

“Ciao, Taino,” i whispered

“Ave Maria! Niňa, what happen to juu?! Alvaro, Alvaro! Cojeme el first aid kit!” tisked Taino

“I’m good doll. I just took a little beating late last night. I’ve already seen the doctors,” i explained

Taino dressed in a paisley green red and gold muumuu

ignored my answer

heavy mocha hands gently pulled and tugged

at the hoodie full of blood

his thick long red taloned fingers

negotiated with my bruises

fussing over me

Taino’s fiery short red bob

swooshed back and forth

past his round jowls

right below the heavy rouge line

he ordered his friend

to go get dragon won ton soup

Gatorade and ginger ale right quick

while Taino spoon fed me

he would rattle on

about simpler times

in the Puerto Rican mountains 

about his mother’s cuisine

after a long day at work

Taino would look at me tenderly

eyelids thickly lacquered  

blue shadow and black fake eye lashes

akin to window awnings

while he lined me

i’d caress his thick indigenous cinnamon face

that is why i named him Taino

“O.k. niňa vamos a dormir now mi reina.” he whispered in my ear

as he spooned me

telling his roommate Alvaro

not to answer the “gatdam” door to anyone

“Taino, do you believe in God?” i remember slurring

“Oh, si mami, claro.” Taino agreed in a hush

“Taino, is your mom happy you are like a woman? I am Taino, I love you,” those words crawled

out of my mouth

“Ay niňa, so many questions,” i could hear him sighing

a million miles away

who’d a thought

is there such a thing as joy i don’t know what does the experience feel like is it velvety like your graying pubic hairs tickling my back does it taste like your Jack Daniel’s tongue with a Winston smokey chaser down my throat i want to say it looks like your strong rough hands with tiny scars on the tops and intricate lines on the palms of your warrior hands does joy smell like your sweat fossil grease gun powder breeze and the wind of America in your hair i bet joy sounds deep and blue like when you recite beautiful lies in my ears

advantage

i’m drunk on confusion you see Stockholm syndrome all up inside of me we’ve had a different mix here and there cast multiple rolls only to find myself back at your door i can lie to myself think that i’m strong a bad bitch a winner but i know that i’m wrong for reasons unknown you stabbed me up and i done you wrong we went our own way several times but always united by the love to our life immaturity by my side you took a shot and i had to take five and as time passes by the bitter salt crust seems to fall off i concede your advantage you have my heart

take a stab at it

the way i fall in love

is complicated in its simplicity

love my insides

my outsides are just temporary

my heart and my soul is where it’s at

the warmth of a hand the kiss of a feather

the ride of comet flying through Mars

the thought of a blessing

but you can’t be a coward

if i fall into madness

the turbulence rough

the motivation sunken

in dark hole obsession

you have to sink with me

and hold on to me tight

my spirit will guide us

don’t turn off my light

of course i love diamonds

and rubies and gold

when you gift them to me

so i can feed the ailing

the old and defenseless

flowers are lovely

and i adore all their essence

but to turn me on

shower the assholes the finks

and the bastards with words of

kindness wisdom and laughter

and if i fight don’t come to my rescue

but i won’t begrudge you if you

leave me to rescue an innocent life

human or animal it doesn’t matter

and if you know MacBeth that’s even better

and you mustn’t be angry when i share

my space with Johnny and Dee Dee and Joey and Marky

one last thing you gotta be a great kisser

Little Christmas at Maggie Rose Doyle’s

Margaret Rose Doyle was crying when I stayed with her on Sunday January 6, 1980; Little Christmas she called it. Her face was drenched in tears just as the brandy cakes on her kitchen counter were soaked with booze. The whites of her green eyes turned salmon pink and her porcelain cheeks boiled hot with sad emotion. Maggie’s breath fumed from the useless curses and the bitter whiskey. My tio Gjeo had admitted, again, to infidelity. She didn’t have to tell me, I had always known that face. It was a communal mask shared by the hapless women who entangled themselves with the rambling men of my family.

The revelation didn’t stop my Maggie from throwing herself and a bunch of surly biker mommas the biggest post-Christmas Day party in Silver Lake. As I understood it, Little Christmas was a party mostly for women and girls practiced in Ireland, Maggie’s homeland. On this date the three wise men allegedly reached baby Jesus and the epiphany that he was the Savior was proclaimed.

My 9 year old mind could not reconcile what Baby Jesus and biker women partying and getting drunk had to do with each other on account of what I had learned about Christianity from the kids’ show Davey and Goliath. Davey was a Lutheran. I liked the show because Davey, the boy, was always getting into some kind of moral dilemma with his big brown talking dog, Goliath. Davey hardly ever did the right thing, but he wasn’t cursed to Hell during the episode and usually got to learn an important life lesson instead. I liked the idea of going against the grain for a good cause and not being punished for it. Yes, that was my life at the time: talking Lutheran dogs, cheating men and drunken women. On this particular Little Christmas, I had a terrible dilemma.

My greatest joy during Maggie’s parties was to watch the women talk and laugh, particularly because the rest of the year they were raging or crying over guy problems. I’d serve them cocktails and sometimes would stick my tongue in their glasses to have a taste myself. Vodka became my favorite and by the ripe age of 9 and half I could drink about a cup and sleep fine through the night without throwing up and without waking up with bad breath. Vodka and I had a very nice relationship in my youth.

Through their essence of boisterous character and furious conversation I felt like I was part of something. They’d pet me, call me “China Doll” and call me stuff in Italian, like piccola signora (little lady). There were a few South American ladies too, with short tempers who’d always call me nina or preciosa. In their thick exotic accents, they would tell me stories of how they got the shiners on their faces. I knew they didn’t fight off a purse snatcher as they claimed. I knew my dad’s friends gave them those bruises. I felt helplessly sad for them, but I just smiled, refreshed their drinks and complimented their hair, make-up and jewelry. They really liked that kind of attention, but I didn’t understand why.

There was this golden, olive toned Italian lady, Carmela Clemente. She was a curvy woman with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was known for dating a few of my uncle’s biker buddies. I liked Carmela because she was known as a cascavel, the rattle snake amongst the biker boys. I even think she went a few rounds with my dad in the love ring, but she mostly liked the sand blonde dudes from the San Fernando Valley. Carmela’s meaty hands spoke before her thick magenta lips did. She was as friendly as she was striking in her manner of not putting up with the guys’ poor treatment of the women they dated. Carmela hid blades in her hair which she showed me in the bathroom one time, because Los Angeles was molto pericoloso, very dangerous. I also heard stories of her cutting up guys’ break lines and their faces if she felt they weren’t treating her nicely. I thought it was funny she felt Los Angeles was dangerous to her. Nevertheless, I wanted to be bad ass like her when I grew up later that summer when I’d be 10.

Maggie and I got up around 5 that Little Christmas morning to clean up the house, but mainly to spend a little time together before the festivities started. I made her coffee and she fixed me a cup of Nescafe with lots of milk and a few tablespoons of Nestle Quick. “For your health, little one.” She cooed at me.

My uncle wasn’t home from Bakersfield yet. After we drank our coffee and talked about me going over to Gardner Elementary in West Hollywood next year, we went into the garage to get her giant, see through plastic bins to store away her Christmas Day decorations later on when her guests arrived as she traditionally got her guests to help her do. I could tell that Maggie was upset about something. She would walk in and out of the house, her face wasn’t made up, and she took quite a few shots of whiskey when she thought I wasn’t looking. But, being the little soldier that I was trained to be, I was always looking.

As I grew up, my love for Maggie was complicated. Often this love was sickly, full of stomach butterflies, confusion, and frustration. I didn’t like her drinking. Her longing for her country caused me to fear losing her, and my uncle’s cheating on her caused me to harbor conflicting feelings of anger toward him.

If you were female, living with a man from my family meant you had to be tough, loyal and with an incredibly open mind and closed mouth. Males were expected to work hard, party harder, make money and be loyal to each other. Maggie served my uncle with a subtle cognitive dissonance. She had to in order to keep her sanity intact. She struggled to keep her identity as a strong, intelligent, beautiful, deserving woman, so she drank and spent his money. She was loyal and faithful to my uncle in spite of his actions. Perhaps she felt indebted to him for giving her a home and for supporting her and her two then teen aged sons after arriving in New York way before I was born. Maggie and her sons were in America illegally after having had her husband murdered in Northern Ireland was what she’d tell her girlfriends.

Maggie encouraged me to learn all I could about science, Astronomy, history and anthropology and, as soon as I was walking, I faintly recall her move empty liquor bottles to the sink and the random slumbering biker from the party the night before from the kitchen counter to finish their sleep on the floor so that she could plop me on the counter instead. Then she’d read to me from National Geographic, the L.A. Times or her special books from the book case. She loved Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare and Dos Passos, although at that young time in my life I had no idea what impact any of them had made in the world. When I was a teen, she claimed that she’d seen Bukowski and a young girlfriend at Musso and Franks once.

My Maggie Rose also loved her whiskey, more than me sometimes. But for long periods of my life, she was my only mother figure. Maggie would fight both of my parents when she saw that they would abandon me. Maggie would feed and clothe me and made sure I went to school most of the time. Maggie taught me how to dress and groom myself and how to be a lady while eating at the table. And, it was from Maggie that I learned how to mask hurt, betrayal and anger with booze, smiles and laughter.

Tio walked through Maggie’s kitchen door at about ten that morning, his Rolling Stones tee shirt inside out and an aura of Channel perfume all around him. At the sink, I was babbling about cherry flavored candy canes while washing the dirty coffee cups when I saw Maggie and Gjeo locking eyes, his hands half way up trying to articulate an excuse out of the sugar cookie scented kitchen air.

There were no words expressed or exchanged. Maggie put on her communal mask of pain, and asked Gjeo to go into the garage with her. When they walked back into the kitchen, she was gracefully devastated. She smiled at me then him, she talked about the garden, about taking me to the movies and China Town and going to Sun Valley or Saugus to see the horses. The bigger her heart wound got, the bigger she’d smile and the tighter she clung to Gjeo’s neck to show me that everything was o.k. and then she’d poured gin and orange juice into a plastic, turquoise tumbler.

Gjeo cupped my face with his big hands dirty with betrayal. He didn’t look at me with his hazel gypsy boy eyes, but asked if I wanted to go to House of Pies for breakfast. I hugged his legs because my 9 year old self hurt for them both and I did not know how to fix them. I shook my head “no” with a lump in my throat and as I let go of his rock steady legs, I quickly flashed on how those same hands rescued me from my father, provided for me, and held me tight when I couldn’t sleep at night. Tio quietly went into his room to rest. I was very confused in my sense of loyalty and integrity: I loved them both, but even though my uncle was my blood, Maggie was a hurt human being. In my 9 year old heart, this wasn’t right and some kind of action on my behalf was required to set the universe of our house on balance again.

After meticulously winding up what seemed to be 40 acres of Christmas lights and entertaining Maggie’s leather and denim clad girls, I stole away to the back patio of the house and opted not to wait until I grew up in the summer. I decided to be like Carmela Clemente that afternoon. Taking out offerings of three C and H 5 pound sugar bags and one and a half bottles of Mrs. Butterworths syrup from a brown Safeway paper bag, I introduced the gifts into the tanks of my uncle’s 5 Harleys and 3 Ducatis. “Rompapapa-rompapapa that, tio!” I sighed with satisfaction in my mind. I was very unlike baby Jesus that day and I never watched Davey and Goliath again.