Ceramic Painting by Jennifer Ley

The Accoutrements of a Patron Saint

That laughing woman, she is very sad, senor,
because she knows the hollowness of men.
This is not a simple thing to explain,
how she tried to fill an ocean
with her heart,
but the people in the village try
because we are tired of crying.

She only cares about that rat
she is hugging to her breast, senor.
People in the village have tried
to take it away,
but she wailed until they gave it back.
It is not an especially beautiful rat,
but she says it loves her completely.

She talks to it as I talk to you,
tells it things about the world, gently
holds its small grey head to her face
to make sure it is paying attention,
and then it hides inside her blouse,
wrapped around her belly
like an unborn child.

She is still very pretty, is she not?
People in the village give her food and clothes
because she is a special person.
These things I have told you
because you may not have the time to see
what the village knows in its sleep.

It used to be the train station
was not an hour on a horse away, senor.
It was right over there, beyond those houses
by the tracks. When that woman
was a wide-eyed little girl, she would run
when she heard the whistle,
stop by the tracks and wave
when trains pulled into the station.

Men would throw her pennies and candies,
and as she got older,
they would beckon her to the platform,
pat her head softly, touch her shoulders,
ask her for directions, smile too broadly,
invite her out for a drink. These were men
who treated her like scenery, senor,
but she didn't want to believe this was so,
so she loved them.

There were many promises, of course:
many fine words woven into her ears.
Some came back with flowers
and left the tarnished bracelets she is wearing.
The last one stopped here many times.
They danced, they made love in the fields under stars,
he told her how he loved his city
as much as she loved her village,
and then he came and left with their daughter,
a tiny baby, in a single afternoon.

She discovered the rat while she cried for her loss
on a train station bench.
It is not like the rats around here, senor.
It must have come on the train.
When she saw it, she stopped crying.
She gave it cookie crumbs from her pocket.
It followed her home. That is when
the laughter began. That was a year
before the tornado.

You saw the remains of houses
on your way here, did you not?
I was told the tornado danced
along the railway tracks, swinging
this way and that way. Many people died.
There was no place they could go.

The laughing woman saw it first.
She yelled and yelled,
and people in the village gathered on the street.
We watched her stand before it,
swing her arms and sway
while the rat sat on her shoulder.
She was making love to this tornado, senor,
I am sure of it.

When it seemed that the tornado was upon us,
she raised her arms and fell to the ground.
The tornado moved that way, toward the tracks.
We heard the cracks and snaps of lumber.
We saw the train station lift
and turn and disappear,
and we were showered with splinters.

Priests come to the village
because they hear the story. It is not
always the same story. Sometimes they ask
if it is true that the rat can talk. They ask us,
have there been other miracles?
And we laugh, senor, and tell them the story
and tell them one miracle was enough.

Bob Wakulich

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