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Aurelia Lorca
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Art by Lonni Lees 2015

“La Guitara”

by Aurelia Lorca


            The Hollywood moon was waxing a lopsided and toothless smile.  For you, it was just another flamenco performance, but it was my first time seeing you there amid clapping and crying along with laughter of the cante on a stage below Sunset Boulevard.  The restaurant had a sign that boasted “Flamenco for over 50 years.”   The stage glowed in red and was framed by red curtains, red lights, red the color of flamenco, red the color of love. As you played I wondered what it was that you yearned for? What narratives existed between your fingers? What melancholies and delights were translated from your longing?  What rhythms did your heart carry, rhythms that came down from centuries, beating in 6/8 time?

          There is a conflict of light and wind that lives under my tongue.  Sometimes I swallow knives, my stomach burns, my tongue sprouts hives, bitter red dots.  I have sought where it comes from, the sun of my center, and found it beneath the whorls of my finger that wrestles with the static of memory cut from blank pages.

          Let me give you a little Andalusian California history—my family escaped to this country as slaves on cattle ships, “human freight” that harvested the sugar plantations, and then fled here, to the state with a made-up name. They were “others” not allowed bank accounts, loans, mortgages.  They were ghettoized, or run out of town for being Communists, whenever they tried to ask for their rights. In the Spanish Clubs Andalusians were looked down upon, gitanos weren’t talked about at all. Yeah, they sang flamenco, but there wasn’t money in it. It wasn’t entertainment, $75 VIP Forever Flamenco tickets the Ford, a chosen identity, it was their culture, one they could not escape. The money they made was from field work, gambling, number running, and bootlegging—Criminalized, because try telling a Spaniard, much less a gitano, that alcohol is against the law. One uncle killed himself, the other, a half payo half gitano Ira Hayes, was a war hero who drank himself to death.    

          My father tells me, “don’t talk about the past.”  It was what my grandfather had told him.

          However, I am a writer.  I write about the past because there is no other way to talk about the present.  I write from silence, I write from shame, I write what the ghosts tell me.  Nothing is true.  Everything is real.

          For over ten years, I have been writing about the Cannery Row of my grandparents, the one Steinbeck didn’t write.  Five years ago, I left my husband and the ghosts stopped talking.  Amid the ache of divorce, I could not write.  Stuck and desperate, I went to see a fortune teller, upon swallowing a bottle of wine and a handful of Ativan.

            A large neon sign of a palm and the word “Psychic” lit the shop’s small window.   The windows were in the old style, framed with white lace curtains.  Inside the shop, in a small front room, a family sat on folding chairs around a card table.  A baby in blue lay on a cot across from them.  A frilly bassinet of white lace and blue ribbons crowded the entry-way to what I assume was their living quarters.  It was a nice scene, and I was drunk and sweaty. 

          When I opened the glass-paned door, the family stood up and a bell tinkled.  The fortune teller told me her name and greeted me warmly.  I took her hand. Her family had clustered around me smiling when I entered the shop.  Once I took the fortune teller’s hand and they smelled the wine on my breath they stood silent with raised eyebrows. After a few awkward moments, the fortune teller limply returned my handshake.  Her hand was warm, soft, vulnerable.   He had soft hands, like a banker’s, my aunt said about her father, my great-grandfather, the gambler.   The fortune teller’s hands were my biggest link to the questions no one would let me ask.

          I spoke quickly.  I was a writer.  I wanted to know things.  It was my heritage.  Without it all else was meaningless gold.  Their forgetting was a promise.  The horizon was martyred from the world, troubled back aware.  Like with my family, the fortune teller would not allow me to ask questions.  Instead, she told me to make a wish.

          What then to know?  Do not fascinated eyes spin tales? Wish shapes?

          “I want to do good things for others,” I said.

          The fortune teller smiled.

          “That is a good wish,” she said. 

          Though she said me to remain quiet as she read the cards, I told her about the photo we found under a pile of old receipts of the older brother my grandfather refused to talk about.

          “I hope you kept it!” the fortune teller said.

          I showed her the photo.  When she looked at his picture her breath caught.

          “This is mafia,” she said.

          “I know.” 

          I told her the story—The photo was of my grandfather's oldest brother. Some say he was chased into the Sacramento River by the mafia.  His death certificate says he committed suicide, drowned. Both stories could be true.  He was a drinker. A gambler. A number runner. A gangster. A gypsy.  He died at 24 years old. He is the brother who taught my grandfather how to swim. No one will say his name though he has been dead for 80 years.  The body they pulled from the Sacramento River was 5’6” and 140 lbs.  It could not possibly have been him when he was a 6’3” monster.   When I asked my father what happened to him, the only thing he said was that I wouldn’t understand, he was born in Spain.

          “He was buried in unconsecrated land and I am convinced he is haunting us,” I said.

            The fortune teller told me to let it go, that I would never know the full story, and it was so long ago why did it matter.  She told me that if I worried about it too much, I’d risk losing my health.

          Throughout the reading we were interrupted, my cell phone, her phone, her grandchild crying on the bed next to where we sat.

          “There are spirits who do not want you to know your history,” she said.

          She smiled, I thought she understood that our family was haunted.   I was haunted.

          “Forget the past. Worry about yourself.  Listen to your dreams,” she said whenever I tried to speak.

          When I said something about gitanos, she stopped me. 

          “Who in your family was gypsy?” 

          “Him,” I said nodding to my uncle’s photo.  “My family.  Though no one will admit it.”

          The fortune teller no longer smiled.

          “They had to run, leave, to say who they were would mean death.   Leave the past alone.”

          She asked me my last name.  I told her a fake name.

          “That is not your real name.”

          “I don’t think our last name is our real name either,” I said.  “No one will talk about these things.”

          She told me she could help me go back into this history and unblock a curse from the past that stretched back hundreds of years if I paid her $500.

          I gave her the money and of course I never saw her again.

          Yet, I am a poet, a storyteller, and I can do this on my own.  Some might say it’s like casting spells. 

*     *     *

          Flamenco is a difficult art form to describe, much less write about. It is the kinesthetic, visual, and audial manifestation of raw emotion, and it can tell a million stories at once. It offers the emotionality choreo-poetry set to music and balances on the dynamic between guitarist, singer, and dancer.  The guitarist holds the melody of each dance, or palo, the cantaor improvises from the guitar, and the dancers improvise within the form or palo, and translates through his or her body the emotion of the cante, or song.  From this balance we can receive one story, many stories, or no story at all but emotion.  In short, we receive whatever we allow ourselves to be receptive to.

Aurelia Lorca is the pen-name of a woman from the borderlands of the Monterey Peninsula who has been motionless in the twist of time.   The title character of poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s last play, Dreams of My Cousin Aurelia, Aurelia Lorca was a character who lived in literature, and yet was supposed to receive a cathartic slap in the face to place her in the present.  However, her creator was murdered by fascists at the start of the Civil War in 1936, and he could not finish the play. 

Aurelia Lorca has been reborn from the mind, heart, and pen of Nicole Henares—an American writer who is the granddaughter of Andalusian immigrant cannery workers, and the daughter of civil rights workers.  Her writing largely focuses on questions of ethnicity and identity and often reassembles narratives from histories which have been forgotten as a way to remember.

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