Salmos from South Bethlehem: An Advent Memoir

Salmos from South Bethlehem: An Advent Memoir

by Pamela Smith


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466950948
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 08/03/2012
Pages: 84
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.20(d)

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An Advent Memoir

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Pamela Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-5094-8

Chapter One

    Salmo 1

    Siempre Manzanas
    (Always Apples)

    a river seeps along our street
    the sludge of gutters underneath the patches here and there
    of ice slick

    Louie our landlord who cannot see
    thinks there are still apples bulging off a backyard tree
    everywhere anywhere
    los gatos creep

    Cain and Abel Adam Eve
    I hear stories at church and think
    good food and bad bad seed
    my brothers and sister sometimes wet the sheets

    and always I am somehow worse when I hit where we live
    upstairs in a punched-in house near no one's street
    litter cinders bottles brick chips
    cigarillos fruit pits dogshit
    my tight throat chokes where shadows fall
    and suddenly a swish of feet
    a puff
    the smell of hair and joven grease

    Madre, santa,
    los borinqueños mis hermanos
    they hoot and howl at me

    -mama ven conmigo—

    pero no ronroneo
    yo no ronroneo

    but then
    I scurry down the street
    they catcall

    -psst psst—
    -ven aqui—
    -o ven acá—
    -here kitty kitty—

    ellos (they!)
    los gatos machos
    tom-tom-tom their boyhearts beat
    those tomcats



    -here sissy sissy—
    (kiss kiss kiss)

    skulking like alleycats
    smooching to themselves

    and I scat down the street


    past Maio's fruit stand
    -o las manzanas—
    his tightwad widow cries
    -pero ni naranjas ni mandarinas ni peras siquiera
    and yes we have no bananas
    the drought you know and then the freeze
    pero muchas manzanas siempre manzanas
    for you dirt cheap—

    (and worms)


    so here it is late November
    and all along the river bank

    nothing but the swollen trunks and snaky limbs of trees
    and the last limp yellow leaves

    and an old mother
    una vieja carcomida
    inches along the sidewalk
    muttering to herself

    and biting her lips
    -here pussy pussy—
    as if the skin
    is all she has to eat.

Chapter Two

    Salmo 2

    Nuestro Pan de Cada Día
    (Our Daily Bread)

    I have seen my father naked and drunk

    thirty-eight and out of work
    lost in the curls of his fat mustache
    lounging by the curb he flirts
    -chick chick—
    while in Carraquillo's kitchen mother cooks
    morning afternoon and night

    and I
    I boil beans and rice

    hermanitos hermanita
    Orlando Luis y María
    home for lunch (con apetito)
    arroz y habichuelas
    arroz amarillo y habichuelas rosadas
    rice and beans

    yellow pink
    o arroz blanco y habichuelas blancas
    (tipo puertoriqueño)
    rice and beans
    white white white
    cocidas en agua y sal
    boiled in water and salt
    morning afternoon and night

    Orlando Luis and María recite
    the only prayer in Spanish they know
    -Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo—
    -Padre nuestro—
    -Padre nuestro—

    thirty-eight and out of work
    lost in the curls of his fat mustache
    our father tinkers with an old used car
    warms his hands with his November breath
    tells dirty jokes and winks at Gloria Vasquez
    teaches Pablito down the street to curse

    Goya beans and rice
    bought at the rundown Puerto Rican Price-Rite
    -Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo—

    Papa tools his hot rod
    buys a glass-pack muffler at Auto Boys
    to make more noise
    and sticks the roadrunner decal
    -meep meep—

    next to ¡Puerto Rico Mi Encantada!
    on the dented bumper

    Papa loves his glass-pack muffler and the roadrunner trademark
    like a child with toys in a magic toybox

    Orlando Luis y María home to eat
    arroz y habichuelas y y y
    beans and rice and rice and beans

    while our father the steelworker six months laid off
    hands out beer four six-packs on the house
    our father's hot rod full of deadbeat spicks
    jiggling bottles of Corona cerveza one in each fist

    our papa
    and Pedro Felipe Enrico José
    jiggling beer bottles
    like maracas

    while in Carraquillo's kitchen mother cooks
    (con cucarachas)

    and morning afternoon and night
    I boil beans and rice
    Orlando Luis y María home to eat
    -Padre nuestro—
    this day
    -danós hoy nuestro pan de cada dia—

    bread or rice and beans

    thirty-eight and out of work
    our papa flirting tinkering joking drinking
    spends one two three four five six dollars' worth
    of mother's checks on God knows what
    but not a slice of meat

    I have seen my father naked and drunk
    rice and beans yellow and pink
    our mother at table stove and sink
    I have laughed and laughed
    laughed myself sick
    laughed my stomach into its pit.

Chapter Three

    Salmo 3

    ¿Y en la Tierra Paz?
    (And on Earth, Peace?)

    this morning this young woman
    me –ay, ay—
    humming gloria a Dios en el cielo
    glory to God in the sky
    walking to uptown
    crossed rio Lehigh
    then changed her tune and sang to herself
    -noches de angustia—
    like T 6 for 10¢ at Carraquillo's

    and why

    because a crowd of school age brats
    playing hooky and goose stepping four abreast
    goose stepping goose stepping three rows back
    a dozen white junior high creeps
    like hepped up storm troops or crazies loose from the hoosegow
    marched into me on New Street's under construction bridge
    marched into me purposely
    nudged me to the bridge walk

    poked /
    kicked /
    giggled /
    stared at their feet /
    showing me their snide teeth /
    nudged me to the side rail
    (rickety rickety) /
    half crushed my chest /
    like jackasses who bray and balk
    and pause gassing and angry where they please

    and I
    -ay de mí-
    I stood stock still
    my wind knocked out
    until the dozen desperaditos
    all pimpled stinking of sweat
    foul-breathed and tight-pantsed
    passed by the laughing hard hats
    · rat a tat tat ·

    and I who never cry
    turned back bewildered to downhill uphill Southside
    mumbling y en la tierra paz
    a los hombres que ama el Señor
    (dead water below and frozen mud)
    and on earth peace to men who love

    I who never cry
    sidled stunned into restaurant El Caribe
    where chuletas asadas were the special of the day
    -ay de mí—
    and I who never cry slumped into a far back booth
    by the pinball machines and juke
    sighing tú que quitas el pecado del mundo
    -you who take away sins—
    I bummed a cigarette
    a Kool
    and slouched like a ragged floozy
    tore from my coat the buttons that were loose
    rubbed where I was scraped and bruised
    my ribs my shins
    smoked muttering a curse
    and two
    (sadly shaking his head at the cash box glanced Señor Carraquillo)
    so I said café con leche without even por favor
    and like an icehead penguin
    I went into a brood

    thinking God o God deliver me
    from coldblood white trash enemies
    from giddy stupid school kid brutes

    in a haze of smoke I dreamed
    their flour paste faces swollen and stiff
    their skinny pink lips puffed and stitched
    sweet Jesus perdónanos perdóname
    but if cauliflower ears and broken teeth
    if I would see (o God forgive)

    those little jackbrats not spanked and slapped
    not scolded and fined
    but ganged up on
    slashed and scarred from ear to ear
    I might heehaw and jeer like a drunk muleteer.

Chapter Four

    Salmo 4

    Ten Piedad
    (Have Mercy)

    on my bed I flop
    I talk to my own heart
    -Señor ten piedad—
    -Cristo ten piedad—
    when I pass by
    the childmen watch
    as if I flounced in a skin-tight skirt hemmed up to my hips
    as if I wore red lips
    as if at night I lounged on the sill of my window
    lolled above the sidewalk
    folded my arms like estúpida Alma
    as if I never pulled my shades
    as if I lay watching tv
    in a lacy negligee
    and patted my pudgy tummy
    while I slurped from a pull-tab can
    another Rolling Rock beer
    as if I rose and rose again to see from my second storey

    who was looking across the way
    as if I went to the window by the fire escape
    to lean out to a boy who swaggers down the street
    clicking his Cuban heels with cleats
    to wave
    ojo mi novio
    joven come up
    ten una cerveza
    much beer I got—

    when I pass by
    those tontos make of me mincemeat

    once when I was seven
    and new in the parish here in Belén
    once when I was seven
    I stopped by the church
    and saw a woman at the altar rail
    kneeling with her arms outstretched
    as if she was being nailed to a cross
    she knelt and prayed till her crucified arms
    collapsed to her sides
    as if she almost gave up the ghost
    -Señor ten piedad—
    -Cristo ten piedad—

    and ever since and again and again

    I see her or someone or anyone
    some woman in a dark mantilla
    praying that way
    and I
    I shiver and jerk
    for I can almost feel the spikes driven through her hands
    I can almost see a roughneck soldier scowl and lift his mallet
    almost see him lift · hit down · lift · hit down ·
    I can almost feel the spikes drive through her hands
    ever since and again and again

    o God those sillygilly men
    those dopes who loiter around Domenico's news stand
    o God I ask
    las pesadillas
    am I a halfwit with the heebie-jeebies
    or a holy woman taking up her cross?

Chapter Five

    Salmo 5

    La Temporada Gravida
    (The Pregnant Season)

    I wake up ravenous and glad on the first day of December
    mi mes favorito
    la temporada gravida
    (la madre de Cristo)
    grinning how happy I am and hungry

    the trees
    elm black walnut oak
    whose limbs don't need a stitch of clothes
    whose topmost twigs don't smell morning coffee boiling on a gas
    burner stove
    when jumping awake on such a day is breakfast itself
    the alarm clock and morning frost

    lightly lightly

    out of bed I shimmy from pj's into underthings and slip
    and dress like a bough of holly

    red in my plaid and yellow and green
    and think I should make up a song
    like God rest ye merry cheerios
    o come all ye flapjacks
    deck the halls with plates of pan fries

    I am so unreasonably hungry
    sunnyside eggs in old fatback grease with lots of pepper and salt
    o little town of
    one cup of coffee two cups three
    Bethlehem in Pennsy

    a morning like breakfast
    a morning like a cedar chest or a mothballed closet
    a morning frost


    and my morning prayers all mixed up
    when I think María was plump and Jesús still inside and bunched up
    and the Israelites sick of waiting for Mesías
    knocking themselves out to pay taxes while the Romans took
    and José
    pobrito José

    I am a fizzbrain like this only at daybreak
    en diciembre diciembre
    because before I can decide whether to sew up a little hole
    in my almost ancient pantyhose

    and buckle my wet-look patent leather shoes
    I am humming a high school Spanish song about burros
    and thinking about Mexican jumping beans
    and coffee coffee coffee
    and how I wish I had a fiancé

    because before I am downstairs the telephone rings
    to tell my mama that Rosa's plastic curtains were open
    and her shade halfway up
    and she was just sitting at the window daydreaming
    dressed only in her slip and her room all lit
    in the very unholy halo of the lamp on her little night table

    our fuddy-duddy old sourpuss aunt
    la solterona
    la solterona oficial de toda la familia
    our skinny scarecrow aunt who lives unfortunately across the street
    our worldwide expert gossip
    our aunt who looks like a horse they forgot to feed
    la boca grande with gumless teeth and hollow cheeks
    our aunt who looks like a mummy
    de quien la boca es una sepultura abierta
    is calling as usual to fuss about her nice the nincompoop
    (who has sometimes the strange habit of happiness)

    and to chew the fat of the barrio news.


Excerpted from Salmos FROM SOUTH BETHLEHEM by PAMELA SMITH Copyright © 2012 by Pamela Smith. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Rosa Celestina Morales....................xi
Salmo 1: Siempre Manzanas (Always Apples)....................1
Salmo 2: Nuestro Pan de Cada Día (Our Daily Bread)....................5
Salmo 3: ¿Y en la Tierra Paz? (And on Earth, Peace?)....................9
Salmo 4: Ten Piedad (Have Mercy)....................13
Salmo 5: La Temporada Gravida (The Pregnant Season)....................16
Salmo 6: Confesión (A Confiteor)....................19
Salmo 7: ¿Una Caña Sacudida por el Viento? (A Reed Shaken by the Wind?)....................22
Salmo 8: Poco Menor que los Ángeles (A Little Less than the Angels)....................25
Salmo 9: La Esperanza de los Afligidos (The Hope of the Afflicted)....................29
Salmo 10: Para que No Vuelva a Aterrorizar (Just So He Doesn't Terrorize Me Anymore)....................31
Salmo 11: A la Misa del Segundo Domingo de Adviento (At the Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent)....................34
Salmo 12: Amigos (Friends)....................37
Salmo 13: Mamacita (Little Mama)....................39
Salmo 14: Toda Tu Familia Santa (All Your Holy Family)....................41
Salmo 15: Hoy Brillará una Luz (A Little Light Will Shine)....................45
Salmo 16: Dentro de un Poco (In a Little While)....................48
Salmo 17: Tú Has Probado Mi Corazón (You Have Probed My Heart)....................52
Salmo 18: Mi Asilo (My Stronghold)....................57
Salmo 19: Mi Roca (My Rock)....................58
Salmo 20: Si Dios Quiere (If God Wants)....................62
Forty-Plus Years Later....................65

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