High Priestess Beatriz

by Amalia Bueno

Through the kitchen window’s faded
yellow lace curtains, a casual line ambles
down the sidewalk, all clad in black.
The women come, solemn, purposeful.
Some clutch closed umbrellas
this drizzly night, others bring food,
and each is armed with her own rosary.

They nod to assorted prayer goers
hanging out in the garage, add
their assorted footwear at the doorstep
and slip easy in the small fan-cooled
living room, arranging themselves
in semi-circles around the makeshift altar
to begin the evening’s work.

The room soon hums in waves
of sing song chants, ritual, tradition.
The high priestess on her knees
with stiff straight back, fixes her gaze
on the white-faced gilded Santo Nino.
She keeps the novena moving
and the women responding
to her calls for mercy
to her pleas for safe passage
to her begging for forgiveness
to her please, please hear us, hear us
to forgive us O lord have mercy
for nearly two hours it goes and comes,
her cadence a hypnotic scale of up
then down of call and response.

My generation cannot not keep up
with the mother tongue and its English
reckonings. We don’t know the Ilokano
cosmos, don’t hear the double meanings,
cannot name the river your soul rode away on
last year. But we pay homage anyway
as it’s been done for generations
and hope at least one of us
is paying attention.

 

Amalia Bueno’s poems and stories have been published in various anthologies, journals and magazines. Her poetry chapbook, Home Remedies, is forthcoming in 2015 from Finishing Line Press. She is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

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