100 Refutations: Bread and Blood

*

“Once, long ago,” I heard this story in Colombia, on the radio, “out by the coast, where the Spaniards first landed….” Between interviews and political debates, just a radio host with a story to tell. “Back in the time of the colonies, there was a priest and an Indian.” I took a sip from a chipped cup and I imagined them. A priest in a sweat-soaked cassock, and a beardless, dark-skinned man with terracotta spirals drawn across his chest. “The Indian was a heathen,” the radio host cleared his throat and I leaned in. Before school, before sunrise, I pictured men caught between port cities and jungles, between the green heat of native tropics and the red flame of an imported inquisition.

“The priest approached the Indian, because he was determined to save him.” I imagined the coast, the seaside swaying to songs of sand and sorrow, while a red-faced priest delivers his sermon. “‘My son,’ he says to the Indian, ‘Hear me today, the day of your rebirth.’” I stood in the dark, in my Catholic school uniform, on the precipice of dawn, like that priest must have stood on the edge of a forest of green scales and feathers aflame. “‘For today,’ the priest told the Indian, ‘Today you are reborn as Juan.’” Outside, the rumble of 5am Bogotá traffic while I picture white sails drifting past my open window. “‘Like the Baptist, like the Revelator, my son. No more a heathen, no more condemned to wander nameless in darkness. Be Juan, and be saved.’” The charged crackling of bad reception and a whole continent outside, rising and falling as if on the un-tuned tide of radio waves. “‘No longer shall you be called by an unchristian name, no longer ruled by unchristian gods. No more will you eat meat on Fridays. No more condemned, my son. Be Juan, and be saved!’” Then the priest sent the Indian the way of cured lepers, and that’s where the story should have ended.

*

A lifetime later, far from Bogotá, in my kitchen in Richmond I listen to CBC radio interviews—to the voice of a Cree man testifying for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. He speaks clearly and slowly, though his voice quivers when it reaches the razor edge of his story. “I was punished,” he explains, brutally punished every time he expressed himself in his native language, in his mother tongue, held his own name in his mouth like it was first held by his mother when she could still hold him. And I think I hear that sharp edge catch his voice, pull a thread and gently split a tattered seam—even now, even years after being taken from his home as a child, decades after being placed into an Indian Residential School, long, long after he was forced to speak only English, told to disappear into a state-sanctioned identity. Today, you are saved. 

*

“So the Indian and the priest parted ways, and that was that.” I heard the foam-white noise of radio waves crashing into each other. “For a long time, until,” metal antennas like splintered masts and the Virgin Mary like a carved figurehead cutting through the waters, “one Friday, when the priest took a walk through the trees.” Roots like knotted rope encircling foreign feet, and the groaning sound of my beautiful continent sinking and settling like a house built from the rotted planks of wrecked ships. “In the distance, he spots the Indian carving a deer with his knife. So, ‘Juan!’ he says, and runs to him yelling, ‘Juan! No, no! My son, what are you doing? It is Friday, Juan, did you not know? Today is Friday—Good Friday! Juan, what have you done!?’”

*

Through Canadian radio waves I hear the Cree man speak, and feel the stitching of my own patchwork self come undone with his voice—though I’ve heard this story before, dozens of times, from dozens of people, and in dozens of places from Patagonia to Nunavut. “Every day,” he says, “I was told I was a dirty little Indian.” A small, dark-skinned boy in a factory masquerading as a school, while Canada’s “aggressive assimilation” program spread its arms far and wide and pulled children back by their shirts, their ankles, their hair. “And you get told that every day,” he says, “You begin to believe that. That you are a dirty little Indian.”

*

I moved closer to the radio, placed my hand on the dial as though steering a ship, as though I could change its directions after all this time, as though we weren’t all blowing the wind that lifts its sails. “So the Indian,” the radio announcer continued, “he looks down at the dead deer, and up at the priest, down at the deer, and up at the priest again as he raises his knife over the dead animal.” Another pause for effect, silence in the booth. “Then the Indian makes the sign of the cross over the body,” a knife dripping, antlers like upturned roots and blood pooling beneath a holy corpse, “and the Indian says, ‘Bread.’” The sound of ships turning, masts cracking, and planks bending. “He says, ‘Bread, my son,’ to the meat before him. ‘From today on, be bread, and be saved.’”

*

In Virginia, I think of the paint peeling off of Virgin Mary’s face, and I listen to US radio reports. I build towers of poetry anthologies, I eat raw pineapple hearts until my tongue bleeds, and I hear NPR voices debate whether the context of the comment implies that all immigrants are animals, or only this one group. This one and only group. This one toxic slice that, I think we can all agree, is indefensible. As if cruelty and tyranny were the territory of packs of hungry animals, and not a manmade empire of pious mandates and empty echoes. Little, dirty animals, artless and artful in their castles of dirt and countries of shit. On the screen, neck tattoos, wanted posters, and little barefooted children chasing after cameramen in cargo shorts. Man is a wolf to man, “These are not people,” but we can be wolves too, if we want to be. And I think about a trembling, nameless priest, and a dead deer made of bread and bare bones before him. About how, long after we’ve gone, someone will still be paying for a wall someone will still be building. About how to unsay things we’ve already started believing.

And I hear the voice of a Cree man on the radio, I hear my mother’s voice on the phone, I hear Sor Juana Inés from the page, Túpac Amaru, Circe Maia, José Martí, Vicente Acosta, and Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. I feel rotted planks give beneath my feet, read by the light of a jungle on fire, trace terracotta spirals in the dirt, and hear myself say, “Poets.” Like carving D-E-E-R into stale bread and exposed bone. “Poets.” I write the word over and over again, You don’t know me but…. You don’t know me but…sister, brother… as if in the margins of colonial bibles, as if along the sharpened curve of a crescent moon. “Poets,” I howl back at the radio, the page, and the podium. “We are poets, too.”

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

*

To help more directly, please visit:

Hispanic Federation: http://hispanicfederation.org

Hope for Haiti: https://hopeforhaiti.com

Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation: https://www.sahf.org

Bios

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

*

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V. (100 Refutations translator and editor) earned MFAs in creative nonfiction writing and literary translation from The University of Iowa. She is the author of Drown Sever Sing from Anomalous Press and Don’t Come Back from Mad River Books, as well as editor, with Sarah Viren, of the forthcoming anthology Essaying the Americas. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation work has been featured in journals including Bellingham ReviewChicago ReviewFourth GenreBrevityPoets & Writers, and The Sunday Rumpus, among others. She won Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices Award, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and is a Rona Jaffe fellow. She moved from Colombia to China to Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an assistant professor for Virginia Commonwealth University. Visit www.linawritesessays.com. ******************************************************************** Amanda Dambrink (100 Refutations co-editor) works as an editor for the University of Wisconsin's Continuing Education, Outreach & E-Learning program in Madison, Wisconsin. She also holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Ohio University, and her previous work has appeared in Prairie Margins and The Normal School, among others.

Copyright (c) Lina M. Ferreira C.-V., 2018.