Saturday, May 19, 2018

El Piojito: Betsy and Bella


El Piojito: Betsy and Bella
By Armando Ortiz
“Betsy, it’s time to say your prayers and go to sleep,” said Bella. She’d been in the kitchen washing a stack of dirty dishes that had piled up the last few days. Betsy was in the living room reading, directly under a light that emanated from the ceiling. She was engrossed with a Curious George book. Bella walked towards her, wiping her hands with a towel. Her smooth tanned arms shone under the light, as she lightly elbowed Betsy on her arm. A small tiny sanctuary was on the opposite corner. Their niche was directly across the light. Betsy was always under the watchful eye of her mom and Le Virgencita.
The sacred space had the Virgin of Guadalupe as the central figure. They knelt before her and prayed. St Christopher was on the foreground of the Virgin Mary, to the right. Another little statuette was on the left side, that of St Jude. In between these was a candle, a little flower vase and a plaster cast image of Jesus Christ. The Virgin’s eyes always caught Betsy’s attention, since they seemed to be looking down at her, like ancient Buddha eyes. The replica had an aura of love and serenity.
They always followed the routine right before going to sleep. Her mom mostly did the talking. She begged the Virgencita, the beloved virgin, for patience and strength, thanking her for life and having something to eat that day. Following this brief ceremony Bella would tuck Betsy in her own small Hello Kitty bed and kiss her goodnight.
            Mom was always in prayer, a relentless woman of prayer, and earnestly felt that the Virgin was taking care of them. The same part of the couch where her daughter had been studying was now being used by her. Now it was Bella that was directly across from the image of the Lady of Mercy. It was her turn to be under those watchful eyes and commence the two hour study session. She was an autodidact, but simply gave thanks to the heavens above and always brought flowers she’d cut on the way back home from work; yellow daisies, red roses and occasionally magenta baby bottle scrubbers. Bella would stay up a few hours past bed time, studying and reviewing for the Dental Assistant course that she was taking at the local vocational school.
            At the time though, she worked as a housekeeper at one of the old hotels in downtown Los Angeles. She’d been given the job after a neighbor who’d worked there for 15 years had finally found a man and married. The newlywed couple decided to head north and start a new life somewhere in Salem, Oregon. Bella gave thanks to the Virgin for the job, and used some of the money from that first pay check to buy a bouquet of roses, and went to the church she attended and placed them on the altar.
            Life was certainly not easy, especially housekeeping work. She had to clean thirteen rooms in eight hours. She had some help, but it was always frowned upon to call for assistance. Towards the end of the day her back ached from all the bending, leaning and pulling. As soon as she clocked out, the bus would take her back home, where she would pick up her daughter from the next door neighbor, who watched over Betsy for two hours after school. The pain and tiredness was relentless, but she always thanked people and thanked the image that watched over them.
Betsy would have her homework done by the time she was picked up, but she knew that her mom expected nothing but reading and writing at the house. Though it was routine, she found it easy to write in her diary and write on what she’d done that day or write down her dreams and the things that she wanted. She knew that her mom also had a diary, because sometimes her mom would sit on the kitchenette table and write down her own thoughts, her own hopes in a leather bound diary that she’d picked up from a sidewalk peddler.
Her family wasn’t particularly religious, occasionally going to Sunday mass to pray and every so often go to confession. Nevertheless, for Bella, her trip through Mexico a few years back made her a believer. Her hazel eyes had seen people walking on their knees, and crawling towards sanctuaries where the Virgin was housed. Every house that gave shelter and a plate of food had a little sanctuary that honored the Mother of Jesus. The people she crossed paths with gave her a deep impression, helping her along and showing extreme generosity in opening their homes. A sense of spiritual debt to them and to the image of the Eternal Grandmother would weigh on her for a very long time.
When Betsy thought about her mom, she imagined her writing notes to people, a habit that had been acquired by her as well. She’d sneak notes for her teacher to read after lunch, give friends notes of friendship or make drawings, like two kids playing handball. The person who got the onslaught of notes wasn’t her mom though; instead it was the neighbor Margarita, whose refrigerator was riddled with notes that Bella had given her making it look like a multi-colored bird that’d lived ages ago.
            When they weren’t studying they’d be praying, constantly petitioning the Virgin for grace. If it was not thanking something and looking up to heaven, Betsy found that her mom, practically thanked all kinds of people, all the time. She was grateful to Margarita, the neighbor that watched over her, the vato that stood outside the building all day with his hands in his pocket, shaking hands with strangers, and the lady that sold tamales in the morning. As if the powers that be had set everything up so that she would be grateful for her lot in life.

In the weekends they went to a vocational school for three hours. Betsy would take her journal or a coloring book and get lost in her imagination. Her mom on the other hand, sat, took notes, turned in assignments, and asked the instructor a multitude of questions. Mr. Okpara knew she was a single mother working to get bye, so he’d given her permission to have her daughter in the class. Betsy just sat there working on binders that contained her drawings. At times she’d just sit there and listen to Mr. Okpara’s lecture. He, along with the other instructors saw that Bella was different. She had gumption. She had the heart and commitment of a marathon athlete. She wouldn’t stop, instead just kept going. At bed time Bella would think of her parents back home. She wondered how they were doing. She’d left her home at sixteen and had taken the trip north a few years back. They would receive money from her at least once every two months.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

You Were


You were
By Armando Ortiz

You were
caramel salt
after our long hike

you were
black licorice
when I smelled those curls

you were
a jolly rancher
cherry kiss

you were
a ripe peach
warm to the touch

in this history of mine
you were
not an illusion

when our cheeks pressed
you were
golden silk

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Zigging Road


Zigging Road
By Armando Ortiz
On the splendid heights of dreams, the size of Himalayan Mountains, where you find sacred crystal streams.
Is how I feel when I hear your voice and the words that reach my ears put all frustrations at rest.
But I wonder where these rivers will take me.
Will I meander through gentle ravines and silent valleys where the water glides through the surface of the earth?
Will the journey lead us to violent clashes and tumultuous rapids that slam onto boulders of granite.
This dream turned reality is uncertain and I wonder how much longer am I able to handle the twists and turns of these unknown rivers that become asphalt.
You told me of a deeper good that can be found dwelling in my heart and of the service given to communities.
You were eager to hear my daily battles with youth and told me it was just normal situations in a teacher’s life.
But I feel like that I can’t help you, your course of travel has been turbulent and chaotic with an ebb and flow of violence, and how am I to respond to such realities?
I'm there to listen, but can’t stop you from reminiscing of those days.
Uncertainty with the future is a double edge maze.
Do I want to complicate my life with more problems?
Does that plastic water bottle have vodka?
Is that where your fear of loneliness stems?
Should I not care and just enjoy the ride?
Jumping out before the raft sinks to the bottom of rushing waters or right before it flies off a waterfall cliff?
What is love?
What is patience?
Where does kindness lie?
Can it be found under a soothing voice or in the laughter of a mermaids’ pleasure?
Can it be found in my pleadings to cease the drinking?
Cease the mourning?
In many ways you were my rescuer, but I soon found that you too were barely afloat, and disheveled after tempestuous rapids and crazy roads.
A siren swept by the violent waters of a typhoon.
You’ve reached the bottom many times, but have you truly touched the surface of the volcano?
I don’t cry as I did when I let go of your hand at the airport that first time, but there is just an interminable sadness that surrounds me like an aura of uncertainty.
Life is so unstable and with you the ground seemed firm, but what is up ahead and what will we face?
Will you demand your luxurious lifestyle and eat out every day or settle for a common man’s life home cooked meals?
Will you be glad with simple clothes and a gentle warm hand?
I aimed too high and seem to have fallen to the ground and it appears that whoever I meet is on shaky ground or doesn’t want me around.
I miss you, and love you, and so I think of you, but I have to let go, for your sanity and mine. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Valley Oak


Valley Oak
By Armando Ortiz

Valley oak tree,
deeply grounded
roots mingling
with barren gully

like a standing pompom
its long branches
block the So Cal heat
soft winds makes one ponder

Unmoving tree
with dark brown skin
having reached
its farthest boundary

Continuing the cycle
with falling acorn
fattening bounty

Deer feeding
and dying in silence
while red tail hawks circle
watching coyotes dancing

Beautiful lady
baked by the sun
standing naked
like an autumn dream

Go to that canyon spring
and there say a sacrament
for something to happen

For you to become her
and I to turn into a mountain


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Mojave Road


Mojave Road
By Armando Ortiz

Mojave
A vast land of unknown

Vulnerable desert tortoise
entitled to cross Mojave roads
fetus eggs hidden in Yucca groves.

What if it was a trans-gendered crawler
would it be protected by human law
slowly moving on asphalt only touching with claw.

Mojave
under the sun it glows.

The diversity of the desert terrain
is it evidence based or an optical illusion
the desert needs a voice and inclusion.

SUV crushing a baby turtle
means the extinction of this rare creature
and that is my science based conclusion.

Mojave
black light crawlers put on a show.

Malibu Creek State Park


Camping in California: Malibu Creek State Park
By Armando Ortiz
This little oasis of rolling hills, slanted mountains and oak trees is a stone’s throw away from the big city. This is what Malibu Creek State Park is to me and ought to be to everyone. It’s located less than an hour from downtown LA offering miles of trails to enjoy. There is a creek that runs through the park which makes a popular rock pool. I decided to check this place out a few weeks after going there with a friend and enjoying a long hike that took us to the M.A.S.H. set. This is a great place so its best to arrive early, set up camp, set up a picnic table, and enjoy all that is to do there.
            I missed my check in a day before, but arrived before noon the next day. Set up my tent, had lunch, read a book, went to buy firewood (there’s an Albertsons nearby). After returning I went for a short walk, and after that cooked an incredible dinner over the fire. I went to sleep a bit early, a bit weary that the neighbors would keep me up, but everything pretty much quieted down after 10pm. Though I do recall two lines that I heard from my someone nearby, one, “I need my Starbucks, lets go get some Starbucks,” and two, “I want to go home, I don’t like being here.” Needless to say the majority of the people leave by 8 in the morning.
            Woke up early, made breakfast and went on a long hike. Returned to my spot, took down my tent and packed my car. I was out of the park by noon. Great spot to enjoy what was once common all over Southern California, arid environment where oasis of desert shrubs and plants shared the earth with imposing oaks.

This is definitively a place to visit if you like hiking, because there are lots of trails. There are different levels of trails for different levels of difficulty from beginner walks where you follow a flat trail that takes you to information panels giving you a history lesson of the place. Some of the more challenging trails can be steep and long, which are perfect for the trail runner and long distance hiker. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Break of Light


Break of Light
By Armando Ortiz

Break of light
emerging from the night

The beginning has arrived
the start of the day is fast approaching

Dawn’s sky is the pacific
reflecting its image in a vast ocean

Stars glitter like black mica flakes
flickers of people rising from the night

Welcoming the rays of a sunburst
embarking on a journey of life

canoes begin crossing the seas to islands
from this world to the next.

Break of light
emerging from the night

Some awaken into a prolonged slumber
at the cusp of birth

All sides see color explosions
and wonders in all directions

Life conceived
we emerge crying

Into a sea of emotions
and endless possibilities.