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Mr. Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz

The Fisherman's Chronicle

Domingo hears bells on a red buoy clang in rhythm. On the prow, he spreads his legs apart to steady himself, the horizon dipping and rising before him. Then he sits and sleeps. The nets drag their brash hairs in the wake. 

A sea marker rings, urgent and secret, as a gull nests on its perch. It is this way for hours: only two voices. Soon the gull goes looking for the sky.

 Domingo, snoring in indigo, disappears as the sun sets. Far away, the harbor lights close like a sequined hand.

What the Laundry Told Maria Elena

Maria Elena's hands are cloth, the silk feel of foam-caked garments from washing the whites in a big basin. There are spots she agonizes over--the one with blood from her boy's first flight, grass stains on the knees of his jeans from prayer or a stumble. She remembers her son, Fidelito, always wandering beneath the constellations' steady teeth. Now the mouths of his pant legs open with weightlessness, as if coming up for breath, as if flying among the soapy-clouds, and she prays: Let me be done with this load. Let drowned clothes stay drowned so long as they come out clean. Let stains speak no more of what they saw of sky and of the fall. 

Cupboard Full of Halos

After he fills the junk drawer in the kitchen with wreaths made from scraps of paper, cloth, and sticks, Fidelito stores new ones in a cupboard above the stove.

He drags a stool from the garage and sets it to reach the place where Maria Elena keeps cookbooks. In the multi-hued halos go, forced. Some of them tumble out like hula-hoops onto linoleum. Others become bracelets and slide down his arms as he reaches up to stop them.

 When he closes the door, Fidelito forgets until his mother, ready to cook, opens the cupboard. They spill to her from the dark, a noise of coins from another world. 

Maria Elena Puts His Good Shoes Away

After the death of Domingo Recto, his shoes by the door wait to go outside. They know his bare feet are cold. The cracked leather tips shift their weight. The left's worn inside edge, a plow. The rubber sole of the right, smooth at the toe. His shoes tear earth with their paces. They don't rest. Listen--they leave tracks in soil. Because of footfall, Maria Elena can't sleep. In the kitchen, the tacky sound of gum on tile, the squeak of rubber down halls, the thud of mud track. 

They are the shoes of the dead. know that by their tongues. The laces drag, limp hairs of ghosts. Fidelito hears them too, and it frightens him. In life it was Domingo's footstep to tuck him into bed, floor-boards groan from the man heavy with years. And now those shoes walk by themselves . . . 

When Fidelito tried them on he stumbled, his gait too small. Only one person could move those shoes, passing in the night with open mouths. 

Maria Elena puts them in the closet to forget, only to find them huddled at the foot of her bed by dawn. She is hopeless from the garments of the dead. They find ways into her sight. If Maria Elena were to give them to a bare-footed stranger, one day when on an errand she is sure she would see them down some alleyway. Hear them hop up the street to greet her like a savage bird--

Somewhere Domingo trudges, unshod. And the ground before him is misstep. She sees the shape of the loafers by the door in the weird light of a candle and wonders whether Domingo knows which way dust floats on a worn path or if there are simple eulogies for his shoes which outlast him.