Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Chapter Twenty-four: Whiskey for a guitar? How the Nun Goes Free!

September 17, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail

Dear Teresa,

I am living again Teresa. I am breathing once more. If I ever doubted there was a God, or that Mary listened to me, that she responded to my pleas and prayers, I could not possibly doubt anymore.

There was this miracle the other day: dear old Señora Ramos delivered me my guitar!

Before, there was just me, lying here, withering and dying in this cell, but now? Now there is me and my beloved instrument and this song, this carcelera that frees me!

Are you listening as I play Teresa? Do you hear me when I sing?

Do you hear the carcelera -- just listen to these words:

“In three days I’ve eaten
Only bread and tears:
That is the food
That my jailers give.”

I sit and I play and I sit and I sing, and I keep singing no matter how much the jailer screams at me to stop! I sing until my voice gives up to gravel, and my fingers have bloody tips.

But I am alive and free and remarkably, I am happy!

I have not a thing other than my playing and my writing and my praying, but now I see, that is enough for me! Teresa I am free!

I must stop a moment and say a prayer of thanks, to God and to Mary and especially, to Señora. She is the one who saved me! My cousin's old housekeeper had the courage and she had the wisdom too, what I now call the wisdom of whiskey!

She came to the prison last week, my guitar bundled in a blanket in the back of the old grey wagon. Señora is so small -- all of four or five feet tall but wide enough to make up for it --but she stood up to the horrible old jailer. She marched into the jail carrying the guitar and told the jailer she wanted to see me.

He laughed at her and slapped his knee, but he stopped laughing after she pulled out a tall bottle of Antonie's most expensive bourbon!

When he saw that bottle, the cackling jailer (his name is Jack Pie, can you imagine a stranger name?!) whistled and clapped!

Pie broke open the bottle and drank the whiskey on the spot. But not before dear Señora had gotten the key and delivered the guitar to me. And the blanket. And a basket of the most sumptous foods! (I am eating once more dear Teresa, I am eating once more!)

Before she left, before Pie ended up as a pile of whiskers and whiskey-soaked flesh on the floor, Señora assured him in her broken English that he would have "more weesky" every week if he let me keep the guitar!

Are you listening to me, Mary, when I kneel now on this miserable mud-packed floor, when I say thank you for this miracle you have delivered me here?

Sitting here singing and playing, I can feel blood running through my arms and legs again.

My heart has started to beat again. And yes, I am eating like a queen. I have started with the spinach empanadas.

Dear Teresa, when you visit me in this foul place, soon? Soon? I will swoon you with my music, just the way I used to play for you in the old happy days, when we laid on the blanket under the arms of the live oak!

One thing Teresa, will you bring me a canteen of your perfect lemonade?

NOTE TO READERS: A carcelera is a form of flamenco that specifically refers to prison and jail life. According to "The Art of Flamenco," by Donn Pohren, gypsy prisoners used to sing to relatives and friends outside the prison walls.

No jail here.
Not anymore.
The only bars
are those of the guitar!
The instrument
brings Renata and me
such relief from our suffering!
Utter the words,
play the strings,
and we are free!
Ah, Señora, bless you for
your courage, bless you for your
great great wisdom, knowing
that to bring
Sister Renata
her guitar
inside this dank dark hole
of an unholy prison

Music has returned her to life,
and to
visions of
blue skies and
the blanket where she and
Teresa once sank
beneath the
arms of the live oaks,
where she and Teresa
played and drank
sweet and sour

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