Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Lost in the Spiderwebs of Night


The blood on my hands was as yet invisible, but it was there all the same. The night was thick and wet. The tropical storm that raged a mere hundred miles offshore would taunt all those who would dare to predict its path, or the direction of its fierce winds. Miami was a convenient stop-over on my way back from Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay via Asuncion, then Sao Paulo.

Images of Stanton kept surging into my mind’s eye. I had never expected to meet a person who would affect me so much. We had met only a few hours before, but already I could feel that some ineludible destiny was in operation.

The destructive force in his marine-blue eyes met my own. I knew my eyes were unreadable except for a few people who really knew me. Dad was one. Years ago, my friend Marcus did. But, I had done my best to distance myself from them over the last few years. Now it was time to come back. Now it was time to plunge into the dark, hot cauldron of need. Running was not doing anything for me except exhausting me.

But, there was the question of Stanton. It would not be possible to keep secrets from him.

Seated on the small balcony overlooking beach, I listened to old recordings of Celia Cruz, singing of azucar negra. My favorite song of hers, “te busco,” (I look for you), floated in the thick wind. In my hands, I twisted an octagon of hand-tatted lace I had bought at an outdoor artisan fair at a tropically lush plaza in Asuncion, to the scream of parrots, the chatter of small monkeys perched on roofs. Her deep, expressive voice. My thin whisper of despair.

Thick multi-colored threads, surprisingly strong in my fingers as I pulled, twisted, worried the lace. The lace was called “nanduti” or “spiderweb” in Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay. It had its own story. At night, if hearts are not pure, the lace will come alive, the web will grow and a spider made of the flesh of soldiers who died of thirst in the vast and harsh Gran Chaco desert will sit in the middle and spin a ghastly web of bone and hair. When you awaken, your lace will be gone. In its stead will be ashes and the smell of death mixed with starflower

In Paraguay, I was visited by the Pombero, one hot, tropical afternoon as I lay in a shuttered room, trying to sleep as sweat dribbled down my belly. The Pombero appeared to me, its husky, insistent sexuality more real than anything I had ever experienced. It was the incubus figure I had feared from the moment I knew what it meant to suffer from fugue states, and to have strange, unmappable lacunae in my memory and my consciousness. According to indigenous Guarani legend, the Pombero came into darkened, shuttered sleeping rooms during the heat of the afternoon, during siesta. If you opened your eyes while you were drifting to sleep, you could catch a glimpse of him through your eyelashes, his hairy body simultaneously solid and transparent. If you were a young woman in a small village left depopulated from war casualties and you were losing hope of ever finding a marriageable man, you just might wake up pregnant. If you were a young woman living in a household of women, you might also wake up, likewise pregnant.

If you were a woman who had imposed herself on this culture, a woman with alien and unrealistic dreams, you would wake up deceived, defrauded, and aware that something had happened to you, but not sure of what that might have been.

You would feel, in contrast with the hairy, ungainly Pombero, utterly hairless, utterly helpless.

This was as good a place as any to stop doing the things I really should not be doing. I had blood on my hands. A force higher and greater than anything I had ever suspected existed was pushing me toward the knowledge of what I would need to do to take the blood away, or at least neutralize it enough to enter into a state of bartered grace.

South Beach was a convenient place to lose my heart to the beautiful stranger who saw directly into the shame I kept so carefully guarded.