Under the Brazilian Nut Tree

Brazilian Nut Treel@KaremIBarratt

 Lights die in Santa Barbara when it rains. Prepared to the end, Grandma finds the match box placed next to emergency candles, while we kids get into our drill: find the plastic covers under the beds and place them over the mattresses. Mama, Auntie and Uncle move sofas and chairs away from the waterfall building on the top of the lounge’s ceiling. Grandpa, paced and yawning, puts the water to boil and prepares the coffee and chocolate. Afterwards we sit, nesting our warm drinks in our hands. Then comes the never–failing ritual. It starts with the adults complaining about the electricity company and it ends with the adults talking about their ghosts – literally.

‘Remember, Paula,’ says Grandpa, his face glowing over the embers of his pipe, ’when your father used to haunt the backyard?’

‘Sure. It started when this young lady was born,’ she says tussling my hair, ‘and it took years of rosaries, masses and an exorcism by an Italian priest to convince him to get out.’

I shudder and look at the watery darkness of the backyard, resembling a painting inside the window’s frame.

‘So Mariana came to this world with a ghost, uh?’ teases cousin Pedro.

‘Shut up, you moron!’ I replied with all the eloquence of my fourteen years.

Uncle clears his throat and we hold our tongues, throwing angry stares at each other. Grandpa continues.

‘He used to come everyday, around six, mumbling and grumpy – his natural state, really, since that day his Isabel ran away with the Portuguese merchant. What was his name, Paula?

‘Joao Something…’, says Grandma, her mouth twisting into a dried fruit.

‘Who’s Isabel?’ asks cousin Leticia, sitting on Uncle’s lap.

‘She was Grandma’s youngest sister.’ answers Grandpa. ‘A real pretty thing, sweet and shy, like a bird. It was a real shock when we received the letter, saying she had left with…Joao, is it? She was so young, no more than fifteen at that time.’

‘We were living in the Capital then.’ Grandma adds, a sadden note lingering in her voice. ‘We have asked Father if Isabel could go with us, telling him it would complete her education, but he would not hear of it. Maybe if he had she would still be here, wrinkly and grey like the two of us.’

An angel passes over our heads. At least that is what they say around here when people become suddenly quiet and noises mute to nothing. We turn into a family portrait, painted in the golds and shadows of the candles’ light.

‘Anyway,’ said Grandpa, breaking the spell, ‘Old Baltazar’s ghost would circle the house, looking like he always did – cropped hair, khaki trousers, a lighted cigar hanging eternally on his lips- and go through the hen house, making the poor birds soil their bottoms and run as if a falcon was gliding nearby. He would pay no attention to them and continue his way, past the vegetable patch, to the Brazilian Nut tree, where he’d disappear.’

The hairs in my arms do a unison stand. I could see this man – had seen this man, through the panes of the bedroom I shared with Mama.

‘When did your father die, Grandma?’ I ask, drawing my skinny knees under my chin.

‘I don’t know… about thirty years ago? But we are interrupting Grandpa, again. Go ahead, Alfonso.’

‘Thank you, darling. We thought Old Baltazar had buried some sort of treasure. People used to do that a lot in those days, with all the revolutions and counter-revolutions shaking this poor country – until the arrival of General Montenegro, God rest his soul.’

‘Amen,’ mutters Grandma, as Mama and Uncle roll up their eyes.

‘Did you find the treasure?’ asks Pedro, his eyebrows arching.

‘No’ smiles Grandma, ’but your grandfather here had the time of his life trying. He dug the backyard for years!’

Everyone laughs but me, as memories gust like a gale on my head.

***

I was six or seven, sitting at the desk by the window, doing my lines (ma, me , mi, mo, mu ) when I saw him go by. He puffed and mumbled, his khaki shirt dishevelled, sweat falling from his forehead. And then I heard it: an “eee” or “peace”, something like a whine, like the plea of a mouse dragged by a jaded cat. Finding the perfect excuse to abandon my tiresome school work, I tip-toed out the hallway, crossed the kitchen where Auntie and Mama separated beans, and scurried out the backyard, hurrying behind the trunks of the mango and guava trees, to make sure he wouldn’t see me.

He stopped and I stopped with him, finally having a good look at the thing he was hauling. It was a girl. A big-bellied girl, kicking furiously, her pale lips slashed by a black cloth.

I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. The rosy evening turned into moon-lit night. There was a square, no, a rectangle, opened on the ground, right by were the Brazilian Nut tree was supposed to be, it’s absence filled by a scraggy twig poking from the grass.

Isabel saw the unearthed grave and shrieked, uselessly, as her father rolled her into the void, and somehow me with her, attached to her, enclosed in her, the fall softened by something supple and still warm. It was a body. She did not need the pale light to realise it was Joao, his torso caked in blood, his hands tied, his open mouth a centipede’s nest. Earth began to rain as she wept, sodden clumps of mud, pebbles and roots cramming the space, licking her feet, her calves, the baby, swimming desperately inside of her, the dirt walls closing in. Isabel screamed, begging her father to stop, please, stop, Papa, stop, STOP! But the earth rose, mercilessly, burning her lungs as she breathed it and petrified into it – her bound hands touching the damp night air, the last thing she was to remember.

***

‘Nope,’ sighs Grandpa. ’There was no gold, no silver, no jewels – nothing.’

‘Not even bones?’ I whisper.

Grandpa inhales his pipe, his eyes fix on me.

‘No’ he says, his words floating in the grey smoke. ’Not even a tiny, wincey monkey bone.’

There is a flash, and the lights come back. The kids clap, the grown-ups smile, the plastic covers go back under the beds. Grandma turns on the TV to watch “Nobody’s Daughter”, the new prime-time soap she’s already addicted to. Mama and Auntie herd us to our rooms, amid protests.

I pull the covers to my nose and study the marks on my wrists, which no one has been able to explain. Mama thinks they are abrasions from some forgotten Indian and Cowboy game and Auntie believes they are scars from the time I fell into the thorn bushes, behind the park. They resemble faint, rusted braids, circling my hands like a ghost.

‘Have you said your prayers, Mariana?’ asks Grandpa when he enters the bedroom.

I nod.

‘Good night then,’ he whispers, kissing my forehead.

‘Grandpa?’

‘Yes?’

‘About that story…’

Grandpa halts my fears.

“It’s just a story, nothing more” he says, as the cropped-haired man walks by the threshold behind his back.

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Under the Azure Sky

caravan

Summer is over,

Yet, here, flowers still bloom,

The birds, refusing to fly south,

Defy the incoming cold.

We have undanced dances in our feet,

And sun rays flowing in our bones,

And we care not about the chilly

Breeze skipping over the green leaves,

Curling them, ever so slightly,

Drying them at the tips.

Summer is over,

But no for you and I.

We have no packed camp, here at the beach.

We are going on strike, against

The dictatorship of time.

Our hearts are not going back

To our towns, back to our lives.

We are not saying good-bye.

We shall be summer’ children, even

In the ice. We shall shine in the grey

Autumn skies and warm the snow

Until it melts. And in this place

Of our minds, summer shall reign, forever,

You and I, wild hair and wide grins, until

Our story ends, no matter what,

How or where our bodies are,

You and I shall always be in

Front of the sea, guitar at hand,

Indifferent to red leaves and bared trees,

And the passing of the years, and

All the other summers that will be over

And fade, for this summer, yours and mine,

Shall not die, and here the best of us shall

Stay, in an eternal loop of delight.

So let summer be over the land,

Over those too afraid dissent and rather accept,

With no objection, the venerability of the years.

We, the mutineers, shall remain here,

On our deck chairs, eating cheese, drinking wine,

In front of the caravan, under the azure sky.

 

Proof

sad woman

He said he loved her as her flesh received the first hit,

The slap in her ears making the world ring

And shriek -or maybe it was her, screaming,

As he kicked, repeatedly, against her soft womb,

Her stomach, her spleen, her arms and legs, he kicked,

Whilst she screamed and swallowed the blood from

Her absent teeth, push out in one single blow from

His fist -the fist that loved her to death and was

About to prove it.

 

One Hundred and One

couple kissing

 

 

K. Barratt

One hundred nights of beds,

Of cushy duvets, of impersonal hotels,

One hundred nights of sweat,

Of glistening arms, backs, legs,

Of saliva and salt in each caress.

Of hugs sucking out the air between our flesh,

Holding tight, so tight, as to

Expel from the mind the impending goodbye.

A hundred days of laughter,

Of rolling carefree on the hay of life.

Of wet, obscene, hungry kisses that

Made the park’s statues go red

With shame and green with envy,

As they marble nature prevent them

from joining our corporal exploitations.

One hundred days of celestine madness,

Brought to an abrupt halt by the impeding good-bye.

Life has demand it.

The same life that crossed our paths,

Who sheltered us for one hundred nights,

Now reminding us of our place and duty,

Of those to whom we owe explanations,

Dates, times, places.

And without consultation, this mistress

Has scheduled the impending good-bye

No question asked, no reasons given,

Except the need to go back and

Return to what it was

.

Sod life and her capricious rules.

 

After one hundred beds I’m not giving him up.

Let tears roll. I have already shed mine.

No one belongs to anyone, but if they do,

He is now mine. And our story is far

From over. One hundred nights is not

Enough. Not by a lot. I am full

Of kisses and touches yet to express;

Of hums and ahs, and screams and sights,

Burning to scape my lips; of hand-in-hands

And cute escapades; of long winding words.

Confessions and discoveries

Dances and reveries.

I have decades of longing, of

Hunger for him and I’ve just

Tapped the tip of this emotion.

I’m not stopping until we have

Devour it all, drank it all, inhale it all,

This desire, this…love. Why not?

Let’s call it that.

And put away the impending good-bye

As we start the one hundred and one night.

The Vast Emptiness

running-uphill

I tried to record the sea for you:

Bottle the moonlight, pin the wind

To a scarf. I ran the steps,

You would of, had you stayed, from

The beach to the top of the hill.

I drew the castle. I tried the mussel

Recipe the cook at the trattoria gave us.

And as you said you would, I ate it with my hands.

I burned three fingers.

It hurt.

But the pain was nothing to the one

Of your absence: of a world that goes on,

Dancing with the moon, as if you were

Still in it. As if there was any purpose left

After the gods etched the void in my heart, where

Your image used to dance and sing and breathe.

So, I do stupid things. Anything that would

Bring you back to me, even if for a minute,

A second, and instant, your essence, your hair

Fighting with the wind, your smile that went

Beyond your teeth and lighted up all of yourself,

Like a light house in the night, my night, and

After which I was loss no more.

So, I’m recording the sea and bottling

Moonlight and pinning the breeze

To your scarf. I am running

To the hills and burning my hand.

But mostly I am trying to go on

In the vast emptiness,

That without you,

The world and life have become.

 

The Night

silvery night

K.Barratt

The moon,

Reflected over water,

Opens the grey and blue, puffy veil

Hiding it from my eyes.

The night is young, tender

Even, like a baby, so fresh

That dreams have not yet

Come out to play.

An evening bird sings

To the fireflies turning

Meadows into skies.

And the moon cascades

Itself down, into a milky haze,

Silvering the shadows,

Painting them the colour of fays.

There’s a stillness

In this night pregnant with life.

A hesitation, a pause,

A longing, cool and soft like a breeze.

Soon more insects will sing,

Foxes will trot, owls will hoot,

The iridescent clouds will hide the disc of light.

And the night will be heavy and dark.

It will be the spooky time,

When fairies hide and demons dance.

But that hour has not yet come.

And I lay back and let the smooth wind

Caress me, as a lover, under

The soft moonlight, as I enjoy

This water coloured night and hum

A half-forgotten lullaby.

 

Eighteen

sleepingbeaut

K. Barratt

It was her 18th anniversary on

This planet and she was being caressed

For the very first time.

And with each caress

She realized she was the earth itself,

All valleys, and hill, and caves,

And the space between her teeth,

Warm, sweet and wet, was a world

Unto itself, the threshold to more,

To plus, to one and one makes two and

Yet one. And her back, a roller coaster

For tongues and hands to slide and bounce

on the firm melons of her buttocks,

Whose previous job description of

Providing cushioning for seats

Seemed now unfairly understated.

The moon was shining, painting her,

Appropriately enough, silver, for she had become

Mercurial, rising and falling with quasi mechanical

Precision, to the rhythm of the caress.

And there was ravaging and there was finesse;

And the motion of her hips was primeval,

Like the grunts from her throat, and she lost

Herself in the shakes until she forgot her name,

And she screamed, and she laughed, and

She thought she was having an asthma attack,

And then she floated in the warmth,

Something like bubbly, frothy milk,

And sank into a space where she cared for

Nothing.

And on her 18th anniversary on this earth

She lay, glowing and moistened, on his bed,

Sleeping soundly to the soft touch of the caress,

Her crumpled clothes thrown shambolically over his desk.

 

Mystery

sunset canafron 2K. Barratt

How do you measure Mystery?

By the prayers you said.

Or the tears you shed?

Or perhaps by the longing,

Which satisfied. renders all well?

How do you call out that which has no name?

By your girl scout’s stickers

Or sacrifices weighted in pain and blood?

Or is it with a song, a syrup-thick,

Blues-y sung tale of love and doubt,

And waiting for warmer, lazier days,

When the light is long and emotions are high?

 

How do you explain the unexplainable certainty

That you are not alone in this story?

That in spite of the scrapes, falls,

The soul’s raw, broken, sore throat,

There is something holding you, rooting for you,

Standing by your corner.

Pushing you back to the fight,

Because whatever it may be,

Mystery is sure that you can punch as hard as life,

If not harder, and wants you to win

And stand, arms high, a champion of existence?

And you oblige.

 

So how do you measure Mystery?

By the sobs you withheld or the smiles you gave?

By the fear or by the faith?

By the anger or by the peace?

By all or none of this?

Or do you stop trying and just embrace it, as it is,

With its many muddy shadows and glowing lights?

I don’t have an answer to give.

Not great wisdom to bestow.

But as real or not as this Mystery may be,

Today I chose to believe that, in this story,

A parable of my own, I have never,

Not for a minute, taken a step alone.

The Mystery, always with me, coming

Along for the ride.

Smile More

Female Hands Bound in Bondage with RopeK. Barratt

 

I try to break my bonds, but the more I pull,

The more they sink in, biting my flesh, abrading

My skin. My days have become an eternal

Dusk, no place to escape, nothing but

Dust specks dancing in front of the only window,

Above my head, reminding me I am down,

Beneath the steps of the living and free.

And I would scream for their help, but

My throat has become a raw hole,

Devoid of any voice, just a mock of an

Echoing croak, that breaks into wisps of

Something like and ant’s murmur.

I’m not going to survive this.

And I wish I could take back so many things;

Wish I had embrace more, caress more,

Kiss non-stop everyone from my Mum to the dog,

But now it too late and I don’t want to die,

Not like this, and I pray, please, let me die

Old and warm on my bed, but he’s coming

Back: the game is over and no one

Is listening to my pleas. I see the knife

And remember my fifth birthday and the

Pony disguised as a unicorn and then the flash,

The silver streak above my eyes, and then the rip,

The cut, the burn, the warm, thick flood.

And I wish I would have smiled more.

 

At Your Very Own Peril

kissing

 K. Barratt

 

You think it’s easy,

A knock, a word,

A bright new start.

A tear perhaps,

A hug, a promise

To never brand our

Souls with lies,

Be our best selves,

Stars in our own sky.

But you lied.

And so did I,

Not once nor twice.

The count is lost

In the depth of

Our hearts, where the

Hard, cold truth resides.

We are liars, my dear.

We are cheaters, oath

Breakers, hurters.

Time has passed,

The space is not the same.

That doesn’t mean we

Have changed. Not I in

Any case. I still sing over

Pianos and have a wondering eye.

I rinse my teeth with gin and

Drive with an unbuckled seat strap.

I continue to chase the hurricanes of life

And thrive under the storms of love.

Will I be good for you?

Probably not. Unfaithful?Most likely;

Twist the truth or throw it out

The window, baby and all?

Definitely.

Because that’s who I am.

And it’s who you used to be.

That was part of the fun.

So it’s not easy my love,

To accept your new, sparkling start.

I have no desire to peel off my skin

And let the new born me begin

Whatever shape of life you have in mind.

I am the cat caught red handed eating

The pie, who spanked, does it again

At the first chance.

I regret nothing.

I can take you back, if you accept my warts,

My lifted guard, my sword at hand.

I can even love you as much as I am able.

But the loving, the trusting of me,

Comes, my dear, at your very own peril.

 

Let the Monsters In

monsters K. Barratt

  Let the monsters in.

They have waited long enough on the other side of the door.

They have waited, patiently.

Some of them even took up knitting whilst I amused myself.

Some of them did cross-words puzzles, I am told,

As I filled the shell of myself with stolen dreams,

And I sang myself stories to put my fears to sleep,

As I believed, truly, fully,

That it was me: me, me, me,

That girl breathing,

That girl humming as she walked under the sun –me!

Under the sun.

I even fashioned myself masks to play my parts,

My caring mask, my lover mask, my human mask,

Oh wonderful masks, with their perfect fit,

So well attached that when I grimaced

It really looked like it was me -smiling,

Me loving, me living, me, happy. Me.

But the monster cannot wait any longer.

They must come home, inside.

They’ve being rapping, knocking, tapping,

As the sun darkened and the masks lost their fit.

Tapping, knocking, rapping.

The monsters. Wanting to come in.