We are gathered here today to remember
Red, blue, purple, and orange sky
Evil sky where the demons fly
Carmen and Maria’s tio had drove home all fucked up again and his bumper clipped the fence. He stumbled in from out the trokita and admonished us,
“Enter through the warrior gate!
For wide is the gate and broad
is the road that leads . . .
Is that right?
Let’s fucken bounce, nuh!
Ay te wacho fool.
Chain link jingles and we get over.
And our eyesight adjusted to the dark ditch road.
We came around the way like penguins
Hands tucked inside quilted flannel sleeves
Thinking in our mind that it ain’t so cold.
Beenies low. Sagging low.
Breathing out steam like dragon smoke.
Half an hour before normal people roll out from under blankets. A Pee Wee’s processional before an audience of broke down cars in backyards. Cracks in frosty windshields tick under freezy air.
Gizmo found an old pallet and carried it across his back like an ant do.
His cross to bear.
We swooped up some paper bags here, crumpled up newspapers there. Just a little more further. . .
Street lights get shot the fuck up ‘round here.
Motion lights even learn to think twice.
In less than an hour normal people will start warming up their vehicles. They’re all mad a, throwing us jeños behind suspicious cups of coffee.
They probably think we want to be here out at odd hours, up to no good.
But not yet.
Rows of proud fence stand like soldiers, like street promoters advertizing Barrios, taggers, and crew initials.
And there it was.
In betwixt two big ass fields lay a short uncivilized strip of forest, fragment from another time.
Someone else might have beheld a wall. An impenetrable barricade of short trees and tall weeds. This façade worked hard to conceal a cathedral.
The slightest insinuation of a packed dirt pathway lead us off the asequia road.
No civilian could probably even snap.
There before us lay the Swamp.
A momentary burst of icy rain hit us, behind our ears, down our necks.
Waving in the chilly breeze a timid “no trespassing” sign welcomed us inside.
I held open the barbwire fence slid through one at a time.
Giz maneuvered that paleta, through the fence, through the branches.
We’d been coming here forever but now the big homies were too chignon for the Swamp. Fucken placas ran everyone off The Top of the World. Under the bridge was all tecatos, transient motherfuckers, old paint hoofers and shit.
But at that time the Swamp was ours.
Our eyes now adjusted to deeper darkness. Only moonlight—diminished through purple clouds above us. Reluctant noses withstood musty blankets, moldy cushions and carseats. Chlamydia Lydia’s panties were hanging from a branch, blowing in the wind like a flag. Cushions in rows like church pews.
Pew like fuck, que no?
Gizmo threw the paleta on the floor which we broke like bread. We placed the pieces into the alter. Alternately the bleached skeleton of a 50 gallon oil drum.
Three of us crouched down and around it. We barely saw beyond our breath hitting the cold and dark air.
With each little flick we caught glimpses of our hands.
Varrio script and scar tissue, busted knuckles and infected lighter burns.
Little ugly hands unfit for praying with.
Baby lighters poured forth baby angels which delicately caressed damp wadded paper.
The offering was accepted.
The paper ignited transfigured by the holy spirit.
Yellow light burst through corrosion and bullet holes then it danced around our church.
Warmed by the flames, we gradually took our seats.
In silence we watched carefully,
In silence we watched prayerfully,
A firey priest took possession of the charred black pulpit.
The air stood still and his sermon began.
Whispers and pops echoed down an earthen isle surrounded by mulch carpet. Amassed vashas, dead lighters, spray paint and beer cans, bottle caps and broken glass.
Syringes from another congregation.
A heathen of a cold breeze stumbled upon our services. He bumped blankets hanging from strings tied to branches.
The preacher suddenly came alive, rebuking the heathen with a firey roar!
The choir began to sing.
Joined together in ungodly harmony.
Gizmo scampered up the cottonwood steeple, in the dimmed down firelight his face was that of a baby jaguar’s.
“They’re going towards Carmen and Maria’s” he said.
“Orale” the congregation responded in accordance.
“Wanna smoke a leño?” somebody said
Corduroy LA Raiders hat.
Collection plate was passed around.
Mirardo tithed a dimebag of that welfare weed.
Bandit gave 6 roaches in a cellphone.
Giz pounced from the tree like a cat,
Zags in hand as we were still patting down our shit. He was slightly indignant upon the realization that he had torn the hem of his garment.
I sat Indian style to prepare the burnt offering upon a flap of cardboard box.
Took a very long hit…
Transubstantiate that shit…
Our sins are forgiven.
Two soft sets of footfalls punched against a frozen dirt path, in the still of the night. Branches rustled.
Carmen rushed inside crying, overwhelmed by her cross to bear and fishing for sympathy. She curled up next to Mirardo on a cushion.
Gizmo took advantage of us being high and cold and he booted Carmen in her big round brown and said,
“Shut the fuck up already!”
Gasho as it sounded her backside absorbed the force. If you only knew, it was kinda funnier than fuck.
He sprung back up to his perch.
Polo took off.
He returned quickly with an armful of driftwood. Moving quickly, still long before they left him that fucken shitbag. He approached the sluggish preacher for a little revival.
Half of us zoned out.
Up in the bell tower Gizmo took the last roach and loaded it in his tiny chamber pipe. He screwed the lid on the bowl and lit it.
He watched a warm house light flip on in the cold distance.
Maria was beside me llena de gracia. I felt her tense up as…
Her sister caught Mirardo with a good one.
And then she growled all whitado
“Do you really think that I’m a Swampthing now?”
Carmen’s composed come back landed with perfect timing and this strange illustrious quality that could own any room she chose to enter. Elegance would catch her by surprise sometimes.
I looked up the path at adjacent empty 40 oz bottles which lined the pathway.
Old English 800.
Six on each side
Marked by symmetry.
They guarded us like cold sentinels.
Nobody was fucking with us.
Seven lost souls nobody wanted in a place everybody forgot.
Some of us grew up. Like the trees and vines.
Crooked beyond all redemption.
Two months later the Swamp got burnt.
Ashes to Ashes
Dirt to Dirt
Dust to which thou shall return.
Que aqȕite, nuh?
Spook Armendariz ‘13
revised from ’10 original