April 22, 2013 Comments Off on Little Wing by Miriam Sagan
He turns her corpse over, as always. In the dream, he thinks the small figure in the black pajamas is a man or a boy, but it is not. It is a sweet-faced Vietnamese girl of sixteen, and he has killed her.
It isn’t possible to be a saint without having been a sinner, or even to become a carver of saints. He serves, comes back to Las Tampas, shoots heroin. He cracks up cars, deals, has three children with two women he never marries, pulls knives in bars. Everyone prays for him — mother, grandmother, aunts, and sisters. He had been a sweet kid, a good guy. They pray — candles, rosaries, the whole works.
He goes into rehab.
He shoots heroin.
A friend dies of an overdose, and he shoots pure smack into the disturbed earth of the grave, then goes back into rehab. He is thirty when the old man finds him, out shooting cans in the national forest.
“Hey, you,” the old man yells. “Help me with this branch. In the truck. And that stump.” They wrestle it together.
“Not firewood? What do you want this for?” he asks the old man, who doesn’t answer, just gestures to him to come along.
The studio is small, uninsulated, with a wood stove and a long view of blue hills and the Sangres. 10,000 feet. The old man gives him a chisel. He starts to carve. The old man is relentless — slower, faster, under, over, more rosettes, more leaves. The face of the saint. It is already in the wood. He drives over every day. Brings the old man tamales. On the truck radio, Jimi is singing “Little Wing.” He realizes it is the most beautiful song he has ever heard. She comes to me with a thousand smiles.
His saints curve out, unadorned, from the dead wood. He learns to paint. Carmine red. Madonna blue. He carves Our Lady on a crescent moon. Her face is Vietnamese. She wears a conical hat woven of straw. He wins best of show.
He carves, he sells, he marries his baby sister’s best friend Carmela and has three more kids. He wishes the girl in the song had a name he could use for a daughter.
The old man dies.
The studio is his.
He is clean and sober, a mentor in the schools, his work is in churches and museums. He turns her corpse over, as always. In the dream, as always, he thinks the small figure in the black pajamas is a man or a boy, but it is not. It is a sweet-faced Vietnamese girl of sixteen, and he has killed her. He tells her, take anything you want from me. But she does nothing, no more than she already has.
© 2012 Miriam Sagan
Miriam Sagan is the author of twenty-five books, including the poetry collection MAP OF THE POST (University of New Mexico Press.) She founded and directs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her blog is Miriam’s Well (http://miriamswell.wordpress.com). in 2010, she won the Santa Fe Mayor’s award for Excellence in the Arts.