He wore a black hat

He was dressed in dark cloak, wearing a black hat. He had the eyes of a madman. And I knew that was the body I was going to take. So that one day, maybe, I would know what he knew.

He took away all my gods, all my beliefs and convictions. In order to inhabit this body, he began to drill his consciousness and her presence through every nerve in my body, holding on to every gland, and making every second an eternity.

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The Horror of the Situation

I saw the mechanical and predictable when I, on my seventh birthday, became suspicious that everyone around me had been replaced, and that I was now surrounded by robots or extra-terrestrials; that they were observing me.

I didn’t know why they were observing me. I just knew that they were mechanical, and that they were pretending to be the people I knew.

I knew also that I needed to pretend that everything was the same.

 

In the vast desert of the mind, we searched for strange maps.

We were a small band of psychonauts, explorers of unintended spaces, out to the Mina Es—a mine of clay soil we had named after the last letter of each of our last names. Ivan, Omar, Milton, Macoy, Ricardo, Pío and Toño. Our last names ending with the sound of es. Not enough money or food at home to make sandwiches or any kind of meal. Only salt, we would take with us. On the way, we could cut lemons to suck with the salt, our provisions for the journey. Sometimes, if someone had a cent, we could buy the refuse of the mango twist from Doña Evelia. She had a machine where a green mango was stripped into long delicious spaghetti-like strips and mixed in a clear plastic bag with lemon, salt, algüaishte and chile. Quite the mouth-watering 25 cents delicacy! So far from our budget, but not the peel of the mango. They discarded the green peel of the mango, and that we could buy in bigger bags for only 1 cent!

And so, armed with provisions and hand made sling shots, we went in our way to the Mina Es. On our way there, we went through ravines and hills, tunnels and shanti towns built on cardboard houses. We visited the abandoned medicine classrooms of the University long ago taken apart and abandoned by the armed forces. We would see the big pig inside a corral, maintained by some unknown caretaker in the deserted department of agriculture. The pigs’ huge testicles protruding behind his legs, each one the size of a soccer ball from some magic or science of the frustrated dreams of some students turned guerrilla fighters.

We went through so many worlds and adventures, running from guard dogs and ignoring the strays, guided by birds and playing with familiar spirits. We went following the maps in our heads, until we found ourselves in a field of golden brown clay, from where we supplied our bags, making room by eating the lemons and salt—or the refuse of the mango twist, if we had scored earlier. We took our loot back, to make cups and plates and strange gods out of the clay: also leaves and toys, little people and trees. And on our way back we would always take a different route. We came to the Mina Es by way of the forgotten passages of Zacamil and Mejicanos, but we returned home through other stranger passages not of this world. We voyaged through uncharted passages of forgotten worlds, using words and stories of long ago, forgotten as the race of people who once inhabited these lands was itself forgotten. We allowed the perceptions of these long ago impressions and sensations, not delegated to hints and adumbrations behind flickering shadows of the unconscious, to come out and guide us on our way back.

Thus we searched for strange maps; maps which described not physical properties of the known world but the shadow world. Waded not through accepted history, but through recurring mythology. We sought the stories of the old ones. We recorded the lies told in prisons and mental institutions. We were guided at times by the sexual fantasies of the dangerously deviant.

Walking from dream to dream, recording every distortion: shadows that move within a blink, the dissolution of the world as we fall asleep, the dissolution of time as we begin to wake up.

Those became our stepping-stones.

And madness!

Yes, madness. Those were the definitions of our maps for a long, long time: lies, distortions, inaccuracies, old-wives tales, intentional lies, honest beliefs, and entertaining mythologies.

Songs and dreams! They created a vast wasteland, a desert made of thoughts. We started to chart the territories where this sand of mind-stuff had congealed into miles and miles of glass, forming cities—illusory cities made not of glass itself but of the reflection of the moon upon the glass.

 

Photography by Sharla Sanchez

The vulnerable unity of a soap bubble.

When we come into this world, we find ourselves open to the environment, with no shields other than those provided by family and inheritance. We are there, exposed to predators and to influences. We are open to receive the programming of our nervous system. At that time there is no division between self and environment; no distinction between the center of the circle—the source of our attention—and the circumference which is the perceived universe around us.

Everything belongs to the same flux. There is hunger and the satisfying feeling of being nurtured. There is no inside, and no outside; just a constant back and forth of consciousness, impressions, and expressions. No difference is made between any two things.

We begin life from a state that is unified, yet quite vulnerable.

Very close to death, we begin life.
The division between life and death at the beginning
is a thin, invisible membrane,
like the rainbow walls of a bubble made of soap,
floating in midair,
going up into the morning sun
and popping out
right at the same moment
that it disappears.
Such is the consciousness
with which we come to this world.

The Embers Whisper Oaths of Fiery Storms

Fifty years ago, a man leans over a small fire. Around him, the night hosts shadows and crickets, and the spirits of the old house are joined by the spirits of the volcanoes and the mange. More spirits arrive, of jungle, bays, and rivers––all to see the sorrow of a simple man burning a small book.

I arrive too, somehow I’m here amidst the spirits and things we don’t know anything about. I was born two years before. I see the burning of a diary. It would be some years after I’d learn about this moment; that this man was my father and that he was burning with this diary an icon for hope for a revolution that burned injustice and the raping of a continent, a revolution that obliterates all borders and artificial differences of race, gender, and creed. He was burning a small document, so that it would be consumed and owned by the fire, secretly and silently sentencing it to be reborn in volcanic fires, to spread fiery seeds into the hearts of the people.

When I was two my father burnt the diary of Ernesto Che Guevara. This day, fifty years ago, he was executed in Bolivia at the orders of a CIA operative. A picture was taken of his corpse, as peasants formed a line to pay their respect. The CIA would later consider this picture to be a big mistake, because the site became a shrine of a martyr in the hearts of the people, and the picture became the wind that blew on the embers of hearts long ago quelled with despair––embers that now whisper oaths of fiery storms.

 

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Mr. Canales’ Secret to Karma Yoga

It was around this time of the year in 1977 when I was finishing the sixth grade with my teacher, Mr. Canales, a gentle and quiet man who supplemented his income by picking up a few students near his house, in the poor neighborhood of Zacamil. I was one of the students he picked up in the fourth grade. He picked me up on the curve, at the end of the passage that led to my small house. He drove four other students: his son, one year younger than me, among them.

I enjoyed talking to profesor Canales about the solar system, freedom, and the history of pre-conquest El Salvador. Now, as one of his sixth grade students, I was failing. My grades were poor. I didn’t do my work, and didn’t socialize with other kids. I was suffering from insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts and a few hallucinatory episodes. I had already been held back one grade in the fourth grade, and there was a concern that I wouldn’t make it this time either. I was sent to the school psychologist for therapy, and even had sessions with Superman (our nick name for the Jesuit who served as the school principal).

I thought, then, that the solution to my problems was to change schools. I didn’t want to be with privileged kids with their talk about shoe brands, cars, and penis jokes. I didn’t want to hear one more time how they wish socialists were dead, how stupid indians were, or why the poor deserved their fate. In retrospect, I see that this was not the prevalent talk of all the kids, but a vocal clique that acquired colossal proportions in my mind. I wanted to go away to what I thought would be a more simple and pleasant environment among my peers. I found myself slipping into the habit of talking to everyone about my angst, my situation, my unhappiness, my depression, and how I wanted to be somewhere else with someone else. Unconsciously, I found out that this strategy put grown ups in a state of disquiet silence. I learned to invoke my suffering to justify my performance.

It was around this time of the year, with only a little over a month left to the school year––which, in El Salvador, goes along with the calendar year. Canales was reviewing my grades with me. He looked at me in silence for a while. He looked at the papers in front of him. My mind was reeling in its usual mode of self pity and covered with the familiar veil of suffering. He looked back at me, and said: “You are about to fail this grade.” Then he fell silent again. He seemed to be looking inside himself. In that moment, he made a sweeping motion with his hands, and with that he swept away the expertise of the psychologists, and all the reasons, all the whys, and all objections. With the clarity of a simple mind he said then, “Stop all talk about not being understood. Leave aside all those thoughts and talks about how you feel and what you want. Stop all thoughts and work. You have no more time.”

With that, something in me broke through the cobwebs of the mind, recognizing a truth I could not yet voice. Without knowing why, my mind was silent, and I worked resolutely and purposefully. I passed the grade successfully and, for reasons that belong to another story, I stayed in that Jesuit school.

Canales was assassinated a few months into the next year by a Death Squad, the first of almost a dozen teachers that would fall throughout the duration of my school years. He died for his ideas and work toward social justice. He died, like many others, because they thought that teaching was a noble profession that went beyond putting hours in the class room. During his funeral, I told myself to remember the last words I remembered from him. They didn’t change me immediately––the tendency to indulge in my own suffering is too strong for my Cancerian mind––but his words gave me a moment in which the chaotic world of my mind and its objections would stop and I still now hear his words and see his arms dispelling cobwebs saying: “Stop all thoughts, and work. You have no more time.”

I Woke Up Lightning on the Other Side of the Mirror

I remember my mother walking all around the house, in a hurry. She was carrying a bundle of blankets and towels. Outside, the rain was hitting the rooftop and streets hard. The noise of the rain is harder in the tropics. The cloud forests of El Salvador makes condensation of water stronger, producing thicker drops and more abundant rain falls. Against the symphonic canon of tropical rain, the dissonant thunder would strike to the core, evoking a primal fear that left at its wake religious women crossing their chests and clutching rosary beads.

For some of us, the flash of lightning that traveled like rivers of light through the night sky did more than evoke fear. It announced the shattering sunder of the ordinary. This night, like so many tropical nights outpouring water, light and stentor, I sat in the living room watching my mother going to all the mirrors in the house, covering them with cloth, to keep us safe. She was convinced that mirrors had the power to attract lightning. It was a simple and obvious matter of sympathetic magic: the reflection of lightning has the same properties as the emanation from a lightning bolt, and so the destructive power of one could be felt in the mirror. Transitive properties clearly applied.

I just sat there and watched the family dance. My mother covering mirrors, and the rest either securing all windows, doors, and leaks against the invasion of water, or unplugging electrical cables to protect us against the invasion of electrical surges. And so, protected against water, light, and magic, the night went on. The supernatural fear and awe, however, seemed unaffected by any barrier. As used as we were to tropical storms, we had not yet become rational enough to disregard the raw power of the gods of nature. The power of light and thunder still managed to reach us, even through all the protective barriers of glass windows, towels and rosary beads. Each thunder still made our core tremble, and something that had listened to the storm since before civilization, and reason, seemed to awaken little by little with each tremor.

Each lightning and thunder, a soul-quake.

That night, I overheard my sister tell my brother that she had heard from mama Juana that if you look at yourself in a mirror for too long, you will go insane. Was this the maddening power my mom was keeping at bay? Would a primordial spirit from the abyss awaken if the lightning struck? Would it also awake after being watched for too long?

I must have already had been mad. Why else would I do what I did? With the heart girthed tight by a panic fear, like a serpent around its pray, I slipped unnoticed to a remote room, one of the ones my mother had already protected with towels in the mirror. I told myself, I really did, out loud, that this was crazy and to go back to the safety of the blankets and the stories of the family. But I didn’t.

I went into the room, and opened the veil between me and my image. Removing the white blanket covering it, I saw myself. I stared into my image. I stayed there beyond the fluttering of heart and the crawling of skin. I stayed there, watching attentively, after I recognized the one looking back. After I saw the changes of the face, the demons and angels peeking back at me, I stared longer. I even stayed there after I clearly felt that I was the one behind the mirror staring out into a world of light and thunder, tearing apart all forms and worlds.

I felt as if I had just woken up from a long, long dream in which I had been many, many beings: man, woman, criminal, judge; where I had been a saint and a sinner.
A fish.
I had seen myself as daughter and mother.
Lover.
I was the betraying one and the one who cried in desperation, betrayed.
I had had many dreams and I had seen myself lost in all those dreams.
I got lost in all those worlds. Using myself in the dream. Identifying with the drama.

I remember myself collecting pieces of me, calling them my companions. Members of a group that searched for an idea, an illusion called reality. Futile enterprise. For nothing in that dream could be called reality.

There is only this room.
Only this mirror.
Only me and no other.

I am where I have always been and there is nothing else.
I have always remained in the here and now, even throughout all those changes of form and vision. Immersing myself into the hellish vistas of pain and unending suffering with the hope of forgetting the real world. Searching for heavenly spheres of life and peace and happiness; eternal happiness. Only…

Only to briefly be able to forget the stark reality of the here and now.
That here I was again, all alone.
Nowhere to go in this room called Reality.

 

Acelhuate—Place of Nymphs and Shit

The waters of the Lempa river are born out of the Sierra Madre’s southern edge, from volcanic waters that begin to flow one mile above sea level in Guatemala. From this Mother mountain range comes the longest river in Central America, at whose shores we have lived for centuries.

Lempa means “by the riverside,” and it is by this river’s side that 75% percent of the city population of El Salvador lives. Its waters descend from its volcanic highs and run for 220 miles, nurturing the copious vegetation at its wake. It gives fish to the fishermen in the north. Its force becomes electricity and feeds the industrial machineries of civilization as well as the single lightbulbs of the small shanti houses in countless towns. It provides the main source of drinking water to the country’s capital, San Salvador. It then splits. It becomes majestic landscape and romantic countryside as it turns south towards its ultimate end––the Pacific Ocean. But before it turns, part of it becomes the river Acelhuate.

Acelhuate derives from axol–river flower, and huatl–place.

When placed together, the meaning of Acelhuate is usually translated as “place of river nymphs.” The magical implications of this name began to die off when the river became the main dumping vein for the growing industrial factories and the waste of a growing capital and its surrounding cities. Now, it is one of the most contaminated rivers in the country—even in a country where only 5% of its river waters are considered free from contamination.

I new this river as the river of black waters. When I learned the name of the river, I thought Acelhuate meant feces and urine. What had happened, then, to the nymphs and magic of pasts long gone?

Santa Elena was east of the Lempa, and to cross it we had to drive through the Golden Bridge, el puente de oro. The one that in the eighties would be blown by the dynamite power of the guerrillas, to make army tanks left swift. I stopped visiting my grandma’s house then. Not only because it was now impossible to go there by car, but also because the war had intensified in that region.

I couldn’t see the rains on the huge palm tree leaves anymore, and watch the rain water become tiny waterfalls, and then rivers to the eyes of a child. In Santa Elena, the water did not go into dark and cold copper pipes under miles of cement. The rain water joined with the soap and grime from the stone basins, and flowed down gentle slopes to the back of the property. I enjoyed following the path of this flow I called a river. I walked for a little over 200 meters watching the cement channel in front of the kitchen become a soil riverbed right when the stream turned to the right, and started its journey through the back yard. It turned, right there! I can see it again with my child’s eye, there, beyond the first outhouse––the one with the single stall over a septic tank where I used to sit and listen to songs and whispers of spirits outside, and where I often felt swirls of energy go up and down while I read the square newspaper cut-offs we used instead of toilet paper.

The river turned right, into a bed of stones. It continued among banana trees, bushes and flowers. The water kept flowing in small dances, over rocks and toads. I tried not to step on the toads because they could spit a white poison into my eyes that could make me blind. They were the same toads that our dog, pirata, liked to eat even though he got poisoned each time until the last toad he failed to survive. The river kept going to the spot where I liked to sit to pretend I was long lost in the jungle, away from all things and wars. Right there, my older cousin, taught me to build palm tree houses. He was the son of the priest in San Rafael whom I called tío Padre and had fathered three children that my grandmother took to raise away from the potential embarrassment of a priest who slept with nuns and hid hand-grenades under his bed. In this spot, I undertook many construction projects for me and my younger cousins: houses, casinos, barricades, river front properties.

The river continued beyond that, all the way beyond the zahuan, the wood and metal big gate that kept the house protected with a huge wooden beam. The river disappeared there, beyond the zahuan next to the last room of the big house. It was a mysterious small room. No one was allowed there and it was locked from the patio side. I found that through the metal keyhole I could see inside, but only when the door on the other side was opened and a little light entered the room. I had to time it right, to see through the keyhole at sunset. That was the time when the mysterious lonely teacher came to his room. He was renting it from my grandmother, and I never learned his name. I only saw him coming in, sad and silent each day, sit on his hard bed and stare at the floor until the darkness hid him again. Beyond his door and the zahuan, the river went to a jungle I couldn’t fathom, a jungle that in my mind was home to spirits and things both dangerous and fascinating. All the legends and tales, I imagined happening somewhere beyond that gate guarded by a silent, sad teacher.

But just before the ending of the river, and before the room that stored the statues of lions, saints, crosses, angels, and chariots for the church, there was a second outhouse with three stalls where the children used to poop, sometimes up to three children at a time. There, I invented a sacred show, where I invited my cousins and brothers. I would have each one put their faces close to the hole of the stall into the septic tank, looking into the darkness inside. Then, I would lit a piece of newspaper used for wiping, and throw it inside the tank. For a brief moment, we could see how the paper became a comet of fiery colors flying over a strange landscape: a world of valleys, lakes, rivers and volcanoes illuminated by strange lights and moving shadows. We saw this magnificent world made of piss and shit which the adults never wanted to see or hear about, but to us it was a magical moment when our secretions became a world of mystery and beauty and our children’s eyes became, for an instant, the eye of God surveying a world become alive and awesome. All the old people in the family remember this incident and laugh at how I tricked my smaller cousins into looking inside the toilets at shit and piss, but we who saw it know the truth: we witnessed beauty and mystery by tricking the boundaries of our senses into revealing the sacred in All, and the vast in the small.

Linda and Lupe

The old house where my grandmother and her godmother lived, in Santa Elena, had no waste plumbery. The children washed in front of the pila, a huge stoned carved to hold water and a basin for washing clothes and dishes. There, out in the open patio and in front of the pila they placed two aluminum containers and filled them with water. We would get in them naked, all together, and play in the water. Some adult would then hold the hose over us to get swine soap, a round ball of hand made soap, black, and smelling like Lupe’s long black hair. All the children bathed together. At some given age, following an unknown algorithm the adults would use to determine the exact moment this became necessary, the kids would have to start using underwear when bathing. When the gender difference became too obvious, and way before puberty hit, we graduated from the outside patio into the room right next to the pila. It was built with think wall, as the rest of the house, but these walls were made of stone, and not the mixture of adobe brick coated with lime.

This room had a stone bathtub where Papa Juan bathed even before his dementia kicked in, before he kept trying to lure the young servant girls into bathing with him. “Linda,” he told once the teenage girl serving in the house, “let’s go to the bathtub together.” Papa Juan was standing naked in front of the kitchen, where Linda was grinding the masa to make the tortillas for that day. She was rolling the hard round stone against the equally hard basin to make the masa even and thin, swaying her torso back and forth and making her hair dance, and the smoke from the brick oven would play along, circling her and retreating playfully when her hair sway close to the smoke. I was watching this dance of hair, smoke, sunlight through the roof tiles, and Linda at the center of it all, making masa that will turn into those delicious Salvadoran tortillas, thick and warm, the baseline of satisfaction and well-being in every meal. My fascination was interrupted when my cousin, Melva, cracked up in laughter while swaying on the hammock in the living room across the patio. She was laughing at Papa Juan’s nude backside. I looked at what she was pointing, “his crack is all out there,” she said.

Linda laughed too, but more in amusement than mockery. “What are we going to do there, don Juan?” she asked playfully, knowing he had been entering senility and dementia for a few months now. “We can talk,” he said in his serious tone. “Talk about what?” asked Linda after a beautiful short laugh made the thin smoke around her recoil in surprise. “Things of love,” said Papa Juan in all seriousness. “You go ahead,” said Linda. “Go bathe, and wait there, maybe someone will come to talk with you about things of love.” He left to take his bath alone, and to forget again in a few moments.

Lupe then came in, to help Linda in the kitchen. To say that both were my grandma’s maids would be a horrible loss of translation. To properly say what they were, we would have to have a term that illustrates how my abuelita Consuelo used to be a child of some privilege and status in Santa Elena. How my tia Tere, who was not really my aunt but my grandma’s godmother, had set up a store in her large house––a house we always thought of as my grandma’s house, but it was really her godmother’s house. How my tia Tere and papa Juan, who had the coolest jobs working for a railroad and every time he saw me when he was still working and not senile he would give a shinny quarter for my piggy bank, were both supporting my grandmother and raising her to be a member of society. They sent my grandma, when she was a pubescent child, to a boarding school, so she could have an education and get her ready for society. She came back after having finished her elementary education, all the way to the eighth grade. She had a proper academic and religious education, having been raised by the nuns and taught to be a proper lady. My grandmother quickly became the promise of the family. She was sure to marry high and well. People would come to pay their respect, to meet her, to get her to become their child’s godmother. One day, for sure, she would be someone important and of influence. To have someone like that as a godmother was a good way to invest in the future of your children. However, my dad seemed to have been growing in her belly prematurely, too soon. He swelled her belly out of sequence, before she was married off to a good candidate. Her prospects thus shot, she was now in charge of a big house, a large family, and two elderly benefactors. Families, however, kept coming to her to baptize their children, and some would bring their young daughters for my grandma to raise. It was an old Indian way to set up a child for apprenticeship: give her away to an elder to be taught. Linda and Lupe came that way, and they were being raised by my grandmother and taught all things about running a household: cooking, cleaning, tending the pig sty, raising the chickens, caring for the children and the elderly. To say they were maids is simply too whitewashed of a commercial transaction. To say they were adoptive children is simply too off the mark. They were in a special category that only makes sense when you mix a native population and insert generations of European catholicism and classism into their nonetheless undying millenary society.

Linda and Lupe came to the house when they were 13. Now, they are almost ready to go out into the world, having learned all about running a household, and also having gone to night school to learn to read and write––a true privilege for any servant to have. Unbeknownst to me, very soon they will not be there any more. Linda will not walk with me, hand in hand, to take me with her to her school where, at 15, she is learning the same things I am learning in my first grade. She will not sing alphabet letters and imitate with me the shapes of the letters. Lupe will not race with me to prove to me that girls are faster because they have to be. They will not be, for too much longer, building houses and jails with me out of cushions, rails, and cotton. Linda will not be directing a recreation of last night’s soap opera. She will not be the beautiful heroine, crying in jail because her father abandoned her there for having loved too much too soon. Lupe won’t be the evil seductress who would kiss me in the cheek to prove how dangerous she was. And I won’t be cast as the handsome hero, as I have been so far, every time. I won’t be rescuing Linda. I won’t be seeing her cry no more. They would both move on. I would get to see Lupe years later, when she came to San Salvador and worked there for my mom as a maid. I never saw Linda after she became a woman.

Papa Juan didn’t get a companion for his bath. His mind deteriorated more, to the amusement and hidden fear of the adults. He managed to keep enjoying his soccer games through the transistor radio, by having a note pad with him and writing a mark every time a team scored. He slept through the game, but every yell of GOOOOOLLLL woke him up to set another mark.

Life was about to change, and I didn’t know it. Things were coming to me in life. Things were brewing in the country, where beyond the thick adobe walls of this old house, the machinery of war and industry was being mobilized by forces unknown to me. In the kitchen, these young beauties were preparing the tortillas and chicken broth, the rice and vegetables. The holla de frijoles was over the brick oven, and the smoke and sunlight were now in wild rebellion around these young beauties who now moved frantically as they laughed heartily at the inventions of Papa Juan, as they shared with each other the joys of his insanities.

Under the rock, carved to hold the water, a hole had been made to let the water from the washing basin come out. The water there flows in a channel of cement, that goes to the bath house where it collects the water from the big pila where the children bathe, and then collects the water from the room I had just days ago been initiated into, to take showers from a hanging hose, all my myself, with lizards and spiders crawling on the stone, and me trying hard to believe I can be there with them without getting scared. The water trickles and flows all the way to the long back yard full of trees and rocks and secrets. It is taking away with it the grime and soap, the nubile laughter, the stories, and the dance of light and smoke.

 

 

The prayer of an atheist

I must have been seven years old when I received from my beloved father the first memory of the idea of God. It was my first religious teaching. Who knows from what recess of the soul came out this disquieting hunger to know about God, to find out if he was real and if I could talk with him?

My father did not respond with conclusions or definitions. He had been a born again Christian before I was born, on his way to be a preacher. Something must have happened to him, because by the time I was born, he didn’t let me be baptized. He didn’t baptize me Catholic, as the rest of my family would have done by default, nor raised me evangelical as the chosen religion of his early adulthood would have dictated. He decided that it had to be up to me to decide, whether or not to be baptized, whether or not I followed any kind of religious or spiritual path. Giving the soul true freedom, he never influenced me at all regarding any path or religion. But at this point in my life, when I had heard of God somewhere lost in the shadows of memory, I came to him to ask him if he knew about God; if He was real; and if it was possible to see him and talk to him.

I don’t think I ever met my father the Christian. I met the agnostic. I met the seeker. I met the communist. I met the drunk. I met the sweet story teller. In his later years, I also met the atheist.

When I came to him with that question, however, he didn’t respond as any of those things. Instead of a definitive answer, he proposed to me to teach me to pray. He taught me the Our Father. He had me sit up in bed, after I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas. He clasped his hands, and I imitated. I lowered my head with my eyes closed, listening to something silent inside.

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos–Our Father, who art in Heaven.” 

That was enough for the night. That was the first teaching, and then time to sleep. I asked for the rest, but he refused to give it to me. He smiled, and tucking me in, said, “Tomorrow, I will give you the second line.” I drifted to sleep with that sensation of having initiated a dialogue with God, and that he was in the heavens. The following night would bring the second phrase, and the declaration of my desire to sanctify His name. The third night, I asked for His kingdom to come to us, and the next night for his Will to be done here, where I prayed from, as it is already done in the higher planes.

Just like that, each night I went into the arms of Morpheus with a new verse on my lips, and with the gentle presence of my father. At the end of the prayer, after siglos y siglos and Amén, I asked him what this prayer was for, and what exactly happened when I declared it. With an amused smile, and before the obligatory wrestling match between Tarzan and Ultraman––or him and me if you were watching from the outside, he admonished me not to expect anything from this, neither to expect an answer or even to be heard.

“Let us just offer the prayer as a poem,” he said.