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Lauren Scharhag: a poem


Latinos… are big moviegoers – 22 percent of audiences on any given weekend. But when it comes to horror, that proportion jumps to as much as half the box office.

Vanessa Racaño, “Why Latinos Heart Horror Films”

NPR, October 31, 2015

They tell me that Avenida Cesar Chavez

used to be 23rd Street. I don't remember that.

To me, it was always just the bottom of the hill.

I remember the staircase that led from it

up to Holly Street, winding dozens of feet

along the limestone bluff, skirting Gage Park,

built because it used to be a stop along

the old trolley line. My abuelo used to

ride that trolley home from work.

He saw the devil there one night after a late shift.

The devil followed him almost to the top.

He was, Abuelo reported, smoking a cigarette.

The devil made many such appearances

in the neighbourhood. On Summit Street,

Cousin Elvira saw him in the outhouse

during a game of hide-and-seek.

She was only twelve and the experience

drove her mad.

She died in the State Hospital,

raving about El Diablo.

My great-great grandmother and her sister

were known santeras, and communed

with the Dark One. They sacrificed chickens

and bathed in the dirt of the yard.

They read the future from chicken entrails,

and hand-painted Tarot cards

brought from the old country.

They gave you the evil eye, interpreted dreams,

and dispensed quinine-based abortifacients.

On 21st Street, a widow was stalked

by a spectre. When she installed a porch light,

she saw it was her deceased husband,

rattling the doorknob, tapping on windows,

come to escort her to the other side.

Of course, we all knew about La Llorona,

and spent nights cowering under blankets,

afraid that she would come and take us to Hell.

Her cousin, the Horse-Headed Lady,

prowled the river bottoms. It was unclear

whether she also wanted children,

or just revenge for those old stockyards,

where so many creatures went

to their deaths.

Of course we gathered in kitchens, on front porches.

Of course we gathered in church yards,

the children all in Catholic school uniforms,

to exchange this litany,

to whisper of otherworldly forces,

to murmur Ayyy and cross ourselves.

We carried our rosaries and

pinned Milagros to saints' robes.

On Easter Vigil, we eagerly accepted

vials of holy water which we sprinkled

around our homes.

Not a living room without a painting of Nuestra Señora.

Not a dining room without saint candles

burning on sideboards.

At summer day camp, we made Ojos de Dios,

and leather-punch wallets to carry our prayer cards in.

We went to drive-ins, hypnotised by living dolls,

and undead psychopaths, by unnamed creatures

in the dark.

It wasn't all death and Satan. Sometimes,

there was divine intervention.

I can't tell if there's less of it, or if it's just

harder to see.

Saints and devils change names and addresses,

just like we do. They hitchhike, hop rivers,

ride shotgun on my soul.

I will bring them forth because I must,

bearing them as I bear the weight

of my bruja blood. They came before me,

and they will come after, like a scapular.

It is my turn to deliver them as they

have delivered me.

With new stories, I confer resurrection.

Lauren Scharhag is the author of fourteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 100 literary venues around the world. Recent honours include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize, two Best of the Net nominations, and acceptance into the 2021 Antarctic Poetry Exhibition. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit:


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