Saturday Poem

Jilia Alvarez

Porfirio drove Mami and me
to Cook’s mountain village
to find a new pantry maid.
Cook had given Mami a tip
that her home town was girl-heavy,
the men lured away to the cities.
We drove to the interior,
climbing a steep, serpentine,
say-your-last-prayers road.
I leaned toward my mother
as if my weight could throw
the car’s balance away
from the sheer drop below.
Late morning we entered
a dusty village of huts.
Mami rolled down her window
and queried an old woman,
Did she know of any girls
looking for work as maids?
Soon we were surrounded
by a dozen senoritas.
Under the thatched cantina
Mami conducted interviews–
a mix of personal questions
and Sphinx-like intelligence tests.
Do you have children, a novio?
Would you hit a child who hit you?
If I give you a quarter to buy
guineos at two for a nickel,
how many will you bring back?

As she interviewed I sat by,
looking the girls over;
one of them would soon
be telling me what to do,
reporting my misbehaviors.
Most seemed nice enough,
befriending me with smiles,
exclamations on my good hair,
my being such a darling.
Those were the ones I favored.
I’d fool them with sweet looks,
improve my bad reputation.
As we interviewed we heard
by the creek that flowed nearby
a high, clear voice singing
a plaintive lullaby…
as if the sunlight filling
the cups of the allamandas,
the turquoise sky dappled
with angel-feather clouds,
the creek trickling down
the emerald green of the mountain
had found a voice in her voice.
We listened. Mami’s hard-line,
employer-to-be face
softened with quiet sweetness.
The voice came closer, louder–
a slender girl with a basket
of wrung rags on her head
passed by the cantina,
oblivious of our presence.
Who is she? my mother asked.
Gladys, the girls replied.
Gladys! my mother called
as she would for months to come.
Gladys, come clear the plates!
Gladys, answer the door!
Gladys! the young girl turned–
Abruptly, her singing stopped.