Melissa Coss Aquino
Visions of the Mother We Need
(excerpt from the novel Carmen and Grace)
We put the holy water on our foreheads in the sign of the cross from the small marble basin at the entrance, as if we had been going to church every Sunday. Habits and ritual hold Catholics together when faith and action fail to deliver. Our bodies hold muscle memory of being here and knowing what to do. It was early Saturday morning. Mostly empty, it was that dark, cool, quiet version of church we had always loved. It had been a long time since I’d seen the stained-glass windows. I was lost in the color blue. Grace pinched my thigh.
“Are you even listening to me?” She then smiled in the direction of the confessionals, still empty and waiting. She mockingly said, “You gotta love a church that lets you sin on Friday, confess on Saturday and take in the body of your God on Sunday morning! I mean, that shit is perfect really.”
Grace pointed up to the statue of the Virgin Mary, and started talking in this very dreamy voice. She went on for about a minute talking about art, the history of the church, the way churches were made to look like castles and priests to look like kings. To confuse the people. To make them feel like they finally got inside the castle and they could call it their own. To get them out of the woods and away from their devotion to the Great Mother. The light from the stained-glass windows illuminated Grace from the side. I loved her as hard as I had ever loved anyone in my life. We had held onto each other in this church during our darkest years. She looked ahead and said, “I had the weirdest dream last night. I mean, I think it was dream.”
I was here in church right in this very pew and looking to the Virgin Mary, complaining. I was like ‘Mary, I love you and all and I pray to you but I feel so alone. I feel like you don’t really hear me like I’m not good enough for you.’ Then Mary opened her eyes and looked right at me and she said, ‘No, my love, it is not that you are not good enough for me. It is that I am not the right mother for you right now. We are all here to love and protect you, but some of us have different things to offer at different points in a woman’s life. I am always here and you are always mine, but I want to introduce you to my sister, my mother, the mother of us all.’” Grace looked over at me as if to check if I was listening, but also to check if I was judging her. I just nodded and kept a straight face. I motioned that she should keep going.
“I was sitting there like holy shit the Virgin Mary is talking to me I gotta call Univision or something and then like some stupid little kid going wait, shit, no one ever told me about the Virgin Mary’s sister, of course she had to have one everyone had brothers and sisters back then, they used to have like ten kids. So I’m sitting there waiting for some cool sister to come from somewhere, but it’s actually the Virgin Mary herself transforming right before my eyes…she dropped her blue and white outfit and veil and was completely naked. She was the size of the whole church and she stretched out her arms and suddenly there were arms everywhere. She had eight arms, then sixteen, then eight again, then ten and every arm had a weapon. Her hair grew out long and black and thick you know, it was hard hair like our hair, and she had a nose ring and a little red dot on her forehead. Then she was wearing the red dress that statue in Durka’s house wears and I recognized her. It was the Goddess that Durka always kept on her desk and in that altar by the window. It was Durga Maa. She needs no introduction with me, right, but I am sitting there just watching and suddenly her lion is right at her feet and he turns into a tiger then back into a lion. She is standing there in the middle of the altar with the cross behind her, but you can barely see it, when she smiles at me and says, ‘Oh my lovely Grace, I am so sorry it has taken us so long to find each other. Well, so long for you to find me. I have been with you all along.’
“I have a thousand questions for her, but all I can do is kneel. I’m Catholic right and that’s what I know how to do, kneel. Durga laughs at me and says, ‘You don’t need to kneel. You are my daughter. Come into my arms.’ Now I’m a little freaked cuz this is a wild-looking woman with a lot of weapons, so I find myself reaching for my gun. She laughs at me even harder. ‘You won’t be needing that.’ She sticks out one hand that doesn’t have a weapon in it, but has a little tattoo on it of a flower, and it is covered in rings and bracelets. Her arm extends out far and she picks me up. All the other ones with the weapons are moving, but she picks me up the way King Kong picks up the chick in the movie, remember that. Like I am tiny. Then she pulls me right up to her huge chest and just presses my head against her and I start crying. She whispers to me like I was a baby, ‘It is hard to be so far from home, so far and without your mother. But your mother is with you everywhere you go even if you never had her while she was standing right next to you.’ I cry for a long time into her chest till she puts me back down and kisses me right in the middle of my forehead between my eyes where another eye opens up. I am freaked out, but also crazy ass calm. She starts talking to me in a strong booming voice, ‘There is time for fighting, Grace, and demons to be killed, but don’t become confused by what that means. Confusion is the biggest demon of all.’ Then just like that she disappeared. It was the Virgin Mary again sort of winking and smiling at me as she slips back in to her blue dress. Then old Padre Juan came in and she got all statue-like again.
Melissa Coss Aquino, Ph.D., a Puerto Rican writer from The Bronx, is an Associate Professor of English at Bronx Community College, CUNY. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, The Fairy Tale Review, Hippocampus, Centro. and Of Color: Poets’ Ways of Making ~ An Anthology (2019). Earned her MFA from City College and Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY in English. Her novel, Carmen and Grace, is currently represented by Soumeya Roberts at HG Literary. http://www.melissacossaquino.com/