by Melinda Palacio
Melinda admires the view from Painted Cave
I’m taking a brief hiatus from La Bloga to visit relatives in Panama, explore my roots, ride a zipline, and go white water rafting, something I’ve always wanted to do. My earliest memories about the idea of Panama were of sheer terror and not fitting in. My Panamanian relatives made sly comments about how my Spanish was way too Mexican, se le sale todo lo Mexicano, my father’s cousin would say. Maybe that’s because my Mexican grandmother, Victoria, raised me and I spoke English and Mexican. Victoria would also threaten me and say that if my father or any of his relatives took me to Panama, she would never see me again, a holy terror for a child of five. Maybe, that’s why I barely made the phone call a few days ago to inform my grandmother that I would finally be visiting Panama. I emphasized the words, visiting and traveling.
My father’s mother, Grandma Etts, would always speak longingly of Panama and she never understood why I never went. In college, I backpacked all over the world, to Europe, the Greek Islands, Thailand, but never set foot beyond Mexico, let alone the small land bridge called Panama. My poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, Kulupi Press 2010, expresses more of this disconnect.
Now that Grandma Etts is dead, as are so many of my relatives who have passed on prematurely, including my mother who died at age 44, and my father’s cousin who didn’t live to see his 66th birthday, I’ve decided to make the big, scary trip to Panama. I guess last minute decisions are best because you don’t have time to back out or think about the costs. I bowed out of going to AWP this week because of financial issues. I hope someone invites me on a panel next year.
These days it seems harder to find an excuse to leave Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love that I can spend an entire day speaking Spanish and running errands without having to get into my car. I can see the ocean and Channel Islands from my house. Trader Joe’s is down the hill, to the right of Mayo’s Carniceria and Daniel’s Mexican bakery where they make flawless tamales, champurrado, and chocolate conchas.
A few weeks ago, I visited my friends Katey and Larry in Painted Cave. The community of Painted Cave is named after the Chumash rock paintings above Santa Barbara. The day demanded attention. The red sunset made the full moon seem unusually close. Katey told me to stand at Larry’s pulpit for the photo above. I saved my poetry and preaching for another day and was silent enough to hear the symphony of frogs. When the Chumash first came, they landed on Santa Rosa Island, one legend says. As I looked out onto the islands, Santa Barbara below, Goleta to the left, I wondered how Painted Cave compares to Panama. I find out on Monday.
Y Volver, Volver. Until I return, mark your calendars for March 13 and 26. I have the privilege of reading at Beyond Baroque twice in March. March 13, Sunday at 4pm, I will join the Hitched reading series with Alicia Partnoy, Sholeh Wolpe, Ramon Garcia, and Bilal Shaw. Hosted by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. March 26, I read with contributors of New Poets of the American West, Saturday at 7:30 pm at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA.