OLVERA STREET TUTORIAL
BY CAROLYN HOWARD-JOHNSON
A command performance.
My daughter, a cultural anthropologist,
demands I take a quick ride
on our new Gold Line, from suburbs
to central LA, off at the art deco
and mission-style train station,
posing as if they were one
art form. This is an adventure
from my sculpted world of silver-only
cars, little black cocktail dresses.
Kiosks call. Tacky eye treats.
Slick foil-finished ukuleles,
clay piggy banks brushed
with royal and red daisy strokes.
Faux Brighton bags and Chanel
totes hang near egg cartons
filled with tiny tin Milagros.
The sweet odor of churros
invites me to visit a cart on wheels.
I reject them, even though they're boiled
in oil thick and hot enough to suffocate
any microbe. That day
women clutch dolls, icons
with clay heads, lace crimped
and glued onto chairs in which they,
unlike babies, sit upright like T-squares
wearing folded-foil crowns set
with plastic-cut jewels. In a store
cluttered with painted tin mirrors
one girl, nearly a grown woman,
buys such a doll, unclothed. Its skin
the color of mocha latté, she runs
her finger along its arm and cheek.
She would make its garment
stitch sequins on its satin robe,
place the tiara like a halo on painted
porcelain curls. My daughter
once crocheted a skirt of variegated
purple, an uneven hem. She wore
it with a flower more pasty
papier mâchè than silk, behind her ear.
My mother hated that I let her go
to school looking like that, her panties
visible through loose stitches--
her vulnerability disguised
only by cheap, looped yarn.
I revisit a booth. Se vende
said the sign above batiste
blouses, muslin skirts--hand-crocheted,
too--red and blue yarn fix orange
ruffles to purple. I admire
the colors like paper placemats
crayoned by toddlers. I drink
a horchata, ricey-sweet, taste
a triangle of watermelon offered by
a boy sitting on a curb near
the Mission Nuestra Señora Reine. He cuts
another: I notice juice trails
from his sticky penknife to his elbow
and eat it anyway. I try a straw hat;
its brim blooms with crêpe paper poppies,
bright as this Mexican street. Perhaps next visit
I shall buy one and wear it the entire day.