The Santeria Princess


1984/Crossing in front of the ambulance is a woman dressed entirely in white./A Santeria princess, walking among us./On Ninth Avenue is a small store, filled with candles, room spray, and statues./All the magic is here, in Hell’s Kitchen, baking in the summer heat.

How did we know she was a Santeria princess? Somehow, all these facts and legends from the neighborhooded permeated the hospital. Eveyone knew about Santeria, about the longhaired derelict who was a DEA agent gone bad, about the Westies keeping disembodied hands in their freezers.

In a fifth floor walk-up apartment/a man collapses on the worn rug, barely breathing./A candle flickers on the altar/The only bright spot in the room/St. Barbara’s face illuminated by flame/stark as the lightning that struck her pagan father dead.

Part of trying to capture a time in my writing is trying to sink back into the soup of givens that made up the world then. I guess you would call it, “common knowledge.” Except of course common knowledge is always restricted to one culture in one time. So it’s not common at all.

O Saint Barbara protect me/From the miserable people who lurk in the shadows/Seeking to harm me.//O virgin Saint of revenge/I know we must pray often/Against a sudden and unprovided death.//O Chango, God of lightning/Of war and drums and lust/I know we must bathe often in roses and cinnamon.

There used to be a Santaria store run by Rastas a block from my apartment. They had candles and room spray and all, but if you went to the back and stood in front of a mirror, a drawer popped out and hit you in the stomach. If you dropped twenty bucks in and closed it, it would pop back out with a bag of pot in it. How did the entire East Village know to do that?

Watch now, the flames behind your eyes/lit by your servant, who dies/on the floor beside your feet./Two medics kneel beside him/Trying to wrest him from your hands.

                      from BrokeDown Palace