Lauren Brazeal Garza
Mother, suddenly they were everywhere—dozens of chittering advertisements for an “EVP consultant.” In scrutiny of all who passed, their art-deco lettering burst fiercely from those printed slime-green flames, offset by supersonic purple. The text beckoned, FLAMORA: witness of all. Resolutions through recording. Beneath this lurked a local phone number. I put off calling her for as long as possible, occupying myself with self-guided reading lists, percolating workplace tensions, organizing and reorganizing my medicine cabinet. But nights brought dreams of your death. The cancer, and how I always thought there’d be more of you even as you disappeared. In that darkness, the secret, fickle reality of our story knocked against the cleaned-up version I shared with friends and family. You’d returned. I could feel your ghost stirring just under my skin. At times, I’d catch glimpses of your smile in my own reflection, or hear your voice replacing my own when I spoke. Most days there was only silence, but you were there, growing stronger each day. One afternoon, I snatched a Flamora advertisement from a grocery store bulletin board and brought it home, taping the flyer to my own refrigerator door where it confronted me whenever I ate. The first time I finally spoke with her followed two unsuccessful calls to a wrong number after nearly a week of insomnia and panic attacks. When she answered the phone, she enunciated her bread-soft words like a woman used to asking questions of things requiring patience: what carried you here?
Mother, Flamora tells me before there were witches, there were women gathering roots, flower petals, mushrooms, and tree bark. Infusing meat and soups, brewing tea. Then came the poultices and balms. Came incantations. Came the spells and songs. They knew what they wanted: honey, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and peppers. More children laughing in the yard each spring. More sons surviving wounds of war. More ownership.
I was in her house. Her kitchen temple flushed with a window’s spry light. Fat sizzled on flame. Flamora’s no obvious witch. She’s a squat blonde woman in flip-flops wielding an analog tape recorder. Her home materialized as a fourth-floor walk-up in Pleasant Grove; a loud, mostly neglected corner of Southeast Dallas. You’re my 300th interview, but the first live one, she laughed, depressing the “play” button on her machine. The cassette tape’s wheels clicked rhythmically on symmetrical plastic spokes. Behind her, the stovetop popped and rattled a large pan filled with greens cooking in minced onions and salt pork. I picked a scab on my knuckle, not sure what she meant by live one. She unsheathed a knife and began shaving raw corn off its ears into a bowl. So, tell me about your mother. You say you’re possessed?—hold on, let me get a napkin. I only realized her interruption was a prediction when I began to cry. She held out a tea towel pulled from the fridge’s handle. Here, she said, waving its printed flowers at me, it’s clean. She continued, grabbing another ear of corn. I can see this is difficult. What makes you sure you’re being overtaken? I took a deep breath.
Mother, once, to hurt me, you told me love was an illusion. Our silences housed multitudes, but Flamora says writing these letters is important for establishing communication. She took my hand that afternoon and felt you moving within me. You want her out? She asked.
I just want to be myself again. I answered.
In her kitchen, after lunch and our talk, I wrote your name on a slip of paper and burned it in a white candle’s purifying flame. Flamora blessed a white-robed statue of Santa Muerte—Our Lady of Holy Death—in cleansing oils and herbs and placed it in a paper bag for me to take, saying her spirit would aid your journey. But my dreams of you come, increasingly frequent and feral. Each night we walk together in your garden, which grows wild in your absence. You scold me for not maintaining the flowers you planted and I’m forced to interrupt—mom, you’re dead. I’m so sorry to say it. You need to move on. My cleansing candle’s burned to the end of its wick. My blessed death statue sits on a shelf now, next to books and other objects you kept.
Flamora wants me to accept that you haven’t responded, and probably never will. It’s her choice, she insisted tonight on the phone you’re going to have to learn to live with her presence. The dreams have stopped, which I hoped would be more comforting. I guess we’ve settled into our old pattern of not speaking. Over months, Flamora and I have recorded dozens of tapes, searching for any words, even a syllable from you to open conversation. Looking for an exit. But each time I only hear myself. The resolution takes time to recognize. You’re almost there, Flamora says after each session.
Sometimes I stand in the mirror for hours, cataloging your features blossoming in my reflection. Our narrow shoulders. Our rounded chin. Our thick calves and ankles—built study for work in a field, farm, or factory. Every day I grow into what you were, becoming more you than myself. But I’m not you. I watched your body enter the earth at your funeral. Is this really what it means to be possessed? Features of the other rising in my own hands, words, and dreams—all my actions now dictated by inherited musculature and genetic memory. Each reaction and decision now based on responses I learned from watching you. Your anger, resentments, judgments, but also kindnesses thrive and multiply in my own cells. Our shared reverberations ceaselessly echo within me. I can’t help but think of it—what’s the old quote about tragedy? All women become their mothers. I guess I always thought it was a metaphor.
Lauren Brazeal Garza is a disabled writer and PhD candidate in literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. Under the name Lauren Brazeal, her published poetry collections include Gutter (YesYes Books, 2018), which chronicles her homelessness as a teenager. She has also published two chapbooks. Her work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Waxwing, and Verse Daily, among many other journals. She lives and teaches in Dallas, Texas, and can be found haunting her website at lbrazealgarza.com.