You rode your horse to find me, bringing me good luck four-fold with every pace
You protected me from lightening with the fruit of the oak tree
You cured my body with magic roots
And fed me cake to fend the witches
With our magic hands we warded off the evil eye.
But the coral could not shield my failing health
Nor the glass seahorse start the flow of mother’s milk
Now the coral is our home
The seahorses our family
And we, your unseen talismans of the deep.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
The Tale of Paulo Rodriguez and the Alternative Retablo
Paulo Rodriguez re-entered the building site on a blisteringly hot summer day in Mexico City. He had bought an ear of corn for his lunch from the Mayan street seller and some honey sweets from the wizened old man. These had already attracted a number of feasting wasps. The last couple of pieces remained in their small brown bag, and he would eat these later.
Paulo scaled the tall white building ready to recommence the plasterwork. But a noise of buzzing coming from his pocket startled him and with that he fell backwards off the roof. As he fell, he cried out to Our Lady of Guadeloupe.
The shock of these events increased as, to his amazement he saw a large pink skinned man falling in the same direction.
In the Parallel Universe of the Miracle, Jimmy Connelly had gone back to his slating work after eating a Big Mac somewhere in Dublin and had fallen off the roof of a Georgian building as he tried to wrest the remains of a chocolate bar from the pocket of his jeans.
Perhaps if he had remained the devout Catholic his mother had raised him to be all would have been well. He might have invoked the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead, all he could utter as he fell backwards were two words.
“Fockin’ Hell!” He cried.
Now, the retablo that would have been commissioned by Paulino’s mother was under threat as the Devil appeared from the ground in a lick of flames.
“Did someone call me?”
Meanwhile, Our Lady of Guadeloupe loomed serenely in the sky while the fate of the retablo remained undecided.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
Dave clutched at the object in his pocket as he entered the hall. He thought he could detect a smell of rust on his hands. The object was rough, old. Once belonged to his uncle and his uncle before that. A farrier. Yes, that was the word.
Chanelle passed him and he felt the heat of an unwanted blush She carried her transparent envelope with its pack of pens and pencils.
“Hello Loser” she said as she brushed past.
She stopped. “What was that thing? You’ve got something in your pocket!”
“Miss” she shouted to the adjudicator “Dave’s got something massive in his pocket!”
Miss Barker looked at her icily. “I trust this is not crude banter Chanelle because this is not the time for it.”
“I mean it Miss.”
“Move along and take a place please.”
Miss Barker took the boy to one side. “Dave Delaney please remove any items from your pockets and put them on the table.”
Dave removed the horseshoe. “ It’s meant to be good luck, innit Miss?”
Miss Barker removed the horseshoe for safekeeping, wondering how it had crossed the metal detector at the school gates. Good luck or bad? She would make sure the item was returned to the boy.
We will never know Dave’s side to the story.
His parents learned from the board that Dave had failed his exam.
Two weeks later, Dave was hit by a car as he crossed the road to the bus stop and was killed instantly. A rusty horseshoe was found beside him.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
Holy Virgin, I dedicate this retablo to you in grateful thanks for my deliverance from my own folly. Distracted to the point of madness at the death of my beloved husband, I visited his grave at dead of night, carrying the kitchen knife. Mother of God, I knew that this was a wicked thing to do, and that my reward would have been eternal damnation in the fires of hell. I tried to find my heart with the blade, but the first thrust hit a rib and I fainted. Blessed St. Mary, I lay on the ground bleeding to death and brought to my senses. I prayed to you for help and you graciously sent my two dogs to find me and then to bring help. I thank you, Holy Mother, for saving my life so that I will eventually be reunited in heaven with my dearest and not face the tribulations of the inferno.
My word-charm bracelet:
Rationality, Darwinism, Atheism, Logic, Science. These are my word-charms, my talismans. They are my mantra, my protection against the neuroses of religion, the paranoia of superstition. I have no need for the supernatural. The world is enough.
Sunrise, sunset, rainbow, moonbeam. How trite my list of charms sounds! Yet, each word holds such wonder and delight. A cold winter’s morning, the garden expectant, but we must wait for the pastel sun to warm the frost-bitten soil. Later, that same sun a burning orange, bloated by atmospheric dust, tells us it’s time to retreat. A summer shower, passing like a promise, leaves the tiniest of droplets, bending the light, enchanting us. A late-night walk, moon shadows, a muntjac plain as day. Such is MY heaven made of.
Robin, pheasant, bluetit, collared dove: I know, I know – what could be more hackneyed than the robin? But watch him. Watch as he learns from the bluetits how to master the birdfeeder. A most impressive student. See how he cleans the windows of the light-struck moths. Hear the pheasant leck his love-call, but the females are gone, shot and eaten by the city gents. Hear him scratching on the roof at nighttime, where he’s built a refuge no fox can reach. The prettiest little ball of fluff is the bluetit, with his topknot of sapphire and his daffodil chest. The youngsters, not yet having learnt fear, eat from the window-ledge, one eye on me as I make the tea. To end is my collared dove, mated for life, sweet and pretty as a little grey raincloud. A newcomer, his kind arrived the same year as my birth. Such is my egotism that he is my favourite.
Although not having a charmed life,
I embrace a life of charm.
The joys, foibles and fears of living can
Create a profound need to breed a mountain of
Prayers, amulets and device
Creating a piquant life.
Tree of life, preferably oak,
The bespoke tree of eternity.
Protection, strength and reprieve
To relieve hazards
As we become grown —
Our own small acorn, developing the life
Salvation, in variously cultured forms and codes
Initiating merciful modes
Of infinite power, with prayer
Softening the air.
Slow, soul work developing
Protection, snaking through bible black darkness
To rebirth in a bright eternity —- peacefully
Spreading a glorious canopy to intercede, casting
Celestrial light through the densest night.
I forget he’s gone. It hits me when I leave the
train, see it snaking through the marshalling
yards, and I relearn his loss again. I can’t tell
him this or anything, and yet there is a sense
of him so strong that when I reach the house,
I thought I’d find his ghost among his folded
shirts, between a stack of CDs of Cleo Laine
and Nat King Cole. He’s there behind a plaque
to celebrate fifty years membership of the
Transport and General, in the neural loop
that gives me flasks of tea in rainy laybys,
his steady 40 miles per hour by Triumph Toledo
to Bridport, Dorset, never faster.
Should I have put my faith in charms or
prayers to dead gods, or the angel’s fading
glitter on a Twelfth Night Christmas tree?
Should I have clutched at clover, rabbits feet
or lightning bolts; or wrote the secret words
of Sanskrit or Aramaic, the symbols of the
Middle Kingdom – ibis, feather, heron, to ask
the sun-god for his absolution. For all that
medicine could offer was not enough –
poisons sent to fight a bigger poison coiling
through his veins, reliant on the blood of
I picture him now, training runner beans to
climb a tripod, coaxing tomato plants to rosy
plumpness, holding soil in his palm as though
strength could come from earth and all its
minerals, and I chant them now
potassium, sodium, calcium
Copper, manganese, zinc
El 30 de agosto de 1912 en Real del Monte, Hidalgo, la Sra. Jerónima Salas despertó de una pesadilla y supo que iba a haber un derrumbe en la mina de Cortés. Ela mandó a su hijo a la mina a avisar y los dos le pidieron a Sta. Tecla y a San Cástulo que salvaran a Apolinario Salas, marido y padre. Todos los mineros se salieron antes del derrumbe y la familia Salas, en agradecimiento por mandarle ese sueño a Doña Jerónima, comisionó este Retablo.
Jerónima woke up startled. The images had gone from her head but her heart was still fighting to come out of her chest. As she got out of bed the sweat cooled her down instantly.
She lay on the earth floor with her ear to the ground. There were no sounds as such but she could feel the vibrations going through her body.
“Cástulo, Cástulo, ¡levántate!” She screamed to her son.
Cástulo sprang from his bed and tottered towards her, “¿Qué pasa, Mamá?”
“Va ‘ber derrumbe”, she said, “lo siento en las plantas de los pies. Vé a ‘visar a la mina”.
Cástulo grabbed his jorongo and his hat and rushed out towards the mine. Now all he needed to do was to convince the foreman that there was going to be a cave-in. How they were going to laugh at him when he’d tell them he knew because his mother had felt it through the soles of her feet.
Two months earlier there had been a small cave-in, thankfully his father Apolinario had not been on that shift. Afterwards, the shaft was still viable and the owner, Reynaldo Cortés had insisted they keep quiet about it. The foreman had complained but later on that evening in the cantina Apolinario saw some money changing hands.
Cástulo ran faster and then slowed down, and fast again and then slow.
He could see the mine entrance now. He speeded up. Beneath his feet the earth started to shake.
Back in her house Jerónima felt the tremor and she sank to her knees to pray to Santa Tecla, who’s feast day it was, to save an protect her Apolinario and all his fellow miners down the shaft.
Cástulo was on his knees too, “San Cástulo, mi tocayo, salva a mi padre. Te lo pido con todo el corazón porque tú me has cuidado desde mi bautizo”.
The foreman and the miners that were waiting for their shift rushed out of the office and shouted down the shaft, “¡Sálganse, sálganse. Se va ‘derrumbar!”
Very soon all the miners came out covered in dirt and dust but safe and sound. A second later an all mighty rumble shook the whole of Real de Monte.
Cástulo took his father home where all three of them prayed together thanking Santa Tecla and San Cástulo for their timely intervention by sending Doña Jerónima the nightmare.
From then on everyone in Real del Monte asked Jerónima Salas what she’d dreamt the night before.