Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Esperanza

BY MARGARET MACINNIS

Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate. A lock on the door means the power to think for oneself.1

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Still.

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Literary history and the present are dark with silences. 2

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How much we have lost is hard to say.

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Esperanza longs for a room of her own, and not just a room, but a house all her own. With her books and her stories. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for herself to go, clean as paper before the poem.3

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How much it takes to become a writer. Bent (far more common than we assume), circumstances, time, development of craft – but beyond that: how much conviction as to the importance of what one has to say, one’s right to say it…Difficult for any male not born into a class that breeds confidence. Almost impossible for a girl, a woman. 4

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Still.

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Virginia Woolf asserted that a “genius of a sort” must have existed among the working classes.

But.

Certainly it “never got itself onto paper.”

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How much we have lost is hard to say.

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“Someone in the Old Country cursed us,” Rose5 said, her dark eyes lowering to her hands as she brushed invisible crumbs from the tablecloth. I wanted to touch her, to rest my hand on hers, to offer her some part of me, but I feared her and the Old Country curses. As if sensing my concern, she raised her eyes to mine. She was going to tell me something. I was sure of it. She wanted to tell me something the way I wanted to touch her, but she didn’t speak, and my hands stayed clenched in my lap.

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How many of us who are writers have mothers, grandmothers, of limited education; awkward, not at home with the written word? Born a generation or two before, we might have been they. 6

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I would like to ask Ruth7 if she still loved my grandfather, or was it hatred she felt toward the man who deserted her and their three children, forcing her into a life of double-shifts at the local mill? On my grandfather‘s deathbed, he requested to meet his daughter, my mother, who was then twenty-six. She denied his request. “Out of respect for my mother,” she explained when I questioned her decision. I would like to ask my grandmother how she felt about all this, because at the time, I didn’t. How could I have known that I would long for these answers someday? Recently, I’ve asked my mother what my grandmother said when the call came, hoping to gain insight into her private inner world, into the woman she was beyond grandmother. I cannot say my mother’s answer surprised me: “She didn’t say anything at all.”

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Minerva writes poems on little pieces of paper that she folds over and over and holds in her hands a long time.8

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I found my mother in the upstairs hallway. Because I interrupted her sweeping, she barely read the poem before she handed it back to me, but she’d read enough to say, “Hide that, or throw it away.” My hands trembled as I folded the poem, but my eyes remained dry. Swallowing the lump of tears in my throat, I went to my room and tucked the folded poem in a drawer.

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Consider Margret laboring in a textile mill, her eyes were quick to see delicate and grand lines in the homeliest things. Everything she saw or touched, nearer, more human than to you or me. Margret never got used to living as other people do.9

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What demanded to be written was not. It seethed, bubbled, clamored, peopled her.

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Where the gifted have remained mute, or have never attained full capacity, it is because of circumstances, inner or outer, which oppose the needs of creation. 10

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In Spanish Esperanza means hope. For Esperanza it means sadness. It means waiting.11

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It was distraction – not meditation – that became habitual; interruption, not continuity; spasmodic, not constant toil. 12

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Perfection in a Woman’s work is rare. / From an untroubled mind should verses flow. / My discontents make mine too muddy to show.13

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I can’t remember what I wrote in that lost poem, but I know that I’ve been trying to recapture it for thirty years.

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She never got used to living as other people do.

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I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. 14

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Still.

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Esperanza:


[1] Virginia Woolf

[2] Tillie Olsen

[3] Sandra Cisneros

[4] Tillie Olsen

[5] Rose Saviano MacInnis, my paternal grandmother

[6] Tillie Olsen

[7] Ruth Mowry Lunn

[8] Sandra Cisneros

[9] Rebecca Harding

[10] Tillie Olsen

[11] Sandra Cisneros

[12] Tillie Olsen

[13] Mary Oxlie

[14] Sandra Cisneros



Margaret MacInnis lives and writes in Iowa City. Her most recent work appears in Alaska Quarterly Review and The Gettysburg Review. Two of her essays received notable mentions from Best American Essays 2009 and Best American Non-Required Reading 2009. SWEET LIFE, a memoir, is forthcoming.