From a balcony overlooking the El Yunque rainforest by Tonia Colleen Martin

From a balcony overlooking the El Yunque rainforest by Tonia Colleen Martin

January 06, 2018

Tonia Colleen Martin's essay "From a balcony overlooking the El Yunque rainforest" appears in Issue No. 45: Unfinished



Standing on the balcony overlooking the El Yunque rain forest, I remember the kitchen pinging with light. My father emerges from nowhere, slams me playfully against the wall. Placing his forearm against my throat, barely pressing because I know enough to freeze, while I plead with him to let me go, he grabs a knife from the silverware drawer.  He’s done this before. I always protest, always plead for him to stop, but there is also something about his attention I crave. I get so little of it. If terror must be experienced, so be it. I take terror over abandonment. He swings his arm up, gripping the knife, blade pointed at me. Thrusting it at my abdomen, making a last second switch from knife handle to blade, he pokes me with his finger instead. I scream before I understand that once again I am not bleeding. It’s all been hilariously funny, but not to me.  I laugh because it puts me on my father’s winning side.

     Maybe the game with the knife was just a way of grooming me for what I continue to learn: blood is not the only evidence of a wound. This rainbow, for example—I look for signs to explain it, but there are none. I sit in a plastic chair, dig through my backpack and pull out a soggy journal and a pen. I don’t write about the robbery on the way to the forest. I censor the details of stopping to eat and having the windows beat out of the van, our valuables stolen. No one was hurt, thank God. But the inconvenience, the proximity to violence, waiting for the police, waving of arms to augment the translation, still grips me. I scribble words like bright tattoos, my eyes agape at the Peter Max rainbow dripping color from the sky.

     Where does it say that the stairs to the clouds begin here in this glad wounded sky? Nowhere. So I say it now. This is the beginning: fifty years after my father trained me to override my fear.

     Where does it warn that romantics will be over-indulgent here, tempted to lust after robin eggs and wrap themselves only in sky? Nowhere. I say it now. This is the beginning; this blue cons even the self-respecting honeybee away from labor and into dance. Here, where sweetness laces almost every leaf edge and petal.

     Even on the heels of theft and desperation, it is false to believe that unless the dance is done correctly, we will lose our way. Throughout all these years God has been busily laying out a feast. His abundance seems suddenly unavoidable, lush to the point of purple prose—a stumbling block to the logician seeking just cause for sensational beauty. All those William Stafford elephants, walking tail to trunk, urging me to truth and to smallness, have taken me here to this rainbow stretched over a green canyon, under an enormous bowl of rain-drenched sun.

     Out of reverence to the Sky God who is also the Sea God and the Poor Rich God and the Star God, I am grateful for this roller coaster morning; I'm grateful for every betrayal, every misconception, every failure, loss, argument, death and violent awakening that brought me dumbstruck to His branching arms and indigenous ornamentation. To all the if onlys and what ifs, holiness speaks through the colors of the rainbow and says, “Your desire has an answer.” This place both deepens and slacks my desire. Here it is useless to deflect charity, gratuitous green snuggles every speck of shameless blue.

     One does not crave untasted fruit. Somewhere before I have tasted this. Not the me of my body but the me passed down through Eve. And something even grander is yet to come. The Psalmist of my memory chants: “I will lift/levanter/inclinación my eyes/ojos unto the hills/colinas, from whence cometh my help/remediar. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker/fabricada of Heaven/firmament and Earth/tierra. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

     And yet I founder, aware of my father’s impending death and wonder if I can bear witness as he goes from living to dying. How will I view his dimming transfiguration? Even this beauty is tempered by his disappointed face when I have questioned him about a history I don’t understand.

     If only I could stand in the arch of this rainbow long enough to be scored by its colors and carry its mark home to him. I wish he could see me in this light—awestruck with color, surrendered, incredulous.

     It has been said that I have been wronged. A verdict based on my testimony, on what I remembered. But what have I forgotten? And why do I continue to love? How much more confused about love will I have to be to understand? And how much pride will I sacrifice to agree that violence resides in me? How often do I hurt hope before it hurts me?


Tonia Colleen Martin 

holds an MFA in writing from VCFA. Her work endeavors to bear witness to the humility and anguish of imperfect love. Her stories and poems contend that the world’s fleeting beauty is not an answer but a suggestion of what will be when chronology wraps around itself and rolls into eternity. And that true freedom comes by way of dining at the table of the Divine Other to which we can bring nothing but our wounded selves.

Read the entire issue! Issue No. 45: Unfinished

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