Bacopa Literary Review 2014's First Place winner for Creative Nonfiction was "Burned," by Melani (Mele) Martinez.
In an earlier post, we likened creative nonfiction to jazz, "always with a moving inner voice. . . as experimental as other forms while remaining grounded in fact." Melani's voice is musical, even breathtaking. Her writing captures the best of the blues: "While blues lyrics seldom turn to happy topics, they are often uplifting, empowering. . . a way of dealing with sorrow, rather than wallowing in it."
Her very first sentence rings a chord on which she improvises throughout the piece:
Surrounded by desert, my city was lifted out of caliche.Martinez describes how she and her brother "lived some independence on downtown streets. . . left to our own thoughts."
In the summer, those thoughts were most often blurred by desert heat.Still being drawn in, we learn about her father's restaurant, El Rapido. Notice the rhythm in the author's simple naming of foods:
Burros, fajitas, tamales, red chile, chorizo, machaca, frijoles, tortillas.We readers are surrounded by heat. The food, the air, and an encounter in Tucson's Old Town, where she and her brother "often delivered to a Navajo silversmith there, an older and friendly man who liked my father's red chile." On her last day of work before beginning high school,
I was a pretty girl on that day. . . This teenage threshold made me glow, and the shine on me stretched out many inches from my skin. . . He pulled me close without letting go, his face close to mine. . . his heavy arms bound me, sealed me in silver bracelets. I was calcified there in the shadows of concrete walls and steel piping. My glow was eclipsed. I found myself unable to move or get away. Then he pulled me in hard to kiss me and I suddenly jerked. He released his embrace. . .Mele Martinez holds us in thrall, her blues a way of dealing with sorrow but never wallowing, including the last paragraph, where she is at the top of Sentinel Peak:
At no time that day, that week, that decade did I tell. Not my mother, my father, nor my brother. Like steam, my memory of it floated away into invisible vapor, and hung in the air over my head. Some of it I swallowed down, but still it managed to shoot out my fingertips, my eyes, my breath.
There I'd sit quietly and contemplate all the fourteen year old girls who got burned like this--the ones who don't tell. And as I waited, on the horizon I'd see thunderclouds and the smell of sprinkled creosote bush would fill my lungs. Soon, I was pounded with late summer monsoons that always came to wash out the roasted earth and drench all of us who find ourselves on spigots.
Melani (Mele) Martinez lives in Tucson, AZ, where she's a Community College Adjunct Instructor and works on her book-length manuscript about her family's Mexican food store. She is co-founder of Flamenco del Pueblo Viejo and instructor at The Flamenco Studio. She and her husband, Jason Martinez, partner with Casa Vicente to present Tucson's Annual Spanish and Flamenco Festival.