Sister Dorothea would whack my knuckles
with the flat edge of a desk ruler
trying to knock some nun sense into me
every five times I messed up on fractions.
She had that well lived-in roundness
the faithful get after hard years
of serving Christ in the smallest
crosses of existence.
From the back she resembled
a Magellanic penguin waddling
the beach of Magdalena Island,
and diving into the Argentine waves.
During recess she and the other sisters,
a raft of congregants, would assemble
in the gymnasium and mercilessly beat us
with their basketball moves.
Her Spanish was not the typical
Spanglish of the Miami Cuban young,
but that native exotic gaucho brio
that sounded incomprehensively French.
Che Guevara had once motorcycle to
Parana, her pueblo del corazón,
kilometers from his own beloved Rosario,
stopping for a fit of asthmatic whimsy.
She gave him some water to soothe his cough
and in his thanks she saw and heard Jesus.
He turned left and embraced la revolución.
She went right into el Papa’s arms.
Their affinity for the poor children
was the road they trod,
the journey they traveled,
the smile they shared.
That shared grin was as wide
as the continent and the Milk Way,
yet as contained as the Christ icon
that elevated her every breath.
Only la guerra could erase la sonrisa.
Che would often stop mid onslaught,
Dorothea imagined, to cry for a
martyred child cradled in his arms.
That sonrisa compartida would dissolve
into defiance when the Death Squads arrived
clamoring for more los desaparecidos
who desired only sanitized water, a clean word.
They ordered her to move. She refused.
When they demanded again, she whacked
the capitan on the knuckles with a
Monkey Puzzle branch a child had gifted her.
The capitan tore her habit down the center
and ordered his men to defile her ten times.
He demanded half the innocents slaughtered,
their bodies carried out for the caracaras delight.
El Papa moved Dorothea to a safe healing place
where in time she could feel the sun again,
hear Jesus call her to protect the innocent
one more time and forever.
The other sisters on the pick-up BB squad
all shared the same call and delighted in
the fierce protection of their wards.
They never challenged charging or traveling violations.
For these niños y niñas, me among them,
it was a time for them to heal, to learn to
bend in the wayward movement of the light,
the soft tough love tap of ruler to flesh.