Debate With An Angel
Oil on antique wallpaper mounted on panel with gilded gold leaf frame (framed in collaboration with Christen Vogel),
Image: 12"h x 20"w, frame: 17"hx 22.5"w, Item No. 21130,
Bisa's Angel By Sage Vogel
"Look there, that's where I keep them," Bisa told me, pointing across the room to a small shelf on the wall behind the bed. It was glowing in the morning rays pouring in through the window. Resting on its surface were several melted but currently unlit candles placed a safe distance away from a wood carving of a winged figure. The angel was carved from unpainted cottonwood and was about as tall as a ripe corncob. We looked at it together for a few moments in silence. Bisa placed her hand on my shoulder.
"When I was born, I was given this little angel to look after me. I was hoping it would shine today, and it is, but only a bit more than usual. I'm so happy you are here to see it, mi bisnieto."
So, this was an angel. I looked at it closer. One of its wings was a little crooked and slightly darker than the wood that made up its robed body, bowed head, and opposite wing. Both its arms were held out, and one seemed to be missing something it had once held in its fist. The face was delicately featured and possessed an air of tranquility. It did indeed seem to be glowing a bit more than it should have in the morning light, but the effect was too subtle for me to be certain.
"It was carved by a very famous santero from Cordóba, which is over the mountains out there," Bisa said, gesturing vaguely to the southeast. "He never painted his carvings. He believed the untouched wood grain to be far more beautiful than anything his human hands could craft. I agree, but his hands were very skilled, as you can see. Do you think you could carve something like that?"
I looked at the angel and could not conceive of the process that led to its manifestation. The closest act to carving I'd ever seen was watching my uncles whittling sticks on the porch, and I'd never seen them make anything besides a mess.
"No," I replied. "Never."
My answer seemed to satisfy some unspoken notion Bisa harbored, but I couldn't be sure what it was. She nodded and gazed up at her angel.
"We haven't always gotten along," she said, still smiling. "We've had a few arguments over the years, but... I think we've finally come to understand one another. And I'm quite happy about that because no one wants an angel mad at them at my age."
Even though my family attended mass every week, and studying the Bible was a regular habit for most of us, I had never before witnessed one of my relatives mention the presence of an angel in their life. They all seemed preoccupied with sin and piety more than anything else. And though they all prayed to saints, I'd never heard a story about one visiting us. That is, not until I had one of my own to tell some years later.
Hearing Bisa refer to her angel so casually, with such flippant faith, overwhelmed me with sudden hope. For the first time since Mercedes was taken, I felt I might not be wrong in my belief in miracles and magic. I wanted to tell Bisa this but found it impossible to discern the right moment to do so.
Bisa shared a bit more as we stood looking at the radiant carving.
(In response to one of the many questions I asked her over the next few days, Bisa told me that the angel was not a man or a woman. For this reason, I will use the English pronoun 'they' to refer to the angel.)
"The carver gifted this little angel santo to my parents when he visited us in Truchas, where I was raised before marriage. He placed the carving at the head of my cradle after I was born, and then my parents placed it above my bed when I was a bit older. The angel is still with me after all these years. I won't tell you how many years exactly; you wouldn't believe me if I did. I wake up to the carving glowing every morning, and sometimes they still visit me in person, but not too often. I saw them last Easter, but just for a few minutes. They don't worry about me very much these days. I'll be seeing them all too often soon enough."
Bisa paused, expecting a question. I asked one, but I could tell it was not the one she had expected.
"Do they talk?"
"Oh, yes. Not the carving itself, of course, but on the rare occasions that the angel themself visits, we have had many fascinating conversations."
"How does the angel get here?"
"Some mysterious way because that's how holy things work. They use the carving as a… a door, I suppose you could call it."
"It's a door? Can I go through the door?" I blurted out. I could not have stopped myself from asking this question even if I had wanted to. Likewise, I could not stop myself from climbing onto Bisa's bed to get an even closer look at the carving. I remember thinking for a few moments that I had found the door that would let me into the place where Mercedes was taken, but no matter what angle I looked at the carving from, no entrance appeared to me.
"Perhaps 'door' is not the best word for it," Bisa said, tempering my excitement. "And even if you and I could move through such a door, I don't think it's time for either of us to do so, not today. I hope it is many, many years before you move through a door such as that, little one. You're nowhere near ready for such a journey."
My disappointment must have been especially apparent in contrast to my sudden interest.
"Come, come. I'll tell you all about my angel and our debates while I make us some breakfast."
Bisa gently urged me off the bed and ushered me out of the room to the kitchen. I looked back as we left and noticed that the sun had risen just enough to rise above the window and cast a sliver of shadow on the angel's bare, wooden feet.