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Back of the knee


Órale, we’re going to feature a very local term in Caló for this episode, marfita. It means somebody from Marfa. It’s an honorific, a label, for people who are connected in a meaningful way to Marfa.

It was a cold evening and the marfita was getting tired. The sky had been overcast all day, and he’d been standing all day around the campfire, which went unfueled for long periods.

On top of that, the beer had run out long ago. The poets who were supposedly entertaining the crowd were sounding duller and duller, as if they were stuck in a loop of back-and-forth where one vato said the world is a toda madres and the next vato said everything was agüitado.

The only thing keeping the marfita in the audience was inertia. He was staying around only to avoid the long walk through the dusty unpaved parking lot to his car. He was almost asleep standing up.

“Madres, I think la voy hacer,” he told himself.

Like him, everybody in the crowd was standing was just as miserable. What was needed was somebody to break the cycle and wake the crowd so everybody could go home.

That vato finally stepped up. He let out a long loud chiflido.

It was a coyote from the Ramírez clan. The marfitas knew who he was. His kin were famous for their well-trained mounts. A horse that had spent a full moon under one of the elder Ramírez understood — no, anticipated — both Spanish and English commands.

The Ramírez vato started toriqueando even before he took the floor. Loud and in unbroken pentameter y rhyme. All about horses and herds and running fast. And he wouldn’t stop. After a long while, the livened spirit turned tense, wearing down the crowd. But nobody would leave, as if spellbound.

The vato saw he was pushing the crowd over the edge and paused, as if to let the spell lift a little.

Then he shouted out in Spanish, “el que doble las corvas pierde.”

All the marfitas in the crown understood. But the others didn’t.

“What‘d he say?” people began to ask.

“Those who bend the back of their knee lose,” one marfita said.

“Doesn’t make sense,” people around him said.

With that, people started sitting down.

“Vámonos todos, before we bend our corvas,” the marfita said to his cohorts. The spell was broken, and the exodus finally began.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.