The song was pulling a sadness up from me that I had been aware of but had rarely ever felt. Sitting alone in a crowd at a small border town bar table, I had drifted far away inside of myself. The band was mariachi and the crowd they played for was one person shy of being totally Hispanic.
Six trained voices and twelve gifted hands were sparking the thing in me — whatever it was — that I had been missing. The fragile and temporary marriage of the melody and lyrics the singer was performing called out to me for my total attention.
“Do you have sadness?”
The voice brought me back from wherever it was that I had been. I had been so completely gone that I hadn’t even noticed the middle-aged woman who had sat down beside me. She looked at me now with a curious and amused expression on her face.
“No, uh, I mean, well, sometimes, yeah, I guess so.”
“Does the song bring you this sadness?”
Her eyes danced as they watched me; she was searching for something that I wasn’t too sure I wanted her to find.
“Yes, the song brings me sadness but since I am not native to Spanish I can only understand parts of it. A dove’s call and a lonely man, no?”
She laughed an open and honest belly laugh. For a moment I felt as if I had missed the meaning of the song completely.
“Yes! And the singer has shared this deep loneliness with with you, yes?”
“Si, I feel as if the song is now about me.”
She slowly nodded her head.
“And you are disturbed by the depth of your feelings? Of course you are! You are a gringo!”
She laughed again and I laughed right along with her. Through my laugh, though, there was no hiding the feeling that was beginning to fill my eyes. She turned in her chair so she could look directly at me.
“Oh, pobrecito. If you can feel this song to such a depth without understanding the poetry of the lyrics, you are truly gifted with the music. Tell me, are you a musician?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“In that case, I will share with you what the writer of the song intended. That way you can perhaps feel what a Mexican feels when the song is being sung in such a way as this.”
I turned my attention back to the singer who was just finishing the last lines of the song. The leader of the band, a silver haired gentleman with a trumpet in his hand, walked over to my table. He kissed the woman who had been talking to me and put his horn mute down in front of me.
“Que quieres — what would you like?” he asked me with a large open smile.
“El mismo canción otra vez — the same song another time,” I replied as I put a ten inside his mute.
“Ah, bueno! You have been touched!”
He winked at the woman sitting next to me and they both laughed. He turned around and walked back to his place with the band.
“Cucurrucucu Paloma! Otra vez!”
The violins swelled behind the trumpet’s intro and the singer stepped forward, this time looking directly at me as he began to sing.
“Imagine if you can,” began the woman, “a man who suffers so deeply for his departed love that he no longer has the volition to leave his empty house. He emprisons himself with strong drink and ceases to take food until, in his death, his cries for her are so passionate that the heavens shake upon hearing them.”
My ears listened while my eyes watched the music.
“He dies of incurable passion. A dove then visits his house, his empty house with its little doors open two by two. This dove begins to sing. They say that the dove’s song is none other than the man’s soul calling out for his lover to return. Cucurrucucu is the cry of the dove though his cry is a sadness that is wasted on the stones around him, stones that will never know of the love that he mourns.”
The song ended in silence. Shaken and with nowhere to hide, I tried to pull myself together. I got up and, ashamed of my tears, turned to go. As I walked to the door she called out to me one last time:
“Congratulations gringo! Your heart is that of a Mexican.”
I smiled, turned, waved, and was gone with the song of the dove.
by Dave Munsick