Hear the spirits

Elenir Nunes Morse

Elenir Nunes Morse reads from her magical realism story <i>The Papo Lady</i>; it has the supernatural touch of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, and the tempo of poetry.

Elenir Nunes Morse reads from her magical realism story The Papo Lady; it has the supernatural touch of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, and the tempo of poetry.

Photo By David Robert

The ugly woman with the goiter and the smooth face, except for the chasm-deep wrinkles lining her forehead, was a person Elenir Nunes Morse used to see as a girl at her home in Frederico, Brazil.

“She was always traveling on foot, and she would come to town around the same time every year,” Nunes Morse says. “She’d stop by my door and ask for a glass of water, and I would bring her bread, too.”

There was never any indication that the nomadic woman possessed magical powers; however, Nunes Morse gave the memorably unattractive lady supernatural abilities in her book, The Papo Lady. The book is a compilation of truths about the mystically inclined Brazilians and fiction about the Papo Lady, also referred to as Filha da Terra, and the boys who are scared and intrigued by her visits, yet anxious to learn more about her.

Adreano’s grandfather told him many stories about the curses placed upon cruel and selfish folks by the Papo Lady. Adreano was intrigued by the legend that the Papo Lady always walked into the river on the edge of town to emerge dry on the other side. As she only came to town once every decade, Adreano concocted schemes as to how he could witness her river crossing and finally discover the truth about her.

The Papo Lady is in the magical realism style of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a story about the naivete of life in southern Brazil. Nunes Morse’s voice is also naïve; it is fresh and simple, and because she is first a poet, the language mimics that of poetry—"[A stormy night] is God’s bowling night on the town, as if heaven and earth have embarked on a battle of passion with angry displays; finally, the rain comes making peace between them.”

When the Papo Lady finally comes, Adreano and his friends treat the woman with respect and kindness even when they are terrified. As the book leaps into the future, it is clear the boys will reap the benefits of the ugly woman’s magic for the rest of their lives. For Nunes Morse, the Papo Lady is a spiritual metaphor whose existence is open to the readers’ interpretations.

Belief in magic was a part of Nunes Morse’s upbringing, as well. Her mother was a healer when she was growing up in Brazil. Part of the process of making people well was calling upon the aid of the spirits.

“I was raised with ideas of a colorful world,” Nunes Morse says. “In Brazil, people are so full of beliefs. Here in the United States, we have psychiatrists to help us understand our problems. There, they have spirits. Sanctuaries are places where people express their problems to the spirits, and the spirits help them work their problems out.”

Nunes Morse has published one other book, a book of poetry called A Quest of Existence. Two of her poems have been published in two volumes of The New American Poetry Anthology. The Papo Lady can be purchased at Sundance Bookstore. She is now working on a children’s book that focuses on her granddaughter Shayla. Shayla always watches over her grandmother’s shoulder, reading as she writes and offering ideas.

“Shyala corrects me sometimes since she knows how children talk,” Nunes Morse says. “Children talk very differently.”

With such a rich Portuguese accent and such a fondness for the Brazilian way of life, it would seem natural for Nunes Morse to write in Portuguese, although she has never done so.

“I love English," she says. "I’m enchanted with some of the older English poetry, Emily Dickinson, for example. It fascinates me. … The only thing I do in Portuguese is pray."