Red Talisman

By Christina Rivera Cogswell

March 8, 2021

Red Talisman

In sepia photos of the flower market, I picture my father with bundles of pearl chrysanthemums or peach carnations in his brown boy arms. A child with the lodgepole-spine of knowing pride can mean the difference between survival or not under the street-corner eyes of the City of Angels.

My brother retraced my father's steps with a camera. He called his collage of ugly photos our dad’s “street life”: cement sidewalks, hanging traffic lights, squat buildings with short awnings, a white-rimmed sign with WALL ST marching across. My father isn’t in the photos because no photos were taken of him. 

Dad didn’t often look over his shoulder at his orphaned childhood. When he did, he squinted, seeing through his beautiful sisters who married up, leaving their first language, Latino surname, and the smallest of nine siblings behind. He saw in the reflection of Wall Street windows a boy with wits and chance. He ignored the eyes of the streets and sold flowers. 

Maybe he sold roses. Red Talismans were popular in the 40s: crimson gatherings on glossy green leaves, stems of new American dreams. What did passersby pay for a dozen when a stamp was three cents and gallon of gas, twenty? What did they pay for what they saw in the brown eyes of a brown boy holding bundles to his chest? 

I kept my father’s name. Stood it between my first and married names, for the unknown ancestors and lodgepole pride I inherited with my dad’s brown eyes.


Christina Rivera Cogswell is an emerging writer from Colorado. Her essays are published at Catapult, Bat City, Atticus Review, and Pacifica Literary Review. Christina is finishing her first book of essays and can be found on Instagram @seekingsol.


Picture by Prudence Earl courtesy of Unsplash

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