- Folio, Poetry, Reading, Writing

Five Poems, by Peggy Robles-Alvarado

 

An I for an Eye: Ars Poetica

I used to take the eyes out of plastic dolls/blackened them with markers/wondered why everything blonde blossomed to gold/why everything brown pronounced broken-tongued/spiked in mud/all my gods are the color of mud/moonless nights/molasses/wet coffee grinds/black-eyed peas are sacred/the black: an eye/sight is granted/seen and be seen/I used to press black-eyed peas into sockets of my knock-off pink plastic dolls/Cupid’s alter ego/gifted to keep me out of trouble/unseen/unheard/Cupid: an armed notorious trickster/plastic doll: weaponless quiet sister of an archer/the peas rotting into the doll/Mami yelling/I: seen/markers: a bow and arrow/black-eyed peas: oculus of luck and precision/my eyes: a starless night ensconced in the clicking of my tongue/my third eye: a galaxy of storytelling/to adjust to darkness: just cover your eyes/to see me: press thumbs to eyelids and

let me speak.

 

When That Slow Old School Bachata Sounds More like the Blues

—After Roxane Beth Johnson

 

We were the one-hit-wonder
replayed every Saturday night.
Our song of moan and stretch:
the balm to an urge we wouldn’t
name but couldn’t deny. How that guitar
soundtracked what only
our bodies could set to melody.
A momentary axis to our rotating
within each other’s press and pulse.
An inability to stop the late-night
call and response knowing darkness
swallowed our secret. Moonlight
haloed the licked-clean spine, the
bowed head into thigh, the chorus
of more and please set to a tempo
that grew with each stare. The taste
of your mouth: the hook. Today, I found
the scratched CD, sunlight prisming
each jagged line. Rubbed the oil slick
set beneath plastic with the
same finger I used to trace lyrics over
your lips. The song played once,
before buckling—it warned, I still want
everything that wants me.

 

For Who and Why

For those of us who buy dream catchers and rocks carved
with the image of Atabey made in China trying to reawaken
what our bodies are certain still lives

For those of us teaching our tongues to bend and curve,
excavating Taíno linguistic caves rooted in our mouths in
search of new ways to say we love us

For those of us who never believed in original sin, so we wickedly
suckled and surrendered our sweetest folds under framed faces
of a blue-eyed god that witnessed our glorious unraveling

For those of us who knew the ocean is a woman
since the womb tussled our newly-formed bodies
and called us her little fish

For those who failed in schools that never learned to
pronounce our names even when we stressed
the accent marks, like clave and thunderclap

For those of us who grew tired of Judy Blume books
and found Esmeralda Santiago and Sandra María Esteves
just in time

For those of us who couldn’t locate our islands and archipelagos
on altered U. S. maps but always felt the geography
of bone and blood tapping our spines

For those of us who adorned homes with shiny plastic
fruit centerpieces and fake plants, where synthetic evergreen
wouldn’t remind us of all that died in exchange for our living

For those of us who made fire escapes and front stoops perfect
for goalsetting through storytelling knowing the wind carried us
making a sacred skyline of our words

For those of us who tattoo and adorn our bodies
with symbols our ancestors left us
so we may become vessels they help navigate

For those of us who sink our fingers into diasporic soil chanting
the names of lands we inherit through memory, filling with seeds
all that is missing, making a hybrid urban garden of our new identities

 

La Vecina Tries to Save What’s Left of Me

—After Jose Hernandez Diaz and Craig Santos Perez

 

A woman came up to me as I was walking into my apartment building:
“Are you Maria?” “No,” I answer, “but I come from a long line of Maria’s.
The one who cut and buried her hair by the foot of a city oak tree,
renamed her expanding body bloom to make a bridge of safe passage
from stardust to cracked pelvis for my arrival in the U.S.A.—she was my
mother.” I said. “Do you go to church on Sundays?” “I’ve found god
everywhere except sitting at a pew,” I said. “Learned to pray by interlacing
Abuela’s arthritic hands around a bowl of asopao, read daily psalms
off of Papa’s tired feet slipping into chancletas, found glory making
the sign of the cross over my lover’s belly, with anointed lips.” “Are you
afraid of being betrayed by those you love?” she asked. “I cannot fear,”
I said. “I just pretend the blade is part of my body, each bloodletting a
shedding, each knife in my back a new limb, swinging to a sharp
clearing, carving a new way home to myself, in the latest image of a
god who loves me wearing the reddest lipstick and the tightest jeans.”

 

Why I Avoid Writing About Birds

Mami had three wooden parakeet cages that hung in the hallway of our apartment/filled them with bright yellow and green budgies/one for each member of our family/Mine was blue/Blue budgies are bred for the pet trade/Not normally found in nature/beautiful mutants/tamed and homebound/Never meant to be seen in the wild/Mami’s birds weren’t trained to fly around knick-knacks like Tía Lety’s/Didn’t sit on the armrest and learn Spanish curse words like Tía Delia’s/Mami’s birds made static movements/plotted in loud chirps each time she opened the cage to replace soiled newspaper/aimed and lunged past her hand/their attempts for freedom failing miserably on screened windows and doors that led to other doors/If one managed to take flight in jagged swoops/perch momentarily on the bathroom curtain rod/Mami would gently clip her wings/return her to the cage/The other parakeets went unheard/the subdued budgie puffing its feathers/Mami gently speaking into the cages asking “¿Por qué me quieres dejar?”/The day I decide on leaving my parent’s house, I stole a small dented frying pan/a cracked mug no one would miss/and two soup spoons that had been in my kitchen since Tía Altagracia left el campo en Santiago and warmed our cold apartment with bowls of white rice and canned pork cooked in salsa roja/Mami noticed my clothes were missing when the blue budgie risked her wings/flew into my corner of the room where the closet door revealed my escape plan/I had already taken shoes/shirts/and jeans to the only room I could afford to rent at seventeen/Rage and disbelief soured Mami’s face/the blue budgie and I both circling the room/mapping a way out/Mami pounced/missed my neck/and landed on the sofa/Running out the front door rattling a plastic bag full of family kitchen contraband/I learned flight/The birds frantic/feathers falling from cages/Mami’s pain cutting into my stride/Her voice a cracking/A bird call of abandonment/a fight/ a flight/a surrender/all wailing at once/“¿Por qué me eres tan malagradecida?”/My wings intact/My chest rising and falling between sobs/My blue budgie circling the room/Mami’s hands ready to clip wings

 

Note: This is part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

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Peggy Robles-Alvarado is the author of The Abuela Stories Project, Conversations with My Skin, and Homage to the Warrior Women. Her work has appeared in Big Other; Mujeres, the Magic, the Movement, and the Muse; The Breakbeat Poetsm Vol. 4: LatiNext; ¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets; What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump; and elsewhere.

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