Girl by featured artist Lora Mathis
Cuatro Mujeres (Four Women)
My grandmother is fussing over
my mother’s shoulder in the kitchen.
The air, thick with garlic, dense
in the perfume of troubled women.
There is a dance, a cradling of spoon;
this is how you slice the plantain,
peel the stubborn skins
away from the meaty flesh, repeat.
In the living room, my daughter
sits on the floor, legs sprawled, mouth
agape in red wild laughter, banging
wooden spoons across the tops
of empty pots, a few pieces of dry
cereal scattered. She gurgles,
sings to me, Buenos Días,
a chorus of perfect teeth smile,
a parade. Abuela bursts, a chime
of aged rum and cackle, fingers
coated in olive oil, knuckles deep
in the proud work of a good meal.
This is how you taste for rhythm, let
the simmer of sofrito and adobo melt
between tongue and teeth. A little
more pique, a little aguacate. Hand me
the Tostonera, Sarah. We are – all
of us – this one sacred thing, wrapped
in the stretch of the longest
summer, humid air settling in the cracks
of linoleum, where the bones of us
hunger for nothing. Where we fill our whole
mouths with banana leaves, and sing,
and sing, and sing.
Letter to a Man Who Knows
You were cut in perfect lines
on a mirror cracked from all the tapping,
a single tear upon a razor blade
that had not yet drawn blood.
It was an unromantic winter inside the walls
of your section eight apartment,
garbage littered concrete, everything gray,
You told me the other children
laughed at you on your first day of kindergarten,
that you came from a place where
the wind makes instruments out
of abandoned praise, that your first kiss
was a glass pipe left out like
an after school snack by your mother,
that it was the most loving gesture she ever made.
You told me your first love was a prostitute
named Edna, you still think of her every now and then:
how you both dreamed of leaving these loveless streets
behind you; how she was beaten to death
by two junkies with an old rusted pipe over five dollars
and an emptied bag of blow.
You say we are but thankless insects,
scattered like rock and smashing fist,
waiting to be driven from creation, by a boy
who kisses crack pipes and calls it Spring.
You tell me you never meant to hurt me, that girls
like me don’t grow on trees where you
come from, that stealing is next to second nature,
and your conscience has long been resigned
to a cold and unforgiving grave.
You told me you used to hide in the moldy cellar
of your grandmother’s house, pretending to be a bird
with gilded wings, pretending your uncle’s stale
smelling flesh was an apparition, just like the one
you ultimately became to me.