La cintura manchada por el vino
cuando el dios tabernario
pisa los vasos rotos y desgreña
la luz del alba desencadenada:
la rosa humedecida en el sollozo
de la pequeña prostituta, el viento de los días febriles
que entra por la ventana sin cristales
donde el vengado duerme con los zapatos puestos
en un olor amargo de pistolas,
en un color azul de ojos perdidos.
& then the woman who wants
to sleep with my husband sends him a card
with Frida Kahlo’s sepia
face peering through it & he
begins reading the note aloud to me, as if
the words might bring the woman back
across the line she crossed that summer
he mentioned her name for the first time.
Then I think his brush with temptation
isn’t as noble as he’d like to believe, more like
cleaning the house whe nit gets dirty—he could
mark it on a taple of triumphs, but, at the end of the day,
it mostly amounts to what he is supposed to do.
Men are so clueless sometimes,
which isn’t a revelation, but occasionally needs restating,
& brings to mind something I read
about Lenny Kravitz who composed penitent lyrics for Lisa Bonet,
how he believed the pair might reconcile
as soon as Bonet heard the album he’d dedicated to her.
I am clueless sometimes, too,
like the woman who cried to me on a campus bench
that she wanted to be an artist, to travel,
while the others rushed to lunch, to more classes.
& what should she do? Then I thought,
We are always asking questions whose answers
we already know & That’s a great necklace she’s wearing
which I told her, but she recoiled when I said
wearing turquoise jewelry & wearing Frida Kahlo skirts
doesn’t make women artists, which was probably the cruelest thing
I’d ever said to a young woman, but exactly how I felt
watching her fuss over the ruffles of her long, black skirt.
These days, Frida Kahlo appears
like a god to whom I’ve prayed,
like accessories that shake
at the bottom of a woman’s shopping bag, a loose
divinity of feel-good postcards & magnets
rocking on paper handles in the crease of an upright arm.
This is what I think when I ask my husband to stop
reading the note he wants to render harmless.
Does a woman’s affection for Frida make her
my comrade? Years ago, with my head wrapped & bracelets
jangling, I might have answered yes. But when I ask
Who’s Lupe, Who’s Frida, Who’s Diego? I can’t help but conclude
someone’s at work on a grand cliché I’m supposed to buy into
& there’s nothing harmless about Frida Kahlo, exquisite painter
of stitches and steel, thorns & wombs & vaginas—something utterly
misleading about Frida’s face on a 4 x 4 note card, a little
too neat & too square, which makes sense in the American sense
of matinee love or lust or art or what passes for art, or living
the life of an artist, those heroes & heroines dangling over
the cliffs of vanity, begging for a little more rope.
Pages Matam - “Brown Eyed Girl” (CUPSI 2014)
"You be what turned Whitney Houston into a crackhead, but Amy Winehouse into a misunderstood soul."
Performing at the Coaches Slam at the 2014 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
I see them move,
The black men there,
With shells for shoes
And sea for air.
They’re bound in lines.
Their dragging chains
Once held anchors—
Now like trains.
Their crops are mire.
With broken knees
They plow the floors
Of restless seas.
Horrible is it,
What’s to be—
Black human miles
Inside the sea.
With mighty toil
Their burst hands drop.
They move on past
The shattered ships.
It’s west they move,
And north to land,
They never sit,
They barely stand!
Their teeth strain on,
They have not stopped.
They knew the goal
‘Fore they were dropped.
O northwest lands,
See what’s in store,
As deathless men
Stride up your shore!
behind our puerto rican santurce
house on bella vista street
buried in the yard we found a coffin
jorgito and i kept the secret
for two weeks we gathered enough
courage sunday after dinner
we dug for it
we paced around it
we opened it with a car jack
we found a black and white
we looked at each other
“let’s unveil it,”
“yeah, let’s go all the way,”
we uncovered the flag
we found an arsenal of
patria o muerte slogans
land or death
there was no other choice
we looked at each other
we closed the coffin
we buried it with soil
we kept the secret.
Puma called asking me to remind you
that he made love to you,
that he didn’t declare war against your legs,
that he didn’t violate your no
that he was searching for your yes through the no
that lurks beneath the seeming wanting to resist,
he says it was love you made not hate,
that it was mutual yielding
not the severing of parts.
i leave no tracks so my live loves
can’t follow. at the river
most turn back, their souls shivering,
but my little girl stands alone on the bank
and watches. i pull my heart out of my pocket
and throw it. i smile as she catches all
she’ll ever catch and heads for home
and her children. Mothering
has made it strong, i whisper in her ear
along the leaves.
dead anonymous tired
of getting mail addressed
to all those people I never was:
Nobody here knows my name.
This would never have happened in Havana.
-Gustavo Pérez Firmat
The inaugural thematic fall issue of The Vanderbilt Review.No filet mignon
Or lobster bisque
For this Boricua.
When I die
I want my last meal
To be rice and beans.
All I require
Red beans over
The same thing
My father used to eat,
God rest her soul—
Heating up the stove
On 112th and Lexington.
“But, Mom, we had rice and beans
Yesterday,” my father complained.
“No, Chico, yesterday we had rice and beans;
Today we’re having beans and rice.”
We make do with what we have;
What we lack is pushed
Out of our minds.
Dealing with dualities:
Like my father
When he duped Grandma Thelma
By switching from
The simple flavors found
In the Spanish
His mother was raised on
To the English tongue
She always had trouble swallowing,
His ingenuity rewarded
With a frying pan to the head;
Like me, in Greece,
Hoping to avoid the woman
Trying to swindle American tourists:
Like Grandma Thelma,
Who left the tropical shores
Of her native Puerto Rico
For the cold winters of New York.
Rice and beans
Is more than just a dish;
It is the complexity found
In the simplicity of a smile
When, at your high school graduation,
Your father, tears in his eyes, tells you
That your abuela is shedding her own tears of joy
I want that smile spread on my face
When I die.-Malcolm Friend
So much we once coveted. So much
That would have saved us, but lived,
Instead, its own quick span, returning
To uselessness with the mute acquiescence
Of shed skin. It watches us watch it:
Our faulty eyes, our telltale heart, hearts
Ticking through our shirts. We’re here
To titter at the gimcracks, the naïve tools,
The replicas of replicas stacked like bricks.
There’s green money, and oil in drums.
Pots of honey pilfered from a tomb. Books
Recounting the wars, maps of fizzled stars.
In the south wing, there’s a small room
Where a living man sits on display. Ask,
And he’ll describe the old beliefs. If you
Laugh, he’ll lower his head to his hands
And sigh. When he dies, they’ll replace him
With a video looping on ad infinitum.
Special installations come and go. “Love”
Was up for a season, followed by “Illness,”
Concepts difficult to grasp. The last thing you see
(After a mirror—someone’s idea of a joke?)
Is an image of the old planet taken from space.
Outside, vendors hawk t-shirts, three for eight.
-Tracy K. Smith
My poem “Cuando You No Habla El Spanish” in the Spring issue of The Vanderbilt Review. Check out the rest of the issue here.
My dad never liked carrying a gun.
He stomped through the streets
Of East Harlem
With only his fists.
When he joined the Air Force,
It took months to adjust
To his service weapon:
He fumbled when he picked it up;
He shook at its unwarranted touch;
When the time came to divorce this spouse
He celebrated with drink.
My dad never liked carrying a gun.
But once he told me of a party in Santurce,
Where relaxation came in the form
Of a loaded gun…
His pulse resumed a calm tucutún
Whenever his hand brushed against the cool steel
That served as his mistress for the night,
His breaths slowing as steamy Santurce air
Rushed into his lungs.
His island of enchantment was,
For one night,
Just another war zone.
So when I ask him why
We don’t go to Puerto Rico,
And he says it’s because of money,
I choose to believe him.
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.