Alma becomes an island

by Michaela Coplen
Through my grandmother’s skin, I trace the geography 
of our blood.        Abuela was born a bridge, but became 
an island.     Her sisters called her gringa 
as they climbed across her narrow back—
La Gringa,     their name for the girl who was born 
on the side of the border that crossed them—
her parents named her Alma      (soul) 
and pierced her ears with gold. 
Alma, young and whip smart.      Alma, la bonita.
Alma, all dark-eyed and doradita—Alma,
who had boyfriends both sides of the Rio, 
but loved their horses more than anything. 
Hot like Texas-summer-and-the-swimming-pool-
won’t-take-you burned her,    from brittle to break. 
Alma, who prayed in endless circles, her rosary
weighty  with  hourfuls,  waiting.      Alma, 
the quick study.      Alma, who was never proud. 
Alma, the wife of the man from Missouri. 
Alma, somehow in Oregon,     somehow now peninsula.
Mi abuela,  who named my father Richard 
but still   in her mind    calls him Ricardo. 
Alma, who pronounces 
her own name wrong—
who takes her husband’s words 
and holds them in her mouth. 
Alma who swears no somos indígenas, who layers 
sunblock on her “Spanish” skin.     Alma playing bridge 
with the blue-veined neighbors.     Alma, eroding. 
Alma carving conversations into circles,      Alma
who tells the same story six times (the one
about the boy she didn’t marry) until it begins to sound
like a prayer—her eyes upturned, intent.       Alma, 
who needs minding and reminding.      Alma, 
retracing the last three minutes,   the last seven months,   the last
Alma, retreating from the borders of being.
The Island of Alma is its own time zone
ranging from five minutes to fifty years behind.
Memory answers only in its native tongue—
She calls out in a language I understand
but do not yet know to speak.