They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day—pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted—
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything—"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either—
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY," Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.
From City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.
When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.
When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught
Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt
The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after
I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little
Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.
Copyright © 2015 Sherman Alexie. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
If you did—
knock you down (remember Liston) &
ing you would
bust out (remember the March on Washington)
of your shakin' vaulted
poor thinkin' self (oh yes!)
& change (that's right!)
this big 'ol world (say it!)
& if you did— You (yes, you)
would have to battle w/words & rhymes & body & time—for
your New Idea—(did you hear that ) you would
endure (i hear you ) & propose (what?)
a new name for all
( a new name?)
it could be Peace
it could be Unity (sounds easy)
but this poem cannot
or contain this
Word —(Watch out!)
here it comes! &
(it's gonna to sting like a bee)
Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author.
RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
their families. And to all those injured.
Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing
Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
what happened in Afghanistan
flames burned inside
(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas)
This could be the first step
in the new evaluation of our society This could be
the first step of all of our lives
Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
By the East River of Manhattan Island Where once the Iroquois canoed in style— A clear liquid caressing another name for rock, Now the jumping Stretch of Avenue D housing projects Where Ricans and Afros Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett The portable radio night— Across the Domino sugar Neon lights of the Brooklyn shore Window carnival of megalopolis lights From Houston Street Twenty kids take off On summer bikes Across the Williamsburg Bridge Their hair flying With bodega bean protein Below the working class jumping like frogs— Parrots with new raincoats swinging canes of bamboo Like third legs Down diddy-bop 6th Street of the roaring Dragons Strollers of cool flow When winter comes they fly In capes down Delancey Past the bites of pastrami Sandwiches in Katz’s Marching through red bricks aglow dragging hind leg Swinging arms Defying in simalcas Hebrew prayers inside metallic containers Rolled into walls Tenement relic Roofs of pigeon airports Horse-driven carts arrive with the morning Slicing through the venetian blinds Along with a Polish English Barking peaches and melons Later the ice man a-cometh Selling his hard water cut into blocks The afternoon a metallic slide intercourses buildings which start to swallow coals down their basement Mouths. Where did the mountains go The immigrants ask The place where houses and objects went back Into history which guided Them into nature Entering the roots of plants The molasses of fruit To become eternal again, Now the plaster of Paris Are the ears of the walls The first utterances in Spanish Recall what was left behind. People kept arriving as the cane fields dried Flying bushes from another planet Which had a pineapple for a moon Vegetables and tree bark popping out of luggage The singers of lament into the soul of Jacob Riis Where the prayers Santa Maria Through remaining fibers of the Torah Eldridge Street lelolai A Spanish never before seen Inside gypsies. Once Cordova the cabala Haberdasheries of Orchard Street Hecklers riddling bargains Like in gone bazaars of Some Warsaw ghetto. Upward into the economy Migration continues— Out of the workers’ quarters Pieces of accents On the ascending escalator. The red Avenue B bus disappearing down the Needle holes of the garment factories— The drain of a city The final sewers Where the waste became antique The icy winds Of the river’s edge Stinging lower Broadway As hot dogs Sauerkraut and all Gush down the pipes of Canal After Forsyth Park is the beginning of Italy Florence inside Mott Street windows— Palermo eyes of Angie Flipping the big hole of a 45 record The Duprees dusting Like white sugar onto Fluffed dough— Crisscrossing The fire escapes To arrive at Lourdes’ railroad flat With knishes she threw next to Red beans. Broome Street Hasidics with Martian fur hats With those ultimatum brims Puerto Ricans supporting pra-pras Atop faces with features Thrown out of some bag Of universal race stew— Mississippi rural slang With Avenue D park view All in exile from broken Souths The horses the cows the chickens The daisies of the rural road All past tense in the urbanity that remembers The pace of mountains The moods of the fields. From the guayaba bushels outside of a town With an Arowak name I hear the flute shells With the I that saw Andalusian boats Wash up on the beach To distribute Moorish eyes. The Lower East Side was faster than the speed Of light A tornado of bricks and fire escapes In which you had to grab on to something or take Off with the wayward winds— The proletariat stoop voices Took off like Spauldine rubber balls Hit by blue broomsticks on 12th Street— Wintertime summertime Seasons of hallways and roofs Between pachanga and doo-wop A generation left The screaming streets of passage Gone from the temporary station of desire and disaster I knew Anthony’s and Carmen Butchy Little Man Eddie Andrew Tiny Pichon Vigo Wandy Juanito Where are they? The windows sucked them up The pavement had mouths that ate them Urban vanishment Illusion I too Henry Roth “Call It Sleep.”
From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965–2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.