Childhood in the Latin Caribbean

- 1949-
I was child mountain
lived in a Latin American country
till I was five,
My grandfather was a cigar maker,
a tobacconist, rolled the leaves
Ancient craft.
Mother and father brought
together by custom routine,
young and curious,
primero balcony stares,
held hands for a while.
The plaza, Catholic Church,
life there was Pueblo ocio
arrested by boredom
Rutina tedium.
Marry young jibara
wooden house
Christ on the cross
over the bed
Covered by mosquito net,
nocturnal bolero voices
could be Julio, el Bohemio
in cancion
always sang,
everyone cantando
Even the rocks sang.
I was there in the air
not yet born but alive
counting the tamarindo
Coconut lollipops.
anxious to be white sombrero
getting hints upon the weaving of straws
glances from eyes like music
Shadow depth, the porcelain tinge
Surrounds the pearl black eyes
Of the girls.
Otro lelolay.
Destiny had other plans.
Life has no pity,
It moves forward.
Someone told me
man of father’s generation that
he was quiet in school,
that he made it somehow
from the mountaintop barrio Bayamoncito
into the town each day
the tribulation labor, secret that
people took in silence,
my mother refunfuñar (bickered)
as her family was everyday town-
her father the dignity of the 
black café and brandy six in
the morning rolling cigars,
sun falling singing with Alegria boleros
Together rolling the life given
the tobacco cape leaf
Wrapping the guts, pajilla
tight cigars.
Later Chicago Mafiosos will smoke
Porto Rico American Tobacco Company
New Jersey ‘mericans
owned the production of cigars
los tabaqueros just rolled
what the mountains gave,
the Taino ancestral leaf
in your finger,
To which they sang
Poetry of the Spanish golden
Age in Cuban bolero sway.
Habaneros for the New York
Antiquity awakes in the
now, the past dreams in the future.
Boleros de Rosa-Julia
Persist, the image tomorrow
Someone else the same,
a different similarity,
my root of earth.
Modernity does what it does?
I maintain 
macho Cimarrón,
the old café tobacco cane night
Flavor churning
grind bones.
Limbes tamarindo, coco
at Dona Rufa’s.
Café con leche,
ensalat bacalao
Rosada beans,
yucca with olive oil
twas my country,
Black eyes
launch from black hair
Skin rosa brown,
What can improve?
upon a day
of our hot wintertime,
We jumped from the
Into the freezer
Cold November,
the cruelest month
Excusez moi
T. S. Eliot
April lluvia
Brings mayo flores.
Mother’s schools
included math riddles
With poetry jingles,
As father Severo accomplished
numbers in addition
astute with the economy
he never slept.
Forward we went into
New York of the early
50s into the future
with the past,
into the English
with the Spanish,
in a movie rerun
the mountains melt
with the bricks.
Eyes hang sideways
upon Guayaba trees frozen
East side school yards.
Guitars strum history
bolero broadcast
amor trovadors,
singing back into the layla night
the lyrics.
Awkward language sounds
Still photos crumbled
In compost moisture.
A lone plaza photograph
A post spelling RECUERDOS
Of a country of childhood
Which dissolves
bright memory,
Now a now, is all there is.

Side 19

The Empire State Building
Is on 63rd Street
Ramon wanted to bet Manolo
Manolo said impossible
The Empire State Building 
Is on 72nd Street
They made a ten dollar bet
And borrowed Cheo's car
And headed towards Brooklin
When they came back
Late that night
All that Manolo wanted to know
If Gloria cooked

Vigo Martin

In a city that now floats
in a bottle,
In a dimension outside
of the census,
within walls that were unregistered,
there was a painter,
Who performed his roll
like the Taino cave etchers,
the pyramid illustrators of
the scribblers of hieroglyphs.
Vigo painted the hallways
of the tenements,
While through the air
he flew upon a white horse,
Or smoked hashish for
his desert camel through
Moroccan tubes.
He painted rocks
which were heavy art.
Loose bricks were found
by landlords containing
Antillean pictographs.
An artisan of the streets,
whose smooth knowledge of
many angles
Made more lines visible
through the old face
of the barrio.

Against colorful bodega windows,
bright candy stores,
the epoch of the pachanga

Deep in the clubs of night
under the world
In the submetropolis of need,
against walls merely holding up.
Once we spoke of the art
of survival,
of loose lions and hungry tigers,
He painted lizard instincts
along imaginary river bamboo,
Frozen eye sockets
containing tar and northern ice.
We recognized how we were
packed in the chance of numbers,
ciphers in the wintry spread,
noses popping out of sardine cans,
We spoke against the doo-wop of
The Paragons Meet the Jesters
Till dawn brought
a blue light upon
roofs—the city skyline bricks steel
edges jagged in the wind.
In a conference of the stoops
he maintained that Dulces Labios
Mayaguez was his origin,
he spoke of sweet mangoes,
plena pulp,
Touching trees in honor
of the Tainos of his hands
stationed deep in his bark,
with his left hand where a tattooed
cherry blossomed.

Vigo made a collaboration
between survival and creativity,
He stored objects that came with
the wind,
Had a cellar full of broken gadgets
portions that could insert into
any malfunction,
A bazaar in search of a dictionary
of shapes and proportion.

He brushed himself like
freezer ice Halka brilliantine shine,
never alone always with a
prehistoric beast.
As evidence that I was there
on this other planet
I still maintain a rock
which he painted against
the laws of gravity
Now a paperweight
grounding the poetry of the tropics
Against the flight of the east trade

The Lower East Side of Manhattan

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
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
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

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
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
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—
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
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
The horses the cows the
The daisies of the rural
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

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
Gone from the temporary
station of desire and disaster

I knew Anthony's
and Carmen
Little Man
Where are they?
The windows sucked them up
The pavement had mouths that
ate them
Urban vanishment
I too
Henry Roth
"Call It Sleep."