Maine Yet Miami

- 1968-

The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.

Election Year

The last ghostly patch of snow slips away—

with it—winter’s peaceful abandon melts 
into a memory, and you remember the mire 
of muck just outside your kitchen window 
is the garden you’ve struggled and promised 
to keep. Jeans dyed black by years of dirt, 
you step into the ache of your boots again, 
clear dead spoils, trowel the soil for new life. 

The sun shifts on the horizon, lights up 
the dewed spider webs like chandeliers. 
Clouds begin sailing in, cargoed with rain 
loud enough to rouse the flowers into 
a race for color: the rouged tulips clash 
with the noble lilies flaunting their petals 
at the brazen puffs of allium, the mauve 
tongues of the iris gossip sweet-nothings 
into the wind, trembling frail petunias. 

Mornings over coffee, news of the world, 
you catch the magic act of hummingbirds— 
appearing, disappearing—the eye tricked 
into seeing how the garden flowers thrive 
in shared soil, drink from the same rainfall, 
governed by one sun, yet grow divided 
in their beds where they’ve laid for years. 
In the ruts between bands of color, ragweed 
poke their dastard heads, dandelions cough 
their poison seeds, and thistles like daggers 
draw their spiny leaves and take hold.

The garden loses ground, calls you to duty 
again: with worn gloves molded by the toll 
of your toil, and armed with sheers, you tear 
into the weeds, snip head-bowed blooms, 
prop their struggling stems. Butterfly wings 
wink at you, hinting it’s all a ruse, as you rest 
on your deck proud of your calloused palms 
and pained knees, trusting all you’ve done 
is true enough to keep the garden abloom.

But overnight, a vine you’ve never battled 
creeps out of the dark furrows, scales 
the long necks of the sunflowers, chokes 
every black-eyed Susan, and coils around 
the peonies, beheading them all. You snap 
apart its greedy tendrils, cast your hands 
back into the dirt, pull at its ruthless roots. 
Still, it returns with equal fury and claim: 
the red poppies scream, the blue asters 
gasp for air, strangled in its vile clasp 
that lives by killing everything it touches.

The sun’s eye closes behind mountains, but 
you lose sleep tonight, uncertain if the garden 
is meant to inevitably survive or die, or if 
it matters—one way or the other—with or 
without you. Maybe it’s not just the garden 
you worry about, but something we call hope 
pitted against despair, something we can only 
speak of by speaking to ourselves about flowers, 
weeds, and hummingbirds; spiders, vines, and 
a garden tended under a constitution of stars 
we must believe in, splayed across our sky.

Looking for The Gulf Motel

                             Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts
and ship's wheel in the lobby should still be
rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.
My brother and I should still be pretending
we don't know our parents, embarrassing us
as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk
loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen
loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging
with enough mangos to last the entire week,
our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and
a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.
All because we can't afford to eat out, not even
on vacation, only two hours from our home
in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled
by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,
where I should still be for the first time watching
the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he'll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My brother and I should still be playing Parcheesi,
my father should still be alive, slow dancing
with my mother on the sliding-glass balcony
of The Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves
keeping time, a song only their minds hear
ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.
My mother's face should still be resting against
his bare chest like the moon resting on the sea,
the stars should still be turning around them.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My brother should still be thirteen, sneaking
rum in the bathroom, sculpting naked women
from sand. I should still be eight years old
dazzled by seashells and how many seconds
I hold my breath underwater—but I'm not.
I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard,
looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything
that should still be, but isn't. I want to blame
the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach
and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away
with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want
to turn the golf courses back into mangroves,
I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was
and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

El Florida Room

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.

Not a sitting room, but El Florida where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.

Not a TV room, but where I watched
Creature Featureas a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela.

Not a family room, but the room where
my father twirled his hair while listening
to 8-tracks of Elvis, and read Nietzsche
and Kant a few months before he died,
where my mother learned to dance alone
as she swept, and I learned Salsa pressed
against my Tía Julia's enormous breasts.

At the edge of the city, in the company
of crickets, beside the empty clothesline,
telephone wires and the moon, tonight
my life is an old friend sitting with me 
not in the living room, but in the light
of El Florida, as quiet and necessary
as any star shining above it.

Related Poems

memories of the good daughter

pitorro is what cows use at night to remember day.
god's wine hangs from balconies to signal it's safe.
tourists buy towels with parrots,
on their way to my town.
if they even pass through my town.

my town, which is my mother's town.

we stop by añasco's post office.
we have a task list.
i still have hair.
they recognize me as sotero's granddaughter.
we climb up the stairs to a tobaccoed sofa
full of withered flowers as if this were maría.
they bring us coffee and soda crackers.
i listen to unrecognizable names,
and learn these are my blood.
i don't speak this language,
but they lend me the words.
how is yoli? and school?

my first girlfriend is from a similar town.
we text each other in the bathroom.
i tell her i miss her.
she tells me they're going to the church retreat.
when i come out, my body molds itself
to certain postural expectations.

morning's dimensions are tricky,
a word i acquired in california or nebraska.
it means my uncles enter and leave the house,
so i can't watch tv by myself.

múcaros divide the land amongst cousins.
they fly according to lines drawn in the treaty.
i go into town to buy eggs and on the way
i roll down the front seat window so the humidity
can enter with cold peach light.

i don't understand what sort of memories i'm supposed to have.
one where i didn't go with my boyfriend to the movies every friday,
where i didn't waste my time looking at shoes or eating at el mesón?

maybe one where i didn't lie to my family for years,
faking i was the good daughter,
or one where they don't tell me it's okay,
as they step outside to water the plants.

my grandmother's hand on my chin says qué linda.
with this accomplishment, the fossils rest and i rise.
but i wasn't asleep, nor good, nor a daughter.


las memorias de la hija buena

pitorro es lo que usan las vacas para recordar el día.
el vino de dios cuelga de los balcones para señalar que es seguro.
los turistas compran toallas con cotorras,
de camino a mi pueblo,
si es que pasan por mi pueblo.

mi pueblo no es sino el pueblo de mi madre.

vamos al correo de añasco.
existen las gestiones.
tengo pelo todavía.
me reconocen como la nieta de sotero.
subimos escaleras hasta un sofá atabacado
con patrón de flores marchitas
como si esto fuese maría.
sacan café y galletas de esporsoda.
escucho nombres irreconocibles.
aprendo que estos son mi sangre.
no hablo este idioma,
pero me prestan las palabras.
¿cómo está yoli? ¿y la escuela?

mi primera novia es de un pueblo similar.
nos texteamos en el baño.
le digo que la extraño.
me dice que van al retiro de la iglesia.
cuando salgo, mi cuerpo se amolda
a ciertas expectativas de la postura.

las dimensiones de la mañana son tricky,
una palabra adquirida en california o nebraska.
significa que entran y salen los tíos de la casa,
y no puedo sentarme a ver televisión sola.

los múcaros dividen el terreno entre los primos.
vuelan según las líneas trazadas por el acuerdo.
bajo a comprar huevos y de camino
bajo la ventana del asiento delantero
para que entre la humedad
con la luz de melocotón frío.

no entiendo bien qué clase de recuerdos se supone que tenga.
¿una donde no fui con mi novio cada viernes al cine,
donde no pasé tiempo mirando zapatos o comiendo en el mesón?

quizás una donde no le mentí a mi familia por años,
fingiendo que era la hija buena,
o una donde no me dicen que está bien,
mientras salen al patio a cuidar las matas.

la mano de mi abuela en mi mentón me dice qué linda.
con este logro, descansan los fósiles y despierto.
pero no dormía, ni era buena, ni era hija.

My Son Wants to Know Who His Biological Father Is

My son wants to know
his name. What does he look like? What does
he like? My son swims
four days a week. When my son swims
underwater, he glides
between strokes. When he glides underwater, he is
an arrow aimed
at a wall. Four days a week, his coach says,
Count—1…2…—before
coming up for air.
My father had blue eyes, blonde hair,
though mine are brown.
My father could not speak
Spanish and wondered, How can you love
another man? We rarely touched.
When my son
is counting, I count
with him. I say, I am
your father, too. 1…2…

The Distant Moon

      I

Admitted to the hospital again.
The second bout of pneumocystis back
In January almost killed him; then,
He'd sworn to us he'd die at home.  He baked
Us cookies, which the student wouldn't eat,
Before he left--the kitchen on 5A
Is small, but serviceable and neat.
He told me stories: Richard Gere was gay
And sleeping with a friend if his, and AIDS
Was an elaborate conspiracy
Effected by the government.  He stayed
Four months. He lost his sight to CMV.

      II

One day, I drew his blood, and while I did
He laughed, and said I was his girlfriend now,
His blood-brother.  "Vampire-slut," he cried,
"You'll make me live forever!" Wrinkled brows
Were all I managed in reply.  I know
I'm drowning in his blood, his purple blood.
I filled my seven tubes; the warmth was slow
To leave them, pressed inside my palm.  I'm sad
Because he doesn't see my face.  Because
I can't identify with him.  I hate
The fact that he's my age, and that across
My skin he's there, my blood-brother, my mate.

      III

He said I was too nice, and after all
If Jodie Foster was a lesbian,
Then doctors could be queer.  Residual
Guilts tingled down my spine.  "OK, I'm done,"
I said as I withdrew the needle from
His back, and pressed.  The CSF was clear;
I never answered him.  That spot was framed
In sterile, paper drapes.  He was so near
Death, telling him seemed pointless.  Then, he died.
Unrecognizable to anyone
But me, he left my needles deep inside
His joking heart.  An autopsy was done.

      IV

I'd read to him at night. His horoscope,
The New York Times, The Advocate;
Some lines by Richard Howard gave us hope.
A quiet hospital is infinite,
The polished, ice-white floors, the darkened halls
That lead to almost anywhere, to death
Or ghostly, lighted Coke machines.  I call
To him one night, at home, asleep.  His breath,
I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips
Had touched.  I felt as though I'd touched a shrine.
Not disrespectfully, but in some lapse
Of concentration.  In a mirror shines

The distant moon.