Nina Simone, Celia Cruz, Billie Holiday, and Bessie
were all sistas growin’ up,
keepin’ her company through only-child-blues.
Afternoons spent laughin’, cryin’, dancin’ motown gold,
harmonizin’ are-’n-be teen sweet melodies.

Aretha Franklin, La Lupe, Diana and the Supremes
stayed up nights at heartbreak hotel,
rappin’ real close moonshine doo-waps,
patiently riffin’ their lines till she learned all the words.
Takin’ it higher,
hittin’ all the notes home.

Ronnie Scepter and Gladys Knight hung out too.
The first time ever she heard Roberta Flack,
knew they were fruit from the same feelin’ tree.
How they loved her madly, without even tryin’.
Didn’t have to be nobody. Didn’t need to prove.
They never got tired, or complained about the volume,
or even cared who was listenin’.
Always by her side, no matter what.
Tight for days.
Gettin’ it on. Gettin’ down.

Sistas all the way.

More by Sandra María Esteves

Blanket Weaver

weaver
weave us a song of many threads

weave us a red of fire and blood
that taste of sweet plum
fishing around the memories of the dead
following a scent wounded
our spines bleeding with pain

weave us a red of passion
that beats wings against a smoky cloud
and forces motion into our lungs

weave us a song
of yellow and gold and life itself
that lights a way through wildgrowth
burned in pain
aged with steady conviction
with bunions callouses and leathered hides

weave us into the great magnetic center
pulling your fingers into topaz canyons
a single lonely web glitters like a flash of thunder
your thumb feeling into my womb
placing sweatseeds of floral honey
into continuous universal suspension

weave us a song of red and yellow
and brown
that holds the sea and the sky in its skin
that holds the bird and mountain in its voice
that builds upon our graves a home
for injustice fear oppression abuse and disgrace
and upon these fortifications
of strength unity and direction

weave us a song to hold us
when the wind blows so cold to make our children wail
submerged in furious ice
a song pure and raw
that burns paper
and attacks the colorless venom stalking hidden
in the petal soft sweetness of the black night

weave us a rich round black that lives
in the eyes of our warrior child
and feeds our mouths with moon breezes
with rhythms interflowing
through all spaces of existence
a black that holds the movement of eternity

weave us a song for our bodies to sing

weave us a song of many threads
that will dance with the colors of our people
and cover us with the warmth of peace

Autobiography of a Nuyorican

for Lela

Half blue, feet first
she battled into the world.
Hardly surviving the blood cord twice wrapped,
tense around her neck. Hanging.
Womb pressing, pushing,
pulling life from mother’s child.
Fragil flesh emerging perfect in blueness,
like the lifeline that sustained her,
yet limp, almost a corpse.

Her mother claims the virgin interceded.
Invoked through divine promise, in prayer,
that caused her dark eyes to open,
her tongue to taste air like fire,
as the blueness faded,
tracing death on the tail of an eclipse.

And as in birth from her darkness,
the free-giving sun inched slow to visibility,
revealing all color and form,
a great teacher, generous and awesome,
silent and reverent, loud and blasphemous,
constant,
sculpting edges of definition
in the shadow and light of multiple universes.

Half blue, feet first
she battled her way.
The world did not want another brown,
another slant-eyed-olive-indian-black-child.
Did not want another rainbow empowered song
added to repertoire in blue,
or azure, or indigo,
or caribbean crystal.
Did not want another mouth to feed,
especially another rock-the-boat poet,
another voice opened wide,
fixed on a global spectrum of defiance.

The meaning of war defined her.
Gasping and innocent,
before she knew her mother,
before she discovered herself.
Barely alive.
Gathering weapons into her being
with each breath that filled her.
Growing stronger.
Determined to beat all the odds.

Puerto Rican Discovery #3: Not Neither

Being Puertorriqueña-Dominicana
Borinqueña-Quisqueyana
Taina-Africana
Born in the Bronx. Not really jíbara
Not really hablando bien
But yet, not gringa either
Pero ni portorra
Pero sí, portorra too
Pero ni qué what am I? Y qué soy?
Pero con what voice do my lips move?
Rhythms of rosa wood feet dancing bomba
Not even here. But here. Y conga
Yet not being. Pero soy
And not really. Y somos
Y como somos–bueno,
Eso sí es algo lindo. Algo muy lindo.

We defy translation
Ni tengo nombre. Nameless
We are a whole culture once removed
Lolita alive for twenty-five years
Ni soy, pero soy Puertorriqueña cómo ella
Giving blood to the independent star
Daily transfusions
Into the river
Of la sangre viva.