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Poetic License: Mama Carmen Suite

By Staff | Oct 26, 2017


Love at First Sight

She was less than five feet tall

and plumper than a calabaza,

yet she could touch the floor

with the palm of her hand

and chop a roasted pig

into a hundred pieces

while chewing a cigar stump

and saving the crinkly cuerito

skin ears and tail

as candy for her grandchildren.

I met her when I was four

on the island of Vieques

just before the Navy came

to protect the island

by taking over two thirds

of the land and removing

one third of its population.

She was milking a goat

in the yard behind

the shack of planks

and leftover corrugated iron

that served as home and centerpiece

for her animals and plants;

sent on ahead by my mother

I introduced myself to her

in my best broken Spanish,

and when I asked her what she was doing

and pointed to parts of the goat

she immediately enriched

my Spanish vocabulary with the words

for udders and vagina.

It was love at first sight:

the first americano in the family

became her favorite among

the forty-two grandchildren

whose names she couldn’t always remember

and she moved up instantly to number one

on my list of grown-ups.

When four years later

my mother told us she was coming

to live with us in New York City

because the Navy needed the land

on which she had lived all her life,

I could not have been happier.

My memory of her,

ruling and protecting

her ramshackle kingdom

of chickens, goats and pigs

scattered among the makeshift orchards

of orange, banana, avocado, mango

and almond trees was still as fresh and warm

as the rich flow of Spanish language

and expletives that had poured from her.

On a cold winter’s day

we went to the muelles (piers) in Brooklyn

and I watched her shiver

down the gangplank

wearing a burlap brown coat

someone had given her for her journey

to the frozen north of New York City,

but that day the temperature

was fifty degrees colder than

she had ever experienced

in her seventy-two years,

and frightened by seeing her own breath

for the first time

she greeted us with demands

to be returned at once to Vieques,

demands accompanied by descriptions

of the weather and her discomfort

that made my mother, my aunt

and even the crew members blush.

(To Be Continued)