Bushwick Baby

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Bushwick baby

used to “Como ‘ta linda?”,

used to “yo ma” me,

when I was peligrosa

and a saggin’ slim used to wink “What’s poppin’?”

on Stockholm and Wyckoff.

 

Keys rained with box stitches and Chinese staircase lanyards

from second stories,

where stoops were sold out from Bedford to Halsey.

Before 358 Grove was whitewashed next to White Castle.

 

When I was rubia in the bodegas.

Willoughby used to “ey yo” me with a bottle of Bacardi while going limb by limb.

They rocked door knockers on Knickerbocker

and doors were knockin’ with “Dios te bendiga” damas

who called me nena and asked me to pray for knocked up primas.

 

Solo para mi gente would dale don dale down Wilson

when banderas marched on the wind.

Back when Jazzy Jazzed and S&M had a quarter zoo.

Greene was in loving memory with a Woody Cartoon.

Do you remember?

Before it caught Alzheimers and forgot it’s roots,

Bushwick used to hoot and holla.

Now Bushwick has forgotten all my monickers,

made me a stranger,

when it used to call me familia.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  May 2017

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I actually wrote this one 2 months ago and was struggling with how to close the poem. Finally managed to wrap it up and found the motivation to update my poetry blog.

If you grew up in Bushwick in the 90’s/2000’s, then some of this may be familiar. When I think of my childhood, I think of all the Spanish speaking residents in the neighborhood, and the sounds of the language, the music. I think of summer bringing everyone outside to the streets, on the stoops, playing dominos, buying from the pidaqua stands and dancing. Sure, there were some dangerous sides to the neighborhood as well, but the culture was really something before gentrification swept in. I’ll never forget it…

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Maria and my Mother

Maria and my Mother

They say you should never take your mother for granted.

I discovered too late that this applies to mother nature, and my mother land from whom I can only sputter my mother tongue.

I’ve only lived in Puerto Rico in two ways. In pictures, and my parents; from the bandera brandished mugs, plates and porcelain bells behind the glass of the chinita my mother inherited from my grandmother, America.

My entire childhood, my father described the sound a coqui makes, and always danced in his bedroom raking a guiro or tapping a cowbell. When he wasn’t listening to cassette tapes, he was drumming his fingers on the dinner table.

My mother made rice and beans for dinner almost every day, filled our railroad apartment with the smell of homemade sofrito and gave me commands twice. When she wasn’t angry, in English and in Spanish, and only in Spanish when she was.

Their stories of the island felt like hearing about heaven’s gates – climbing mango trees for a snack, being able to see your feet beneath the ocean water and the odd story of fleeing from bulls.

When they brought me there at 3 years old, they say my asthma disappeared. As if the island knew I was hers, and healed me so long as I was in her arms.

I hear her in the congas. I taste her in the pasteles we buy for holidays. I feel her in the brief New York summers that can only mimic. I feel closest during June when all her children don her colors and summon her spirit with bells, horns, and whistles.

I’ve always told myself I’d see her one day, see her again, but for the first time, so I can remember her. But now…

They say you should never take your mother for granted, and mother nature tore through my mother land to teach me a lesson.

I can only say this to her in my mother tongue –

Lo siento.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, Sept. 2017

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Puerto Rico is in trouble. The whole island is in darkness for at least a few months, and it’s agriculture is completely destroyed. Half the population is without drinking water and conditions are making it difficult to get supplies to residents. My people need your help. Consider donating anything you can!

I only wish I got to see her as an adult before Maria happened.

She Walks

She Walks

She walks like her hips are a soup ladle.

Thick spoonfuls of negative space.

Like a jutting bulldozer,

straining upward,

before the final wobble at its highest point.

The anticipation in a pendulum.

The hangtime of a swing.

That’s how she walks.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, date unknown (2012?)

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Found this in an old notebook of mine. 😊

Rotary Phones

Rotary Phones

I miss rotary phones.

Did you dial gently like

drawing a message in the sand,

or like tearing knots through hair with

hooked fingers?

I miss tugging the wrong digit and how it forced us

to start all over.

Put effort.

Be cautious when we drag.

Think.

I miss shuffling through a mental lattice of numbers,

curly wires snagging us close,

like a parent, it’s toddler, to keep us

from wandering

too far.

Focus.

I miss the heart swallowing screech it made across the apartment,

launching into a stumbling run,

sometimes diving into it.

And it ensnared us like an octopus with

arms and mouth open wide.

Dared to miss it and welcome the mystery of,

“Who could it have been?”

Dare to take the chance of never knowing – forever?

I miss leaning into it’s cradle

with bated breath until the dull blip of a phone

being picked up registered relief,

and knowing that my reward in two seconds

was a voice.

“Thank God I caught you home.”

I miss the receiver’s breathless groan once a call had ended.

It’s different now

when someone says they’ll call because

they have my number.

Do you?

You can have something without ever truly knowing it.

Have you memorized my number?

Memorized me?

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  August 2017

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I miss the days when calling someone and catching them home was something that wasn’t taken for granted. Versus always having a cell for anyone to reach you at any time, via text or social media. I miss good old fashioned, plop yourself in a chair and have a conversation while you play with the curly wire in your fingers. When my mom used to punish me for misbehaving, she’d put a lock on the rotary phone so you couldn’t turn it and dial – funny now that I think about it. 🙂 It was easy for parents to restrict a kid’s contact with their friends at home back in the day. 😉

 

I feel like there’s more I can do with this poem, but moving on from this one for now.

Little Cousin

Little Cousin

My little cousin’s got the Brooklyn.

The kind from the underside of pinched Corona caps,

stoops littered with sunflower seeds,

and Beenie Man grating from a recorded cassette.

 

I have other cousins who were cured.

Left cemetery meetings amongst Kings and color initiated school holidays.

My aunt grew tired of sleeping away from the windows and cured her children the only way she knew how –

Pennsylvania.

 

My little cousin though, he’s got it bad –

the Brooklyn.

The kind where no Jansport or Jordans were safe.

The kind where kids were offered Remy Red from paper bags out of cars blasting “infiltrate”.

We didn’t mean for him to get it, but it was like he was destined.

 

Lured by Wyckoff summer nights.

Enticed by windshields of Puerto Rican flags and “Rollin’ with the Clique” down Onderdonk.

He must’ve been seduced by starry names we wore on necks, fingers and belt buckles like voiceless shouts.

 

Maybe he caught it from someone else?

Foxy, Chino, or was it Willie?

Was his name Willie?

Willie who wore foundation two tints too light,

lookin’ like an unslept, unbrushed Tego Calderon,

who strutted up the block to talk about love and dick before I’d seen either?

 

Was it all the unready mothers raised by unready mothers,

then trying to raise sons like sacrificial lambs?

Like offerings to “outside”?

 

Was it that my little cousin heard?

Heard women talk about “the club” the same way some country folk must talk about “the city”?

“Better than being out here in the sticks. Why ain’t we at the club?” as if there was only the one?

 

Did my cousin see?

How shadowed men jittered in doorways across the street from the abandoned warehouse on Willoughby?

I remember his ear to ear grin as he told me he saw

me kiss the pothead I pined for from Stockholm,

the one with a topless fairy tattooed under his forearm.

 

I think he’d already showed symptoms of having it then,

but we had hoped he’d outgrow it.

Doesn’t really matter now

that he’s a grown man.

 

They say he’s got the Brooklyn terminal.

Here we are now, years too late,

trying to save him.

It’s up to the blood in his veins now.

If he’s not careful,

 

Brooklyn will kill him.

 

And we’ll continue after,

asking ourselves for the rest of our lives,

how we could’ve prevented it.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  August 2017

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Got family on my mind. Also wondering if I can find a WordPress theme that respects a writer’s line breaks, indents and spaces…

Pirates

White men tryna kill my mother –

my mamasita.

Not with guns,

not with knives,

but with paper.

 

It’s like they comin’ for us.

 

They know I’ve wet my toes in middle class waters,

coming from a pair of sneakers a year,

hand me downs, and a brown box from the church,

full of plain white boxes and cans –

labeled simply “pasta” or “beans”.

 

They know I’ve been waist deep in it now.

That I like to return inland,

return home,

to share the treasures I’ve earned.

 

They’ve found us out, mama!

They’ve seen our last names!

They call me a spy because I look like I belong there.

 

They comin’ to murder us with paper!

To murder all the landlubbers who will never know of the untold riches

lying beneath the depths of the sea!

As if being driven out of Bushwick wasn’t enough,

they want to take her plastic,

her Capecitabine, her Lapatinib,

her paper.

 

They comin’ inland, mama –

to force us all to walk the plank

and blame the sharks.

Tell daddy to grab the pitchfork!

Save all our paper and plastic,

before they set it on fire!

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  July 2017

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I’ve got a lot of rage from keeping up with the news as of late – Republicans literally willing to murder just to undo what their predecessor put in place. Disgusting. The poem’s self explanatory.

 

Broadway Junction

Broadway Junction

Going to Broadway Junction used to be like the beginning of a fantasy novel.

“Only the very brave or the very foolish
dare venture
to the Junction.”

“Our kind are not welcome
by folks who dwell in the depths of Brooklyn.”

“Few of us journey there and ever return!”

“Take care on your travels and be wary of monsters.”

Red and blue warbled the walls where my cousins slept
away from the windows.

I remember the relief my family had whenever I returned.
My limb inventory was successful and yet,
each time I came home, I was a little more jaded
than the last.

Like a war journalist who managed to survive the trenches
and lived to tell the tale.

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  July 2017

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Broadway Junction used to be a dangerous place, but then again, so did Bushwick. How the times have changed.

Time

Time

How can we buy time,

if time is money

and we have so much of it

that’s free?

 

How can we have all the time in the world,

if time waits

for no one?

 

It dulls words

not bound by paper

or laced in song.

Subtly,

with calculated clips.

 

Lachesis snuffs out the string

starting at the start

before she hands the scissors

to an excited Atropos.

 

Time is selfish and greedy.

Especially to those who don’t heed it’s presence.

Those who kill time

instead of those who make time.

 

The time is ripe –

is now –

to have the time of our lives

until the end.

The end of time.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez,  July 2017

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