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…

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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.

 

Bushwick Baby

FeaturedBushwick Baby

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…

Mourning for Bushwick

Mourning for Bushwick

I mourn for the ghetto.

A White Castle next to

an incongruous condo.

 

I weep for rickety fences and rusted gates.

When the L train was yellow and grey.

Before they raised the rents.

Off the M, when there was salsa at Borinquen.

 

Oh, way back when

we occupied steps,

claimed a corner, taken a block.

Skies with pendulous banderas

over the May rising flocks.

 

Dominican bodegas.

They called me rubia,

before baristas and yoga gyms

landed on Troutman.

 

Before history got wiped.

They call it gentrification.

I call it genocide.

 

An invasion, a regression, an infection

of organic produce.

It once was wild, and brimming with pride.

Oh, Bushwick, I miss you.

 

The hermanos, the primos, the chachos, the homegirls.

Knickerbocker has gone silent.

It’s the worst deaf I’ve ever been.

The worse death ever experienced.

Where my people at?

 

Oh, it burns so bad – it hurts.

When my home feels like an alternate universe.

I feel like a refugee, a survivor, a remnant.

Eventually an artifact.

 

Slabs of fresh paint while tackling lower crime rates.

I’m grieving for this place, for milk crates and domino games.

I sob for the mom and pop shops.

This place has changed too much and too fast.

 

Something’s breaking in my heart,

A phantasmagoria

of bubble tea spots, vintage store fronts and health food stores.

Now until forever, for Bushwick, I’ll mourn.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, 4/30/2015

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Been wrestling with these feelings and this poem for the last week or so. The neighborhood where I grew up has changed so much while I’ve been away – it feels strange. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. It feels like I’ve been gone too long, and now it’s too late. It feels like I took for granted something I’ll never have again. Sad part of growing up I guess.

 

Place of Sighs

Click clack on cement past the flip flap stand, down over by the heavy beats and la’s of the boom box.

The screech on the road pulls the leash on my neck, and I wonder how tires hiss.

Boppin’ and chewin’ my pop stick by the slick man who licks his lips as he mmm’s at swish and swivels.

Little girls hop and skip on chalk grids in the chain parks ‘cause big kids boycott swings.

As they squeak and rust, I plug in ear wires with a shrug to provide my mind with breathing support.

Calligraphy bricks line up by yellow cliffs where you can see the rats race.

Thunder rolls in trenches, sparks snap rails,

noses lost in the gray-scale paper. The lifeless paper.

With frost in a cup, hunger tugs my sleeve.

So I flip flop upon freshly drenched summer to where you can scream with ching in your fingers.

I tinker with the slurp bubbles, between jingling metal and my grease pod –

over the stoop dwellers,

sometimes guarding carnival bodegas.

Kangaroo pouched fellas shaking up copper dust on the bottom of one dollar coffee cups.

Finally through the turn and shove into the clock’s hug where I bend and shift up the light switch that flickers over the table that mail has consumed.

My last move on this night’s end and day’s routine, is to snoozes where relief sings me soothing odes.

Tightly secure in my place of sighs, beside wailing windows.

This four-sided burrito roll. This place I call home.

– Rachel R. Vasquez, 2007, revised 3/12/2015

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Weather is getting nice around here. Hoping I can go to that place where I can scream with ching in my fingers soon – aka the chuchifrito place. One coquito and an accapuria please!

June

Sunhats shave ice blocks under umbrella stands
Strap backs pendulum their hips
Water runs through flip flops around gradient sprayed concrete
Ink snakes along bronze waists
Party horns honk on trollies
Whistles screech
Where the white T’s palm rubber to a wall
Speakers ride their shoulders
A husky chants “Que bonita bandera”
And the malta men spinning black dotted blocks on turntables
Shake their beaded necks like maracas
The cowbell-
tap- tap –tap-
tap- tap-
The rope slaps with clapping girls
Singing past the mating calls
Hissing from glitter fenders at snappy fingers
The hoop ears with stoop scuffs on stringy rears
They only stop when the weasel pops on postered trucks
Fabric rises like war filled spears
The crowd’s amok
Between flickering lights and clashing beers

– Rachel R. Vasquez, 4/28/2008

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I wanted to wait until summer to put this up, but with the freezing temperatures and snow as of late – I guess I became summer sick.

This was inspired by what my neighborhood was like as we neared the Puerto Rican parade in the summer. Bushwick was full of pidaqua stands, salsa booming from the cars with giant flags draped across their trunks, street merchants selling all sorts knick knacks, kids playing hand ball in the parks, jump rope, ice cream trucks – man it was the place to be! If there’s one thing I miss since moving to the Bronx, it’s that Latin fever that happens once the summer rolls around, nothing beats that atmosphere. Nothing. Nada. I haven’t found a chuchifrito place around here yet that sells coquito, and that makes a girl a bit home sick…

Circus Act

Tightrope flashing
Footwear swaying
Below
The Banners start waving
On comes the theatrics
Clowns run doing acrobatics with popcorn snappin’
Knick knacks blastin’
The audience
Turn their backs
Past fireworks flarin’
Blue and red blaring’
To the spatter and racket
Like confettied ketchup packets
Glass flickers
Footsteps crackle
The batten is broken
Simmering pyros
The ringmaster leaves the stage
Scraps and echoes
The act has made the front page
But the trainers have lost their animals

– Rachel R. Vasquez, 3/6/2008

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