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.

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Rican Enough

Wait, wait!

My fingertips aren’t orange enough yet!

 

Hold on a sec!

I’m not done stretching my earlobes.

 

Don’t ask me to salsa.

It’s the one question I can never perform.

 

Heaven forbid!

Ave Maria!

My hips don’t orbit my feet!

Are they supposed to?

 

I left my beads at home.

What the hell am I supposed to do

now that I’m naked?

 

Naked and still burn.

Never rust just right enough.

Guess I’ll have to peel off another layer

and try again.

 

Beg the sun

to bloom my ass like it does the flowers.

 

Fire, fire, fire!

Fuego, fuego, fuego!

Am I hot enough yet?

Am I dark enough yet?

 

I haven’t checked in a while,

but I’m hoping today is the day

I’m Rican enough.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, 6/2/2015

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Wrote this on my morning commute. There’s been this constant pressure for as long as I can remember to prove my ethnicity. Was randomly thinking about it this morning and this poem was the result.

My favorite stanza is the fuego part. Also PSA, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Be proud. This is still something I’m trying to learn myself. 😉

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…