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  • Dana Francisco Miranda

the love that remains.

This is a poem for those who stayed.


I.

From Claudina Depina, my Maria flowered.

From Delfina Rodrigues, my Francisco sprouted.


My family tree branches the Atlantic,

It takes root in the uprooted. The

Thumping of pilão and grinding corn

Can still be heard in the cranberry

Bogs and the killing fields. Here

In Dorchester, Brockton, Fall River,

Taunton, New Bedford and the Cape we

Seem to shoot up from the ground

naturalized like springwater.


We came from an island rookery, a colony for

Breeding animals. We are the sea salted, drying up all

Who drink of us. We are an invented people that seem

To have invented illness. We are diseased but we know

Disease tastes good to medicine. So we offer another prayer

To the sea and mountain trying to unloosen the colonial

Logjam we took with us on our travels. We think

We have left the Portuguese behind, but ghost

Stay and stay, even when people leave.


We were offered wine to wash away the blood.

Now we are left with islands polluted by the

Drunk followers of Dionysus. We are left

With men who know only the hard labor

Of drinking festivals and dirt. We are left

With the mad dance and touch of maenads

Capable of tearing trees up from the roots.


We are left with women who believe relaxing

their hair will take the kinks out of their history.

But there is no pressed wisdom in being so

Damn ugly and middle class.


The empire long since left, but the chains

of Dickens still carries an unsung carol within

Us. We are left with ghost words, with echoes

Of hurt and triumph, played over and over again

In the mind. We hear those who left and learn

To live with their daily judging.

For us, Odysseus never returned.


Telemachus is left fatherless with only

Earth in his cheeks and bones in the sink.

He inherits orchards pungent and choking

With the spoiled pulp of papaya.


Penelope is left to starve wandering with

Hunger above a jealous earth. She is left

Penniless against raven rocks. & now

She sells her body by the seashore.


II.

I grow between skinny rain and heavy women.

As my sisters dine on Cabral and cabrito

& my mother makes plans to sell kamoca

To brankus, I load an honest gun.

When leaving became a creeping normalcy,

when threats and violence and drugs herd feeling

To a lemming ledge, then you know of us. But if

You take away my hurt, you take away my love.

You who taught me how to live in harm’s way,

You are all background noise. & like the

Summer cicada, the listening is lost to us.


I know what leaving does. But my love is not

Lost in my hurt, it is made more splendid by a

Thousand cuts. Losing makes survivors of us all.


Vovo, Mama, you are the greatest survivor. Cockroaches

Could learn something from you. I marvel at those varicose

Spider veins which creep upon your legs. When your

Husband left, you carried with grace entire families. Now

There will always be a backbone for you to lean on.


Tios, you who taught me the pleasure of hard work

And endless hours of sweating, of tiling floors, painting

Walls and roofing. Of building and keeping a home. My

Uncles, you who taught me ourin and how to play the

Wolf and be brother to Nho Lobo. You taught me that

My poems will never be as good as what you build

With your many hands.


Tias, you the iron-boned and even more so iron-lunged, you

Taught me that a good man gives and gives to the woman who

Has decided to always stay. You who taught me long hours

Of gossip peeling red kidney beans. You who taught me the

pleasure of eating pastel, will always feed me till I’m full.

Even when I am old and you can hardly stand I know a

Plate of food will always be served to a horse who

Has long since known how to walk to water.


Primos, we run-together a gang inbred with vinegar.

Older now, we all drink for a reason. We will soon give a

Reason for our children and younger cousins to drink. You

Who would commit murder to live loyalty. You who taught

Me insomnia and the stickiness of sleeping bundled together

In humid summers, you taught me that trouble is in our blood.


Dono, you are the only man I will ever call grandfather.

You taught me that support if often unseen. You taught

Me that respect is long-lived and that surviving death

Is done in black.


Now, I must remind myself of these ties that will not unknot.

You the unnamed, grouped together like banana bunches,

Are what I think God meant by family. So thank you for

Your poverty. It kept me warm and fed. How many

Times have I eaten well on cachupa? How many of

You can I name who have fed me with no need of

Thank you? And still I thank you because thank

You is not enough. Thank you is not enough for

Those who everyday stayed and stayed and stay.


III.


“My mother.

The common axe

pierces, singing…”

~ D. Bonta


Licé, my mother, your bosom houses the smell of

Breastmilk and I eat mandioca from your hands. A

Weak heart like soft fruit bruises at every touch and

To feel least-loved and abandoned how beautiful

Must your heart look. But you are not mismade.


Tenderness flows from you so

that each birth is a return. Each

Child a father returning home.


There is such heartfelt humiliation in being left.

So I know why your laughter is sometimes mixed

With venom. We all have to learn how to lose.


But you are always a bad loser. I remember the taunts

& abuses living under the threat of withheld emotion. We were

Thrown under the schoolbus and learned learning there under

The wheels. Our love was blackmailed with childhood hugs and

Promises of repayment. Even as every kindness was to be paid

Back I never felt as though your love was conditional. Me you

Bought easily with food: it was my comfort. My sisters you

Won with unending support. It took my years to

Learn my mistake.


I was enraged by your helping hands, of how you would

Worm your way between us, always vying for affection. But

I know now that love is a return to a gift. Being a bad loser

Made you into a great fighter. Even against me you offered

Aloe-soaked words to the stings I inflicted. We see

Through you, Mai, and because we see, we love you.

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