the love that remains.
This is a poem for those who stayed.
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.
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.
The common axe
~ 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.