Reluctant Love Poem #113
We could’ve been like milk and cinnamon.
But we won’t call it love.
Calling it love would necessitate more poems,
and I’m tired of grief.
We won’t call it love.
Maybe I only ever liked your hands.
I’m tired of grief,
of migraines, of my own body.
I only ever liked hands
that make music, dig up dirt to bury seeds,
my migraines, my whole body.
You had me questioning God.
Let us make music, bury seeds.
Americans believe being grounded is punishment.
You had me. Questioning God,
I crushed garlic and fried it in oil.
Americans believe being in the ground is punishment,
and I haven’t read enough to argue. Instead,
I crushed garlic and fried it in oil,
poured in the rice and beckoned my grandmother to come.
I haven’t read enough, but I still argue
with everyone who asks if I speak Spanish.
Pouring rice always beckons my grandmother.
I’ll only speak Spanish with you.
Everyone asks if I speak Spanish.
I can’t say I can’t.
But I only speak Spanish with you.
We could’ve been like leite e canela.
When I can’t scrub a country from my skin,
I sink into wrinkled white flags,
into memories of boiled chickens,
my hands full of wet feathers.
I did not like the smell.
I taste cool water from clay filters,
thick milk, still warm before the sky
gave up its stars. Yes, I remember
how I got the scar above my knee,
the one above my belly-button—a country
is like a father on the phone asking
if you’ve forgotten you have a father.
Our backyard was dirt until my father made it cement
and falling started costing more.
What is the point of forgetting?
Walking into banks to feel the air conditioning
cool your sweat, just to feel the wall of heat
when you walk out again.
What is my country but property people fought for?
What is my country but a tug-o-war?
I like to think we will lose to the forests.
One day, the trees will say enough.
The Amazon River will ignore its banks.
And we will try to burn the trees, to drink the rivers,
but a small group of knowers will kneel
and say, “esperávamos por isso”
but in a language that has never belonged to colonizers.
To Aline Resende Mello
after Julia de Burgos
Yes, I will start with your full name,
you don’t even sign it out, do you?
But you know your father’s name
hasn’t abandoned you. You’re just hiding it.
I see you, Aline Resende Mello,
and your immigrant effort.
Straining upwards toward whiteness.
I see your sweat,
Aline Resende Mello. You shine.
You, with your English—did you forget your grandfather
couldn’t read? I remember the taste
of drawn milk, still warm.
You drink Lactaid.
You stick Publix bakery cookies in the microwave.
Me? I know what makes the mandioca grow,
its roots, my feet. Its strands, my hair.
You are not your own.
You belong to USCIS and DHS
and your mother and your sister and your hunger and
the president and religion and Americans.
They command and you obey.
You hope for a way in. Me? I know
that belonging doesn’t mean papers. It means
water and sugar cane juice and the songs
your grandfather sang for your mother to sleep.
You—even now!—had hoped I’d forgotten
about your father. You’re tired of remembering
him in therapy. With your white woman therapist.
Me? I’ve surpassed the need for him. Met him for coffee
at the bakery the other day. Called him by his first name.
One day, this country will try to make you
theirs, give you an oath to repeat.
I will be there with a megaphone
to drown out your words. A torch to burn
down the building.
You cannot avoid me.
Photograph of Aline Mello by Eley Photo.