Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Mother's Daughter

Tish and Chona Vallés, 1971 Buffalo NY 
Inevitably the apple and the tree mirror one another if we've played our parts well.

For someone who has written for as long as I can remember, I have not been able to write a poem solely centered on my mother. The impossible task of reconstructing then reconstructing my mother became feasible one May evening when I confessed to my girl, Lynne Procope this simple truth. To which she rightly replied "well isn't that the perfect place to start? And of course it happened in Brooklyn, in a restaurant called Alice Arbor, at tea time like Alice -  a tradition started when Mama first introduced me to Alice and her looking glass.



Tea Time Like Alice
Alice’s Arbor, Brooklyn July 2013 

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'

‘I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” 
― Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”

My mother does not have 
soft hands, does not own an 
apron. Does not temper her words.
Not made like that, we 
are made of micro minis
and straight As. Hard working 
hands and words clear as crystal.
My mother was not built to 
obey, was not built to submit.
Questioning, always questioning.
Never feeding the answer. Never
coddling, always trusting.

“Look it up.” or “What do you think 
it means?” or “How do you want 
to resolve this?” She does not 
have a green thumb, my mother. 
Not the light of our home, she was
the fire. The weapon-wielding
shorty-short wearing warrior
who raged through a bus at 
rush hour to confront the driver
who had cut-off our car and hold him
accountable for his almost 
murder of her family. 

My mother does not make
hot tsokolaté and pan de sal to
ease my pain. Not made
like that,  we are made of tea
time like Alice and riddles without 
answers. Rabbit holes leading to
rabbit holes. She did not hide things,
did not make things pretty. Wanted me
to see. Wanted me to know. 
Took me to my own limits 
so that I and I alone would say
how far was far enough.

Not made of modest things,
my mother was no brassieres
and the highest hemlines. 
She showed me that the female
form was a celebration of 
all things alive and beautiful.
She did not hide her skin, 
never apologizing for who she 
was. Brown woman in a weary
land the white man ravaged again
and again. She is no one else’s 
possession but her own. 

My mother is not made of obedient  
parts. Never acquiescing, not
to the nuns or the priests in the 
schools she went to. Not to the 
negotiators who would talk down
to the Filipino teachers union. 
Not to my Spanish father who would
have us and our raised fists safely home 
during the Martial Law protests. 
She was always subversive 
and she did not even know it. How 
could she, what with all that fight?

Not made of meek things, my mother 
will not apologize for what 
she  knows, And oh she knows
things. Brilliant woman, teacher 
of young minds and the teachers 
who would follow in the service 
of learning. “My kids.” She called them. 
My mother was everybody’s mother. 
Everybody’s teacher. She was never 
mine, but oh how I hold her, as she holds me. 
High as the moon, countless as the stars
at tea time, which is to say, always.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

To My Beautiful Brown Nephews: Keep Your Hoodies Up


Went to sleep heartbroken. Woke up heartbroken. And I cannot help but think of my nephews halfway across the globe, whom I miss everyday. Who ask me why I live so far away. Who ask me, is New York City part of the United States? Is Brooklyn part of New York?

How can I defend America to these beautiful boys now? How can I defend my choice to live in America, as an American, to these beautiful boys whom I long to hug every day. Especially today.

My godson, Gael, has always been independent. From the time he was six years old, he would walk ahead of us not wanting to hold the hands of grown ups. Not wanting an adult companion when he'd go to public bathrooms. His mother has already had the conversation with him that went something like Not everyone is a good person, Gael. Some people are not that nice. Some people will see you alone, want to pick you up and do bad things to you. Some people will kidnap you and take you away from your family.

He is a beautiful boy who likes his fashions, he has asked me to bring back kicks with skulls, camo sneakers and hoodies for him whenever I've come home. And he is not the only nephew who is into hoodies, they're cool cats, they are all into the urban gear. How do I explain to them what happens to brown people like us in America, especially brown boys who have their hoodies up?  Especially black boys who walk with hoodies up in the night?

America, how can I defend you now when a killer goes free and the blame is assigned to the young boy who cannot choose his skin but can choose to wear his hoodie up? When we Skype today and they see my tearful eyes, how do I begin to tell them this sad story? I will start by telling them I love them. I will start by telling them they are beautiful.

I will tell them to keep their hoodies up and stand as beautiful brown boys, proud.

I will tell them Trayvon Martin is loved. I will tell them he is beautiful. I will tell them Trayvon did nothing wrong.  And I will tell them that America has wronged a young black man and broken all of our hearts. Trayvon Martin is now America's son, and we have wronged him the way we have wronged a litany of our beloved black and brown boys.


But I cannot lie to them. I cannot defend you to them, America. Not today. Not with this broken heart. Not with all of Travyon's innocent blood on your hands.