Once upon a time, Mattress Man caught a toad.
The toad was an old ghost, returning life by life.
Next time, he would be a wolf, a butterfly, a human being.
The toad begged for his life, as he had just emerged from the muck; had just discovered ground.
But Mattress Man hung the animal by one kicking, broken leg and turned him over a spit. When the toad could stand no more, he wept:
Do not eat me, please let me die and begin again.
When I am a wolf, I will spare you.
Mattress Man cut the weeping toad open – mouth to belly – and scooped the jeweled insides.
Mattress Man did not believe in ghosts or toads. It was wartime and he was hungry.
He returned home full. He undressed for his wife and she screamed at the sight.
From then on, when Mattress Man touched his wife, he browned. Boils appeared and erupted. Each time, she bore him frogs, and he consumed them violently.
One day she bore him two beautiful daughters.
But Mattress Man didn’t want daughters.
In America, Mattress Man ate well.
i drank you like a sweet tonic/& mermaided inside/you were ice to touch/ but my blood
warmed/you let me pick the shining/from you/i sucked through my teeth/& asked for more
you rocked me each night after/ my howls quieted to whimper/ you taught me to always
flee to the mouth/where sea expands/into salt from sweet water/ that beyond is the Atlantic
where ancestors crossed in hulls/& los tías y tíos waited with canoes/& marooned sacred
rainforest/you taught me/that beyond river/there was something expanding/the way
light expands inside blood/the way sorrow expands inside chest/cage/& if you find a hole
wide enough in your skin/you can open it out/ & all the sadness pours
you taught me that/my middle name sounds soft/ you taught me to row with both palms
facing skyward/& even though there was no/one to raise me/ to leave you miel, calabaza
& canela/you still/treated me like i was your small saint/you brought/offerings of seaweed
crowns/& a dead yearling/you tried to drown/my stepfather more than/once but heard my
mother’s mercy/you took pity on her/accepted my sister’s throat of wasps/you begged
me to remember/you brought salt mouth/to my crown/& trapped a calf/in the marina/then
let it back out/i saw the way/its blowhole glistened/ & found my own/ you brought me a neighbor
girl/in middle/school who had black braids/& double Ds/you gave me high water
when I found my hymen missing/i cried into your spilt oil/of rainbow cloud/i lost myself
in you/when you flooded/you taught me to braid sister/braids tighter than mother
but lighter than you/Oh how I turned into/your sway/ & lost myself there/to the smell of wet
dock/ the mold &/sodden scent of blood/& oil & weed//i watched my sister suck in oil
when she fell below/she came back up breathing/her eyes wide from what she saw/when
she stopped speaking/that smell of river in our throat/Oh how wide you run/how i let
my skin to your cold/how you taught me to swim/against current/but then i floated
down toward/that shining gaping/pearl of a mouth
My brother texts: some cut up wisdom & I feel how broken
he sees me: a five year old girl a split diamond between
my wide thighs. Since I broke quiet, since I spilled,
I watch bootleg instead of poem. Ochún, how can I write
in English? I begin, it cheapens my tongue.
I dream of Standing Rock. All the silent guazábaras. I ready
myself, but I have to pay rent. I slip so easily from bed
to river, I let my hand over the side the floor floods
black. River there between fingers. I hear your waves as dock
rocks against hull. How kerosene glows yellow, smell of wick.
How burnt smoke sticks to back throat. It was like this: all
the bad magic that wept through that floating shack
paled to your strength. You rocked me & constellated hard.
Your sweet water ran through my blood & I spoke
below. Now, they say the oil snake begs a sweet whine through
your waters. Let me say this: my daughter is named water.
Ochún, you gave me river as daughter & soy siempre la huracan.
Instead of bohío, double gold fee. Instead of forest, food bank.
I miss the sound of an aluminum roof. The way water pours over
& lets me know I’m home. They say our language guata is dead.
They say our people guata are dead. They taught me that
I’m a ghost spirit walking. They left me on the river.