Ode to the River
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.