Welcome, Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi!
This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past six months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.
Today we bring you Ines Rivera, whose poetry collection Love Letter to an Afterlife will be published in May of 2018.
Photo Credit: Alison Vogt Cartwright
The Lost Santos
Every summer, as a child, I am sent to you, Tia.
And though I have no santos, I love yours.
When the power goes out shadows walk
beneath an oil lamp’s burn; copper silhouettes cut air,
and your stories wake the women watchers of night.
Plump hands press against me, so I listen
to your singing, to a song from across the Atlantic.
Arms rock me, as you stuff women into my mouth.
I drink spirits you pour into me; the rocking chair creaks
beneath the weight of my tiny body wrapped
in the white nightgown embroidered with my name.
Blessings, I ask. Bendición, you echo.
Our house is a home full of women.
Full of honey and purple scarves to wrap thick hair in.
Full of strings we attach to each others’ toes and tug
when we are too weak to rise in the dark.
Full of water and old Cuban boleros so the moon
remains forever like the rooster’s dried foot.
My aunt talks into the night. The women watchers rise
from under the ground. We brush each other’s wool hair,
singing to santos overshadowing pictures of our dead.
Hidden in closets, the faces of my relatives
peer up at Saint Michael’s foot – the tip of his sword
a silver point pointing down at the earth.
The women in my family whisper from within altars
my aunt built, next to the santos she believed watched
over us. I go to them now, blowing candles out,
poking at powder crosses covering the floor.
And though I drink the water from the Rose of Jericho,
and eat the flowers blooming at night, they disappear
when I place my aunt’s picture beside them.
But at night I hear my Tia’s voice, and sing.
I sing even though oil lamps don’t burn: the santos have left.
Our house is bare except for altars I wipe clean,
and the sound of water moving around my feet.
Playing Rocky and Apollo
Our boxing gloves were tube-socks.
wrapped round our knuckles;
cotton cushions we slapped and bumped
like professionals. My sister and I marched,
locking eyes with our corner men.
Our brothers smeared Vaseline
across our faces, shoved mouth-guards
in our mouths. They built us up,
saying things like, Slip the jab. No fear.
She kept her arms tucked against her ribs.
Gloves up. Chin down.
Eyes fixed to spot an opening.
Silently, her fist cut the air.
A snapping inside my body,
a subtle shifting of weight.
And I rode the punch.
Limbs and tendons: A calculation
of force absorption.
Our bodies: one giant muscle
contracting, then expanding,
a war inside the ring,
amongst the twin beds we slept in,
matching floral comforters,
Bob Marley and Michael Jackson posters,
the giant red reading chair.
We punched out of that animal clinch,
craving our one minute sanctuaries.
Then the dance began again, and I remembered
a cockfight we’d watched in horror.
They never end until one rooster quits.
Sometimes in the day the blinds crack open,
then I can see a sliver of the outside:
some sun a palm trees’ crown cloud bits.
My wife is selling our family home.
If anything should happen to me, have
compassion. She thinks
I do not know, believing I’ve misplaced
my memories. I still see Mama and the aunts
plaiting their wool hair, feel a spring push
against my back, that old mattress we shared.
The upright piano whose teeth woke us
every morning, I cannot escape
my head. I sit rocking. Brother, I wait,
know we are two fingers from the same hand. Come
see if I’ve pulled tufts of hair or dropped
my spoon like a baton on someone’s head.
We need a new master-lock for the front gate;
tell no one the combination. Plant
giant cacti with bold needles, help me
out of this room, it has been a long time
since someone touched my hand. At night –
a low humming. I pat the songs we sang
on my lap, laugh a little to myself. Do you remember
where we hid candy? The Pilón coffee can.
It waits there with the letter I’ve written
to secure this birthright of ours. Brother, do not worry.
Our victory will be as brilliant as bite marks –
………..those roses up and down my wife’s arms.