poets per square foot
for roberto ncar
what flowers most are broken tiles.
more than fruit, glass sprouts in gutters
and here we carelessly plant forests
of breezeless rumors. fungal volumes.
born amidst ratshit and a classroom hive,
a grove of books in the shutdown school,
dust springs on the stairs.
vengeful flashlights set fire to mansions
that were once this country, this body.
our poets, unknown to poets,
also perversely abound in readerless pages.
the lázaro library has a budget of zero,
how then do i find so much stem,
so much play, since there is an overgrowth
of stores for sale, landfill mangroves, tourists?
someone asks if i feel i’m a poet.
we don’t have a national press, i answer.
we don’t have a national press and sometimes,
never watered, we burn books before
they go to print, thinking who reads poetry
from puerto rico in puerto rico.
but we take to the earth. with just rain. by exchanging a look.
suddenly, i hear a young poet reincarnating verse.
one explains: at her school they only gave out
stanzas. but she still wandered barefoot into being a poet.
we take to the poem, a miracle with no church, with no witness.
in a country also with no first name,
we spread with a cruel plenty,
becomes an editor,
where to print.
a stump and busts
pop up morivivientes.1
in a house where stray dogs sleep,
a restaurant that serves in english,
we don’t have vaccines, time, a living wage,
hospitals, respect, electricity, natural reserves,
libraries, earth, earth to sow,
earth to build our homes.
we don’t have a national press.
the marxist poet visits me.
i agree with my recent nihilism,
still i stand stupefactual
thinking we shot time
lined up against the wall of lost memory.
what an incalculable strength, what
wild insistence has possessed us.
someone asks me what kind of poems i write.
i say that i write poetry unprinted
and although i have my books, i write poetry
unread, on that basketball court, my mouth,
where the dogs stretch out, the names of poets.
resting in the heat, seemingly dead.
but if you call them, they raise their heads, fix stares
Fragments of the epic poem Algarabía
Falóme en algarabía
como aquél que bien la sá
—Anonymous from “Yo me era mora Morayma”
According to the eternal transformation,
I was born the day I was raped by a god
on his backyard beach.
Desperate and possessive,
he snatched silence from sand.
After the theft, Poseidon wasn’t rough.
When taking my name, Caenis,
he offered me impenetrable skin,
a shell coated with apologies.
Today, I want to be a man. I burn with
the desire to be a brave and audacious captain
fighting in Valencia’s feverish Spain
Bound to the loyal ranks.
That is how I came to be Caeneus,
a man improved,
a man improvised.
a soldier who fought harder,
faster, and with less
than any before.
But I remember no transformation.
My origin dons no street or school.
Only the name Cenex, a garrison
erected on a military map.
I was born dispersed, not man.
I was born dead, died in life, and live in death,
in the guts of a memory
with my forty friends (keeping alive)
in apartments with steep rent,
no pets and no locals.
Where there are also no guarantees.
In a living room unmowed, the harvest defrosted,
we give out fruits in trays.
Our history can’t sustain great feats because
we love and die in battle.
If the war ends, we can’t return.
There are no waiting families. We are forgotten.
My tongue weighs.
My song is clumsy. It falls across the path.
My song is a banquet
Praised be the wire pregnant with changos!
Praised be the line in Capri and the clothcutter!
Praised be the soil studies!
Praised be the hands that give handjobs!
Praised be the mouths that suck and raise dicks!
Praised be the beach behind the wall!
Praised be the positive blood!
Praised be the algarabía silence, the gabble silence!
For these are the workers
that keep building a shifting country.
And so, I sing a gas leak
that explodes gloriously in shoe stores
with patent leather soaked in glitter.
Every morning, I dress my forty for the day.
I kiss their cheeks and make them lunch.
On trains we almost graze women’s ¡danger!
clothes and stand perilously near men
who are sure they’ve always been.
Here we are forever about to steal young faces
and drain gentlemen of funds.
Implacable, rotative, disarming
on the waters, sirens on rocks,
inviting men to die and join
us in our impossible forms.
It is morning. (This is how we measure time
and this is why we can’t find work.)
I’ve picked the curb where I will shed my things,
when this skin tires and finally settles,
which motheaten couch or broken screen.
I take my time. I finish my chores.
I’ve picked my forty and each has brought a whistle
for dogs that bark behind gates
keeping everything intact.
My lineage is a laboratory
where my design imitated mamá,
daughters or hard-to-reach aunts.
I was late for every date with the
I was Cenex before knowing how
to choose a name or autonomize my parts.
I was a subject and a discussion topic.
They wanted me shooting.
It was the first of many tests.
They had to evaluate my responses,
whether these were qualitative or quantitative kills.
Poseidon (if that’s his name) was the complex
where they gave me dolls and guns.
I was not punished. I was rewarded.
I was not tortured. I was raised
in a bestiary of millimetered tears.
They taught me to speak, not to shout, to eat facing down.
I formed my internal organs by dint of uncertainty,
bending a monadic spoon and unfolding my ears.
To play! To make fun of the wardens
with these early pranks,
with the dysphoria of a plastic stove.
My friends were the guards. The doctors were my family.
My priest was a priest and my school was a prison.
I got to a certain age and started hating survival.
I was bad. I was uncanny.
My forty were the times I cut and ran.
They leaked, sank, and ached.
To them, I was the impulse
to steal sweets.
I was single-celled in my resistance.
I put on a dress and wore it wrong.
This was what others call a childhood.
They never forgave me for fighting the belt.
© Raquel Salas Rivera. All rights reserved.
1. I have chosen not to translate this neologism since it is an adverb coined from “moriviví,” the name for the mimosa pudica plant, which comes from “morí y viví” or “I died and I lived.”↩