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Poet's Sampler: Mairym Cruz-Bernal

In the last years of the Twentieth Century it seems to me that poetry has become fearful, poets will not come out from behind their work. Some of us wear the masks of dead gods. We lean against monuments and with our fingers trace the epitaphs, piece together fragments and call them poems. Those of us who are obliged to be political rant and rant, but this can be another form of hiding. And oh, the tired third person, ourselves cast as others! I am grateful to writers like Mairym Cruz-Bernal whose magical lyric opens, full-faced, on a life entire. Cruz-Bernal is a young Puerto Rican poet and translator who writes in English and Spanish. Her authority lives in passionate disclosure, vulnerability, rebellion, lives in an outrageous insistence on parting company with her readers in order to make art.

--Deborah Digges

Poems by Mairym Cruz-Bernal

Cutting Pablo's Hair


The Silver Woman

The Pain of Pleasure

Cutting Pablo's Hair

What must I do? I see nothing but obscurities

on every side. Shall I believe I am nothing?

Shall I believe I am God?


Pablo's long hair seems like pieces of rope.

He has not bathed for months, and for a year

he has been heaping trash. Says that God talks to him,

that he is the chosen son that will save the world.

But Pablo doesn't want to be the chosen son

when he can be God. He knows that ministers don't want

to just preach. They want to own their people's soul.

That's why they speak differently.

Pablo speaks with a sophisticated accent.

I wonder what language God speaks. Pablo says:

"When the Spirit enters a body, that body

becomes someone and speaks in different tongues

that no one can understand, like God." I can't understand

people either. Pablo has been quiet.

People ignore quiet people.

Pablo has spent half his life asleep. When he was awake

the people he loved died. He was six years old

when his younger and only sister died. A cocktail of sadness

and anger navigates within him. He cries.

He has been left without his other person. Since that time

his father started drinking and hitting his mother.

Pablo wanted to kill his father.

When Pablo turned ten his father was killed by a car.

Pablo's father was twenty-six, his own age now.

He was sad but he did not cry. A father turns into

an alcoholic by the immense sadness of losing

his only daughter. A son who thinks that the one

who father loved was sister. "What about me?"

What am I hear for? I imagine Pablo's thoughts.

But he remembers he wanted to kill his father.

Pablo is a person who is not a person.

He needs to invent a person to be someone, God.

He wants to be isolated from people,

to meditate like Jesus in the desert and like

Jesus in the desert he is tempted. A voice

orders him to throw himself from a precipice.

Another voice tells him that he is elected by God

to save the world. But Pablo believes he is God.

He keeps his shit in his pants.

Suppose, that just for a day someone could get

Christ's feces and keep it. Everything that comes out

of Pablo's body is holy. He won't clean his sweat.

He won't flush his sperm. Like Christ,

he will stay without a woman. He won't shave.

He won't cut his nails. Pablo will not comb his hair,

nor speak right. But when I ask him

if he knows what elements are important

for vegetation to live, he says: "Solar light, water

and oxygen." When I ask him why it gets cooler at nights,

he says: "Because the sun is turned off."

I wanted to do the impossible for Pablo,

but the impossible can not be done.

I wanted to tell Pablo's life in the past tense,

to make these happenings history.

"Can you cut these voices demanding me to have a someone

inside," Pablo asks me, "I want my thoughts

to belong to me. Can you cut my hair."

I can cut your hair, Pablo. Let me cut your hair now.


Drawing sketches of your eyes I imagined them

inside the holes of the eyes of the fish

bones I saw in the soup I was making last

afternoon. The holes were so perfectly round

and empty I imagined your eyes filling them -

your eyes so abruptly awakening inside

the holes of the bones of your eyes. Your face

so full of bones. Once we were on the most western

side of this island, it was there

you wanted to eat fish and I was pregnant.

And pregnant women's desires are highly respected

in this country. So I said I wanted

fish to the people that had already

said they didn't have any. They pointed to

the fishermen's boats arriving at the beach.

They had fresh countless fish in a sea full of dead

Dominicans, who run out of their country,

barefoot, on the same colorful little

boats, to die, drowning in these waters.

We bought half a dozen and they were pink.

We ate them all. I took a picture with one

of your eyes looking through the hole of a

fish's eye-bone. Oh! Your eyes, always wide

open, wider, your eyes that see too much

even in the places there's not much to see,

your eyes that hear, even through the stories

that seem superfluous, your eyes that have

materialized me making me a woman.

I am writing sketches of your skin, the color

of the wood we built our house with. You are

so much part of the nature I admire,

always searching, moving,

restless, around the square section of

your earth. We sleep with each other, we talk

on the phone at mid-morning and at mid-day -

snack times for conversation, but I miss you.

Eating dinner tonight, our son to my left,

our sleeping daughter to my right and you,

all the way across the long round table

I could hardly hear you. I said I am

going to marry again. You round your eyes,

scared, I guess, threatening to our

so called stability. And I said yes,

marry you to have another time for us

alone. Work, children, meetings, tear me apart.

We sleep together but I miss you.

Playmates in the Bathtub

On Fridays the maid comes to clean this house

in the woods. These floors have no shine, made out of wood,

they get dirty easily. I'm so careless.

The kitchen has an old white sink

with twin faucets: one for the woman in the house,

the other for the same woman in the house.

The bathroom has an old toilet that flushes by pulling

a chain, a bidet, and right in the middle of it,

an enormous tub with golden legs.

The tub has a round plaque that reads "Birthday Bath."

I used to give myself long round baths, take the soap

and round it all over my round eight months' pregnant belly.

I used to lay back and splash roughly

till the water jumped out of the half-full tub.

My legs pulling up my pelvic bones, pressing my uterus.

I laugh to myself feeling the baby swimming inside,

knowing I could not have her come out of me, never.

Knowing she would never break my perineum and pass

through the narrow me. I laugh feeling a certain relief.

I go up again, making my legs push strongly my body high,

feeling the strain in the veins of my thighs.


The maid complains I leave my bras everywhere.

I hang them on a hook the carpenter made for the bathroom.

She thinks underwear is supposed to be hidden.

But everybody can see them, they are sold in ordinary stores.

The truth is I only hide my panties, not my panties,

but the smell of my panties. I choose them pretty,

with french laces, all colors except white.

White is the color of my mothers'. I hate bras.

They press too hard. I take them off all the time,

any place around the house. I hang them wide open

and she comes, complaining with her lowered voice,

folds them, hangs them again and puts a hat on top of them.

"You should not leave them like that, people can come in

and might see them, especially men."
This is just a piece

of cloth, what is the matter with men's heads?

I can't believe she believes what she says. I try

not to be too hard on her and I just smile. I'll keep on

hanging them wherever I please. She knows that.

She knows I'll do whatever I want in this house

I've been pregnant for too long now. I can get pregnant

in this house if I wish. But I can't give birth.

I can't give birth anywhere. It hurts. Both hurt:

giving birth and not being able to give birth.


I have to give myself completely to this man

in a white gown. I have to put on a paper-dress opened

in the back. I can't even wear a bra.

Everyone will want to see me. They want to shave

my pubic hair. I tell them no.

Don't touch my parts. I can't even feel them,

I'm all asleep. I've been dispersed.

I just feel half of my chest and arms.

I look to the left and there's another man looking at me

as if I and my body were a curiosity. I've never seen him

but I hold both his hands and press them. I am afraid.

I don't trust the equipment. I wonder what if the electric

power goes out. What if there's an earthquake right now.

I try to see the opening in my womb through the crystals

of the doctor's eyeglasses. They have little drops of blood.

I want to explode. Maybe I am exploding.

My heart begins to feel the pressure. I have no God

to protect me. I have been dismembered.

At the moment of my daughter's birth

I am rehearsing the moment of death.


I don't feel her body. She is out now.

A man is cleaning her body. A man is penetrating

her mouth, pulling her tongue out, opening her openings.

I can't explain her hands, the force of her muscles

stretching. I can't explain her legs hitting the man

with anger. I can't explain how she's breathing,

rhythmically, out of my body. I surrender

to her and to her beauty. She is taken away from me.

A schedule is set to see her, to feed her.


She will be one year soon. We call her the "Savage Girl."

She knows me already. I know who she is.

We both know our desire, to be fighting against each other,

like I am with my mother and my mother with her mother:

women against women of their own blood. I treat her

with respect. It's been weeks now that she's walking.

She looks at me from the corners of her eyes.

We have a secret. She ignores me often.

And I close my eyes. I try to make love to my body,

I become pregnant again, and I am again

in my white "Birthday Bath" pulling my pelvis up,

feeling the touch of clean water caressing my body,

feeling fresh. I take my time in the tub.

I hear no one crying yet.

The Silver Woman

I remind myself I am in the city where civilization started,

that I am a woman and that I have a name. I remember

my name. Remembering does not stop my dance.

I raise my head and round my lips

opening all the mouths of the silver woman's body

till she is no longer in front of me, till I swallow her

into my own body. The mirror is broken.

I know now I carry a woman inside me,

someone who was thrown into a mirror.

I don't know if I should act as if I were crazy.

Swing, maybe. I grasp my knees, move my body

back and forth. I feel the dizziness of a wild dance.

I press my head to my knees and smell even the intimate

odors of my body. The woman is beautiful.

How can a beautiful woman suffer so much imprisoned

in that mirror? She looks at me while I dance,

touches the corners of the mirror to touch me.

I had to be scared, but I don't remember.

I surrendered all my senses of logic to be calm

in front of her. I want to give her space to exist.

In the obscurity of the hallway, in the midst

of a strange cloud of dust, I sit like a student

on the rug looking up to the tall woman

in front of me. But she inclines her body

to resemble my height. I am motionless,

legs crossed, hands poised on my knees, each side

with each side and I look at her eyes and think

what would I do if I were crazy.

I walk slowly. Nothing to do yet I find no rest.

My own voice coming from the outside says Mira.

In front of me, mirrors. As my body quiets,

a woman is forming her body out of smoke: her contours,

her wide hips, her long arms stretching

as if she had been bent for ages. A silver woman

moving her petrified soundless lips.

I start to walk down the narrow hallway

of this cheap hotel when I feel my head bending,

my eyes facing the navy-blue rug. I start counting

the dots of dirt like fat in an open skin.

I think, how would I act if I were crazy.

The Pain of Pleasure

I didn't take notes to remember.

I forget to take notes. I forget

my tape recorder. I don't keep memories.

Everything is lost, every memory hidden

in the depth of my dreams. But my dreams

are always too far, and I forget them.

It was only last night that my daughter

woke up with a strange kind of cough

and when I went back to my bed,

closed my eyes, I saw I was trying

to close a door

but the bolt was stuck.

I called someone, a man, to help me

fix the bolt. Our hands touched

by chance, not by wish.

It felt dirty, like something sticky

was left on my hands after each rub,

something sticky in my hands I don't

want there. A door I can not close

to keep my son from knowing what happens

in my bed, to know my ambivalence,

my yes I want and my yes I don't want.

I don't want him to know

I give my love to another man.

The other night he heard my noises.

He thought it was pain and not pleasure.

I thought he was sleeping and not listening.

And maybe I feel guilty

because I can't share this pleasure with him,

the person I love most.

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