From shtetls to Brazilian shores my family
Washed up on beaches and was pushed out again,
Every time looking more alien.
We left a postcard city for a portable American town,
Looking like milk drinkers, but sounding
Almost like the honey families in corner pots.
What does a parrot do but learn?
I begged different tongues to fit in my mouth;
My uncle had a parrot he trained to bite people’s toes.
I met my uncle once on his fruit farm.
A mirage is a place you think you’ve seen before
But up close you don't recognize the fruit.
A boy said that he and another were the only
Real Latinos, another boy said I only
Got into college because I’m Latino.
I’ve peeled it off like a gold star I didn’t earn.
Now I wear my face like a mask;
Forms peel me open.
My grandparents would’ve worn yellow stars.
I’m safe if I’m quiet; that’s important,
My father lost his job for the way he spoke.
My friend was asked to leave a group
Because she’s only half Indian;
We’re gathering driftwood together.
At a party I met someone who bragged about living in Brazil,
And threw around the word quilombo,
Settlements of escaped slaves who had nowhere to go.
I’m welcomed everywhere I go.
The new children washing in are put in cages;
Their path is paved with cages.
My wife’s great-aunt was a child who didn’t
Want to leave her parents’ side, so followed them
To camps where people were made into smoke.
My wife’s grandfather still cries.
My mother cried watching Sotomayor swearing in,
I held the urge to tell her she’s not Latina.
Saint of Unloved Monkeys
My mother gave me a spot of shadow and handed me to a plastic surgeon like a lump of clay. I woke up without memory. I didn’t know there were pills that worked fast like guillotines.
She told me it took four nurses to lift me. Kids used to say that I looked like a monkey. I told her I felt like a statue. Guilt is a good crowbar. A parlor monkey doesn’t know to look for traps.
Scientists showed that baby monkeys will starve clutching a fake felt mother rather than go to a wire mother who gives milk. I am all the monkeys who died. I am the patron saint of unloved monkeys.
My church is a circle of chairs; my altar is an old couch. My idols are gripped hay figures in lab cages. I’m visiting classrooms in human form. I’m learning how to return coiled children to treetops.
For months I slept with an elastic head bandage like a false cradle. I saved used gauze under my mattress. At night I stayed up imagining a window in my head and stuffing gauze into my chest.
I met a girl in a hospital who didn’t realize she had a head dressing. I learned a mummy is poor comfort. We read a book, and I pulled gauze from my chest like a magic trick.
Monkey in Portuguese is macaco. My favorite book was Macaco Maluco. A coconut fell on a monkey’s head and made him crazy. The crazy monkey kicked the coconut and invented soccer.
My saintly name is Saint Macaio. Caio in Portuguese means ‘I fall’. In the gated jungle I saw a living tree holding a dead tree it had smothered and knew that was me. I’m the monkey and the coconut.
There are crimes no one knows about and there are crimes that walk in the town square and greet you in the kitchen. A monkey once stole my brother’s glasses, but a kind man returned them.
A therapist told me the third generation after trauma has a chance to be free. My mother’s mother had a rule that she would stop hitting you when she saw blood. It runs in the family tree.
Brazil was named for a tree with a precious red dye. The tree’s flowers look like wounded birds, and the dye runs in its veins. After many generations it’s almost extinct