another trip home.
When the clouds part and the plane
dips north to south,
like it always does,
I see that shoreline creeping over
to that crooked finger in the distance.
I have to steel myself
and not just for the harsh landing.
Ah, San Juan, Puerto Rico de mi alma,
fuck you too, you have claimed
too many lives. The bards sing about
your beauty and your essence.
I will not deny you that
but I am your bastard son.
I have walked where bards seldom
make an appearance.
Where the sea salt corrodes every fiber
of your being.
Worse than termites, the wooden shacks
become standing flotsam through the years.
My childhood cot I slept on was always damp
and never dry and my clothes,
my three shirts and two pairs of pants,
waterlogged and seaweed smell.
We were all tanned Calibans.
I remember lifting my feet on the rocking chair
and letting the crabs scurry by in the common room,
not living room, I said common room.
This time, it was my cousin, the musician.
He lived in El Fangito, the muddy place,
you drove your car there at your own risk,
it could get stuck for weeks.
The sidewalks changed with the direction
of the the wooden planks, eventually,
the mud sucked those down too and you
had to lay down new ones.
At least the land was free
and you had no fear of development, at least,
in Puerto Rico, there are no new houses
being built, there is no more land,
just new houses being stacked.
You can pay your mortgage by selling
permission to build on top of you.
In El Fangito, you are forced to add extra
rooms above when you see the mud
seeping up through floor.
Anyway, my cousin, the musician.
He’d played at one party or another
and he’d sang a ribald song at the wrong girl.
He was quick with a “bomba”, that guy,
and he’d already gotten one underage
girl pregnant. He was sitting outside
on the porch drinking a medalla when
somebody on horseback rode up,
and struck him across the neck
with a machete.
A gallop-by-slashing, you could say,
and just one of the many ways
to die in Puerto Rico.
At the funeral, resentment hung thick
with the smoke in the air,
for the death, for the circumstance,
for their lives, and towards me,
who had nothing to do with any of it.
You see, I had escaped,
after a fashion, and I had done
the unspeakable and moved to America.
I wore my small modicum of success
without even trying,
much in the same way they bore
their jailhouse tattoos or inch-long
lacquered pinky nails
that was the new fashion trend
to decorate the cocaine nail and
not think it the least effeminate.
My sisters were present as well,
full of resentment,
for having to be there at all.
On the last trip, Maria Elena,
the youngest, wore flip-flops
to take a bath in my grandmother’s tub.
She saw a lizard in there.
The flip-flops started the avalanche
of gossip about the “gringo” side
of the family.
I knew how to get along with them.
When they would walk up to me
and ask how that “writing” thing was going
they all know I moved to Los Angeles
to become a writer- I would reply
as coarsely as I could, what writing?
The women or masturbation over the women
interfere with the writing. I knew
how to earn that slap in the back and
beer in my hand. My resentment can be
understood in the fact that everybody
is conflicted with the place where
they were born and raised.
One postcript to the funeral:
at the very end of San Juan Bay,
at the very tip of the peninsula,
in the old city, stands guard
a picturesque Spanish fort, called El Morro,
which boasts being one of the oldest structures
in the new world.
(The oldest is a brothel)
This fort once guarded the entrance of the bay
and the old city walls from pirates and
enemies of the Spanish crown.
Now, this tourist attraction is where the family
gathers for a quick get together from their
self-imposed diaspora the day after the funeral.
A lone sentry tower extends over the cliffs
overlooking the ocean. About 100 ft. below
are the jagged rocks. I used to love this spot
as a child enthralled with the myth of
forlorn lovers who threw themselves on
the sharp teeth below.
What is new, what is impossibly new,
is that on the two largest rocks,
somebody, somehow, spray painted
the words- “hello”
I mean, you can’t swim down there,
the water is too rough, even on a
rowboat or dinghy you are risking
your life. There it was,
mocking and glaring,
and written in English to welcome
the steady stream of tourist looking
out of the sentry tower.
Most ironic and most sad
is the angle of the drooping lettering.
By the way the surf was pounding
what was most obvious,
was the letter “o”.
The letter “o” would be the first to fade
and wash away.
Written in 1996, this poem appeared in my first chapbook, Brown Recluse, in the year 2000.