la cubana, a poem (for miriam)

illustration la cubana bay of pigsillustration la cubana

La Cubana
(for Miriam)

You wanted to be a ballerina;
you still have the feet to prove it.
Beautifully ugly — the large indelible corns

a badge of honor you wear snug
inside your stoic three-inch heels.
Even now, you move like a dancer;

that curious, hesitant grace making you
nearly transparent, your fingernails resembling
the vague glimmer of fallen sequins

against dusty wood. I first saw you
cloaked in heavy tweed, your blouse
buttoned like a nun’s, ponderous glasses

weighting your cheeks; a lyric ode
to fine print and words of limitation.
From across the room you smiled.

You have grown into your new profession…
even hair charmingly askew, you remind me
of money, of large parcels of land,

of failed invasions. I can see
how your grandfather whirled that quiet girl
from Boston into his life. When your own father

came back, two years late, from the Bay of Pigs,
you didn’t seem to know him anymore; his blue eyes
forever magnified by loss, his young wife grown bold at last,

they both still played their parts in the undeclared war.
Perhaps the real reason you let go
the lambskin, the pink satin, the sharp-edged slant

of ribbons against buoyant muscle,
was your brother. When he went away,
you had to be the son in that circular way

all Latins have. And yet, now that I finally see you
holding your small stubborn daughter,
I am reminded of the heroic way your tears fall,

winding mascara down with them, stubbornly
clinging to your neck until they simply
disappear. Forget the earplugs, the tranquilizers,

the last minute histrionics — it wasn’t until
you kissed me on the cheek that I truly mourned
my own mother. No one else could bestow

that strange catalyst. Your line of time
admittedly different, yet as familiar
as a vision. Can you possibly understand how,

in that one unending moment, you became
my sister, my lover, my own cool lips,
my own interminably carried broken dream?

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