To find my father’s grave
I align myself with the mountain
that looms in the distance
and walk the short path that
leads to his remains.
It saddens me to think
that I am but one of his few visitors
but then when I remember the day
that he was buried, I think as I did then:
What a lovely view!
When you read a poem savor each word as you would
a spoonful of a luscious dessert.
Caress each bite-sized syllable
gently on your tongue as if
it were the name of your best love.
When you read a poem
pretend each delicate morsel
fills your mouth with magic and miracles.
Read it slowly; say it softly
like a family secret finally
finding its freedom.
When you read a poem
read it as if each breath
you take were your last.
In 1965, potatoes were thinly sliced,
deep fried and served in cone shaped
dixie cups with ketchup.
After school let out from St. Cecilia’s
Catholic School in Manhattan, a parade of
crimson and white uniforms marched to
the 5 and dime store on the corner of
106th and 3rd.
We’d scatter like nuns in the casino scene of
Sister Act and converge at the lunch
counter for freshly fried chips with ketchup.
This was our special treat at a time when lunch
counters elsewhere were scenes of unrest,
violence and hatred in southern parts of the
country we didn’t know existed.
Civil rights weren’t an issue for 12-
year-old Hispanic, Black, Italian and
Irish school girls, who shared
religion, education and cones of
chips with ketchup on the Upper
East Side of New York City in 1965.
At that time in our young girls’ lives
nothing else seemed more important
than chips with ketchup.
Times are much different for
12-year-old girls nowadays.
El cuartito is the family room, TV room
and hospital room all squeezed into a
12×16 square foot space.
A lot has happened here:
conversations, meals and laughter;
lots of heartache too.
This is where our family pictures and
smiles are safely stored.
This is where my daughter and I
bathed and changed Titi Carmen
after her brain surgery at 102; before
she went to the nursing home where
she died in her sleep a month before
her 106th birthday.
This is where my EarthAngel/brother
watched reruns of El Chavo del 8
before he was confined to a hospital
bed and cried like a Banshee in pain.
This is where I held his hand during such
torment as he writhed and cursed and
spit; before bedsores, debridement and hospice.
This is where I swept and mopped away
so many tears and sorrow that seeped in
through the foundation that cracked when
the mango trees fell during the hurricanes.
This is where I make way for better days
believing something good will come after
so much destruction and that all things
work out for the best in the long run.
I want my ancestors to recognize me in the afterlife.
I will be wearing the symbols
they etched on the side of mountains engraved on my skin:
An indigenous mermaid on my right shoulder for
the ocean that surrounds the land they inhabited
before Colon (you know him as Columbus) and the
waters black mermaids embraced to escape the
slave ships that brought them from Brazil
preferring death to enslavement;
A Vejigante, an African mask, designed
with water and hurricane signs to ward
off the anger of Oya and Huracan,
the Orisha and god of the winds;
A machete that cleared their land for sugar
cane, prosperity and colonization;
A garita, the soldiers’ sentry box surrounding
the forts built by Conquistadores to protect
Borinquen from other invasions.
The Taino sun, moon goddess, a
snake, butterfly and coqui:
These are their gifts to me, the
story my body proudly tells
and will wear to my grave.
The sacrifices they made for me and the
strength I inherited from them have helped
me survive so many years later.
I want my ancestors to recognize me
in the afterlife and surely hope
my life honors theirs.
Quiero que mis antecedentes
me reconozcan en el más allá.
Llevare grabada en mi piel
los dibujos que tallaron
en la superficie de cuevas
En mi hombro derecho llevo una sirena
indígena nadando en el mar que rodea la
tierra que habitaban y las aguas que las
sirenas negras abrazaron para
la esclavitud de las naves que las traían de Brasil;
Un Vejigante, una máscara africana
diseñado con grabados de agua y ciclón para
calmar la ira de Oya y Huracán
la Orisha y el dios de los vientos;
Un machete, que desyerbó la tierra
para la caña, prosperidad y colonización;
Una garita que rodea el Morro
construida por los Conquistadores
para proteger a Borinquen
de otras invasiones;
El sol Taino, la diosa de la luna, una
culebra, mariposa y coquí:
Estos son los regalos que recibí, el
cuento que mi cuerpo llevará con
orgullo a la tumba.
No puedo ignorar los sacrificios que
hicieron por mí, ni la fuerza que
herede para luchar en esta vida.
Quiero que mis antecedentes
me reconozcan en el más allá
y solo ruego que mi vida
a ellos también los honre.
Maritza Rivera is a Puerto Rican poet and Army veteran who has lived in Rockville, MD since 1994. She has been writing poetry for over fifty years; is the creator of a short form of poetry called Blackjack and is the publisher of Casa Mariposa Press. Maritza is the author of About You; A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two tours in Iraq; Baker’s Dozen; Twenty-One: Blackjack Poems and the Blackjack Poetry Playing Cards.
Her work appears in literary magazines, anthologies and online publications and in the public arts project, Meet Me at the Triangle in Wheaton, MD. In 2011, Maritza began hosting the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat, “where the magic of poetry happens”, which takes place in Puerto Rico in 2022.