El Viejo & Mama Boricua

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By: José M. Tirado


Photo: Ricky Rodríguez, Flickr

No, no, no…déjame…it’s fine, really,
the walk from the bus stop took a little bit longer,
that’s all.
Sit down with me, my feet are cold and I can´t speak
´Till they wake up. Siénta te! This won´t take long…

You know, there´s a Boricua calling you, just like she calls me now.
I hear her at night and when the air is warm and wet, and I smile
Because she will take me to your Abuela soon.
But for you, she sings a different song.
Don´t give me that look, papi,
Let me tell you about her:
There are days our coffee makes bone marrow red,
When it swells up your pants,
when the moon
Laughs about silly things, like
when my Tía Luz in Santurce made magic
beside her candle of San Lazaro,
Crying about Esteban´s bare feet on the hot pavement,
And the girls waved their dresses like fans in the warm sun
Hoping to get his attention.

I remember those things, nowadays,
The way, in Nueva York, when your father was a kid,
a few years after we got there, we watched your uncles play stickball
In the streets and in the empty parking lots next to Juana´s bodega,
Or stole magazines to read on the train trips home, believing The Bronx to be where all circles end.

At one time, you know, you could actually see starlights float above the taxis in Manhattan
And the dreams of ladies´ sewing needles
poked through somebody´s curtains while Mamí and Papí
Slept in The Bronx, where you were born. Our hair was slick, our
Shoes were tight, and the girls were kept real close
because El Díablo worked for free
In America.

It was different then…Sometimes on the roof tops
(he looked up)
I could smell New Jersey,
And the piccolo players down the block were learning the cha-cha-cha without confusion. And the pigeons! Ay Díos mío! The pigeons
Would run circles in the clouds bringing news
From our cousins in Barranquitas who were lighting fires in the hearts of the kids down there, so
They would bring it back up here Puertoricanized
to the city, hoping those fires would melt the snow and light the asses
Of the kids here to go back there and make them all independentistas!
It was crazy, mi hijo…crazy!

In the summers, in the old days,
the clack! clack! of dominoes made better music than the transistors we bought from the japoneses!
Ay! There´s a Boricua calling alright!
And back then, if you turned your head fast enough, you could watch those boys grow from rags to ragged in no time … pero when the bullets and the junk hit in the 60s and 70s,
(he wiped the tears with anger) you went to the sidewalks to scream with the mothers and
Raise fists with the fathers.

We never wanted much. Make a little money and eventually go home.
But you kids became Americanos,
And we became, well …
They called us Americanos, too, eventually.
(looks around absently, rubbing his feet, moaning with pleasure)
Where was I? Ah, yes…and Tata´s sofríto reminded me of my mother´s but she too
Left with the wind one summer, she heard her Boricua calling and she answered with a smile and a prayer and went outside to dance with the mosquitos and we knew she´d gone crazy.
Mama Boricua called her home.

You know, you were so small once, so small a diamond could shine brighter at night than we could
Catch you when you wanted to hide! Those were the days, chico…coño,
I remember Pepito, he even looked
Like you, all hunger for knowledge and new books and afraid of his passion, too.
Just like you!
Anyway, so one Spring, after the World´s Fair, we all decided to move and the 15 of us, my two brothers, my three other sons-your Tíos, yes, and all our families we drove down while the women flew, but before we left
I caught you reading about Miami and talking about Tennessee Williams and Jackie Gleason. Coño, we were all so proud of you!
After we got our houses, I didn´t know much and had to work, your papa, too…but you took your hunger and read everything and
Did so well in school, and we all were so proud of you.

(He looked down at me with seriousness now, pointing) but you forgot something:
The magic of the coquí who brings babies and sunlight in the morning;
The magic of cane fields where the dead wiped the sweat off the living;
The magic of the islands´ rumble in the storm days and our people would collect dreams in the villages and store them up for our kid´s futures;
You forgot to read about the softer sides we have, when God sweetened our water before we drank it,
And the stars over Arecibo talked so loud even the American radio que-se-yo-ni-que
couldn´t pick it up.
You forgot the hats of the old men which covered their anger, even when there were
rainbows outside,
Or the magic of the platanos when they were cooked just-right, and Tata would smile and we’d go begging for ice cream, afterwards..
That´s OK. You dreamt your own dreams, and that was alright, I guess,
We were always so proud of you,
still are…
But there´s a Boricua calling you now, and it´s time you listened.

Our family, we were really jibaros, you know, when we got to the City that´s when we turned
into “city slickers”…before that, we laughed when it was tough and cried ourselves to sleep when things went well,
Sometimes, before the cities gave us headaches, we took threads into tarantula holes, covered them in tar and lit them all on fire and the
flames brought them out and you, on vacation screamed and jumped
so high we thought you´d land in Queens!
I remember…
There´s a Boricua calling me now.
She calls you, too.

Míra…there´s not much time for me here, yo soy un viéjo, but,
when you put it all down, in those books you now write,
Remember the lizards and the ways
they paint our paths, and that your abuela used to
wear them like earrings when she was a little girl!
Remember the cocos and
the ways we drank their milk knowing it was our Mother´s,
Remember the tabaco rollers
and their thick hair and long legs,
Remember Tonio and Carlito, who showed you the old Taino cave behind Ismael´s house,
the place where you could imagine the slaves hiding and
you heard the spirits whispering their future names,
promising them their mixed children would be safe there, forever,
Remember the ache in Abuelitas´ heart
when she heard you were sick and flew to Miami
to make pastéles with arroz con gandules and
cried with mamí about how sick you were,
Remember that your lovely grandmother, God rest her soul,
brought her bomba from Poncé on a Tuesday
and by Friday night I was never the same,
Remember the way we watched your days and nights
like buried cemís made of gold in that old house in Mayaguez,
Remember our little island, papí,
which Juracán has been blowing since before the Flood
And look! we are still here

Oh, and remember, you got two eyes to see the world,
Two ears to hear the cries of the poor,
Two hands to hold your kids,
Two nostrils to smell the richness of our food,
But your two feet?
You got two feet, alright – one to walk to the future, and
the other one to take you home when it´s time.
There´s a Boricua calling you, papí, and it´s time you heard her,
because she says “Time to go home”.
(He looked away)

Come on, let´s get some water and tickle some ladies´ nalgas, I´m getting hungry.
(He got up slowly turning to the kitchen, then stopped)
Y tú sabe qué?
(he leaned in, close this time, mischievous)
When I was a young boy, there was a girl with ocean eyes and honey hair and dimples so big
you could sink your nights in,
And her smile was sweeter than Carmen´s flan
and I never, ever had the cojones to talk with her,
Well, like some anónimo estupido, I called her and talked
but I was so shy, and she was so pretty…and,
well…so you listen to me,
If you come across a garden bee in all those books you have, find one from Puerto Rico and don´t ever
Look away from her. Take her smile, plant it there (he pointed to my heart)
and make a Life with her, wherever you want,
Drink your cafecitos and play with the babies and, when it´s time to go back to the island,
Take her with you and then,
when you know Mama Boricua has come to get you, quickly kiss her lips
and take her smile with you,
This way she´ll have to follow you to get it back!

Vamonos, you have enough for now, take it,
y no te olvidés!
Once she calls you, go…
(In the light of that sunny day, the coffee in the kitchen never tasted better,
and I never saw the ladies´s nalgas in the same way).


José M. Tirado is a Puertorican poet and political writer living in Hafnarfjorður, Iceland, known for its elves, “hidden people” and lava fields. His articles and poetry have been featured in CounterPunch, Cyrano´s Journal, The Galway Review, Dissident Voice, Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers, North Star, Hollywood Progressive and Op-Ed News, among others. He can be reached at jm.tirado@yahoo.com.

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