2017-2018 WINNER, COG POETRY AWARDS

Return to Water

Jasminne Mendez

                                                           

Four passengers on a red rusted
           single engine motoconcho cling
to each other’s rib bones confident
           they won’t fall. As they swerve
through, a puddle splashes on my naked calf.


I hop from the elevated sidewalk
           down to the bustling street lined
with white paper trash. Scraps flutter
           each time a car zips by. And no one
ever bothers to slow down.


Men watch my legs clip past them.
           Follow the bounce of my back
pack, ask what I’m here for and offer
           me a ride to wherever I’m going.
Say a woman shouldn’t go alone.

I walk through the sound of a horn.
           Vibrating trash bags weigh down
the trunk of a tree. From its dry sap neck
           a sign reads:“El Diablo es muy
sucio,” and so this city must be––

 

The devil, floats in the mouth of
           a street vendor trying to hustle
his wares. His outstretched hand
           a flag waiting for wind He asks:
“¿a que veniste, en que te puedo ayudar?”

I lean around him and arrive
           at the open air bus station.
A waiting room stuffed with exhaust
           fumes and humid glaze. White walls
charred black. The blue window ticket

 

counter flickers open, and
           a guachiman pretends to read
a newspaper wet with sweat.
           He asks “¿a que veniste,
en que te puedo ayudar?”

 

I slip him a few pesos and take my pass.
           I study a phalanx of ants marching
along a cracked tile––their destination
           closer than mine.

Bounty

Jasminne Mendez

            

If I can’t return to water,
           then lay me on a bed of rice.


I shake blue river stones, & white
           pebbles in my palm. I shake rice
in a bowl to hear a rain song.


         I let my fingers settle in
the bowl, a memory of bounty & loss.


I turn the grains round & round
         my knuckles. A fistful
of what makes the heart go
         soft. They chalk my skin
white. A saint. A cleansing.
         A dusting of what remains.

 

I roll these farm pearls
         between my fingers––
diamonds on dark skin––
         a starry night en el campo.

 

I add water to the bowl slow
         & across, the way you might
bless yourself in a cathedral.
         A rush of wet pebbles skins
the surface. I rinse & wash
         these baby teeth of the soil.


I thread the obsidian ones––the dirty,
         rice––out. They are not fit
for baptism. They are crushed
         seashells plucked from a
bed of sand. Rice doesn’t like
         to leave anyone behind.


I drain the mulch into my
         palm & feel how it weighs
with water & clings to skin––
         a second offering.
Rice gives without asking
         for anything in return.
& the Earth won’t
         take it back now.


         I spoon the blessed
crystals out & toss them
         into the sliver pot.


The salt water whispers
         steam––a love
song to my lashes.
         I listen as the pot hums.
I look for what may remain          
         of my mother’s mother
& her mother’s mother & all
         the mothers I will never know.
I watch as the grains of rice grow.

 
 
Run, Irelia, Run

Jasminne Mendez
                                             


I


Manman
says I’m not supposed to
run by the river
but Manman doesn’t know
how good it feels. Like mermaid
kisses from the sea, I love the way
the wet grass tickles my toes
when I skip & splash the women
washing clothes & hair.

Manman
says not to run on the river
rocks when the sun hangs
over the water like a ripe mango
ready to drop. Because that’s
when the soil burns the skin, she says,
& my feet will blister red hot
into a flame tree.


Manman
says I shouldn’t run with
the boys down the river bank
because girls who want to
marry should always walk.
But I’m the fastest runner
in Dajabón. Faster than Gustav
& Eugene & Vincent. Faster
because they’ll pull the white
ribbons in my hair if they catch
me. Faster because I eat less
& never look back.


II


Manman
said run that night. But I couldn’t
lift my legs. Manman pushed
me into the rain. It hit my eyes
& I couldn’t see Manman
also afraid of running from the men
coming to get us. & my feet sank
into the mud because I thought
the earth could save us. I felt her

hand pull mine. & we ran
towards the dark of the river
the dark of the night
but even the dark couldn’t
hide us.


Manman
said run, Irelia, run when
a full man the size of the moon
raised a machete & dropped
it, cutting Manman’s arm
away from mine. Another tried
to break my head open
like a coconut, it cracked
& Manman screamed her words
drowned in the river current:
“Run, Irelia, run!”


Manman
said run so I ran & I didn’t
look back. Manman said run
& I ran so they wouldn’t catch me
& pull the white ribbons in my hair.
Manman said run & I ran fast
because the others were running.
& I ran faster. Faster than Gustav
& Eugene & Vincent because they
didn’t know. & I ran with blood
in my eyes & I ran with fear
in my feet & I ran without
looking back & I ran without

Manman.

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