I'll be honest, when I was asked yesterday to interview someone and share their story, I cringed. Growing up, I was always told not to ask questions. If someone doesn't tell you willingly, it's not your place to ask. As a Latina your job was to cross your legs, sit still and avoid direct eye contact with anyone older or wiser than you. Now while not asking questions doesn't apply to your bestie, cousins, husband, or sisters...it still makes me a bit awkward.
So, I haven't interviewed anyone. And truth be told, I kind of already avoided this assignment in the past and I wrote a poem about it. So for today's post, I'm going to cheat and copy and paste something I wrote a couple years ago.
The following poem is the "un-researched/untold" story of my mother. Don't worry Mami, one day I'll have the courage to ask you everything I've ever wanted to know. And then, the world will know how awesome you are.
For now, I want to keep you all to myself.
The following poem was first published by Floricanto Press in my memoir Island of Dreams
SANTO DOMINGO SMILES
This is not my story to tell.
It is her life and only she knows the truth behind it.
But my mother’s tongue belongs to the island.
If she were to tell you about the things she knows
Her cloudy English would make it all seem like a lie
And you would hate her for betraying what you think
Sunny island days and juicy mango nights are supposed to be like.
So, I will purposefully fail to do my research
For fear of opening wounds that would leak poverty and salt water;
Instead, I will piece together this story by collecting abandoned pictures,
Spying on the stories of clanky coffee cup Sunday mornings,
And by reading stolen letters written in a language even my mother has forgotten.
You see, I want to send her home so she can smile again.
I want to have the money to build her a big house in el campo,
With a generator that will always work
And with water pipes that will never leak so she can feel at peace again.
But I know, that even if I did she would defy me like a spoiled child
Because my mother cannot be still.
I know this because of her erratic cleaning sprees at 3:00 a.m.
I know this because she is compelled to mop the kitchen every day.
I know this because the picture of her, wearing tight leather pants and
straddling a motorcycle reveals to me that she was and still wants to be
She believes in a God that is merciful but she doesn’t understand the pain or the poverty.
She met my father and fell in love with hope and opportunity.
He left her for boot camp, alone in a dark, damp city where she cried herself to sleep
Holding his letters that promised brighter days to come.
She built the heart of a home with a bottle of bleach, a frying pan, and a Rosary.
Her alma bleeds for her Americanized children and her tears rain on palm trees she cannot see.
If she loved someone before Papi, I will never know.
If she had bigger dreams of fame and fortune I will never know.
If she wanted to be something more than just my mother, I don’t have the courage to ask.
If I could send her back to the Santo Domingo
That used to smile on her olive skin and make her laugh, I would.
But that island doesn’t exist anymore,
Only her memories of something else do.
I don’t want to let her down, but she needs more than what I can give her.
She needs fresh coconut milk to nourish her soul like holy water
So she can believe in something again.
She needs fresh ocean breezes to tickle her neck so she can feel young again.
She needs the dance of a live merengue to rock her to sleep so she can dream again.
My mother longs for the past like she fears for the future,
Watching her family come and go apart.
Praying in silence, believing in miracles, and always feeling
Like she left herself behind.
And yet, I must remember that this is not my story to tell.