This work was featured in Issue 18:2, Spring 2017 — Cave Canem 20th Anniversary Issue

Jane Alberdeston

Five Poems

Papi and Bruce at the Bleidorn Caserne

Augsburg, Germany

This is supposed to be your night, the only night
you had to be free, lean into bad dub, watching
a Puerto Rican man’s John Wayne, your hero
in frog buttons, flash his tiger’s stare.

Lee has you hyperventilating in the dark, educating
yourself in Chinese boxing, your face a grimace,
body rock-hard at every smack, pop and lock
of what passes for martial law in The Way of the Dragon.

But when your son throws up his chocolate milk
in the middle of a face-off between Chuck Norris
and Bruce Lee, you yank him up out of his velveteen
seat, snapping his little arms.

It is all a crimson Muzak:
your heart and the screen clicking
in unison, the sound of bamboo rushed
by the wind, skin struck, fingers cracked

against bodies, the screen illuminating
the red weirdness of your face. Your son’s tiny mouth
closes around his left thumb, silent
through all of Tang’s caterwauling.

I follow, head-down, unschooled
in the ways to intercept a fist, sensing
my brother begin to rupture
as you drag him out the theater doors

past the moribund ticket guy, into the bubble gum
light, the lobby’s only witness. You stomp, his skinny Keds trip,
scrape the stretch of scuffed red leg of carpet, all of us caught
in the tornado of Bruce’s flapping sleeves.

 

 

 

A Puerto Rican Cousin Attempts to Get a Better View

Out-of-towners, my cousins peck everything,
the clamor of our Spanish spread-eagled between the gold teeth
of an American city: Mirate Mira Miro? Que bonita! Que crees?
all addicted by a Three shirts for Ten Dollars commerce.
Off we go, headless cocks and hens, racing the edge of Lafayette Park,
so close to the White House, waylaid behind a fence,
grand, pristine, a black funeral armband.
With camera flashes streaking across a storm-clouded day
my cousin reaches, like a child whose just seen his Papi
come around the bend. Trying to get a closer look, his naiveté
nears the tip of that railing, as if to test the sharpness of steak knives.
Seeing without opening his eyes, my cousin stretches
his jibarito self, almost to the top, climbs up the barrier
as if reaching to pluck a coconut. He stretches higher than a weapon’s aim.
My fear soars with him, residue on a policeman’s uniform.
What could be more American, more
Norman Rockwell-esque than my cousin
on tiptoe, nose poking between black iron bars,
all his family tugging the pantleg of his Made in the USA jeans.
How far did the men-in-blue think he could get, across
that lawn, that light brown man wearing the nation’s last name
on his chest, dumb picture-snapping grin on his face,
arm leaning to touch a bit of television.
How we made it home that night, we don’t know.
But we did, albeit a bit quieted, our pigeon wings clipped,
taken down tacks, as if we were flags at half-mast,
staked like a forecast on the White House fence.

 

A River’s Love Knows No Bounds

Binghamton, Riverside Drive, 2006

What do the dead know of a river’s late regret, her encroach, and a lack of decorum. Should she have
held back, waited? Just how mean was it to want back her name, her love, her pride. An estuarine
once so young, pounding the sediment beneath her, eating the bony ridges of genera before they calcify
and silver. What she would give to leave behind all the alluvial enunciations of her shame, her waters
held back by tongue and lash, concrete leading nowhere.
They’ll remember her now, the name practiced in the new lexicon of loss, in bold type along the edges
of textbooks and graves. You can hear her still in the landfills, in a dripping faucet, in between the radio
static of drowned cars.
A river is gulf and she would again open her sediments, gush from her mouths, bottom to top, up and
out till she’s spilling, her entirety shaking with ready, belly a new house for brackish lagoons she would
set up in all over the city and call them sons. There’s no clemency left in her. Take it back, she thinks,
collect the levees, the sandbags and spillways with their perfect military names.
She doesn’t care what’s been lost to debris, pores of parish bridges here and elsewhere, the tow and tide of a storm coming. To which god should they pray? Because it would have to take something big, or else she’d never make for bones to rise in monsoon rain.

 

 

 

Turbulence

I remember anything to forget
In midair, I am confabulation, wrought iron and sinew. Not yet island, not truly water, but made of all
my father’s questions.
The gut of airplane is the uneasy practice of learning how to enter the space of elbows, the thesis of a
stranger’s anatomy. An elbow says everything about our difficulty, the abstractions of our heart, a
religion beating ribcages of Teflon and steel. Were we made of kryptonite. Were we made of sky. We
would be so much better off if we didn’t crane our necks to avoid the light.
Manufactured, a journey swings toward joy and its enumerations, the decimals between who we are
and what others see. In the cab of a 747 it’s harder to know where I start and my neighbor begins,
where her fears end and my neuroses commence, though together we will cheer when the jet hits the
tarmac, and suddenly our elbows breathe, an odd unison, cadets on route to the factory of the
misguided, an arm’s length I make between here and there.
And here I am, outstretched, measuring the odd linguistic of my birth. But that’s not true, is it? There are
always a million distances between us, the rehearsals of our silence, how comforted we’ve grown.
I want to tell the flight attendant, the pilot, the sleeping father two aisles down that there’s more to me
now than a salt proverb of return, there’s more than the travel poster cliché, the suitcase of coconut
kitsch that long ago named me. I want to tell them but there’s a maroon’s map growing on my tongue, a
tiny root turning in my belly, an unforgiving fetus waiting for her inky getaway.

 

 

Ephemeroptera

For Quadrevion Henning, 12, and Purvis Virginia Parker, 11

You
were all bloat and bait
Two mayflies in winter, tap
dancing the wrong water,
swallowing
air
You
took off, on your own glimmer
above the keloid of a pool
growing over heart, weed and tar.
And you’d be boys,
like all boys that play
near what scares
their mothers most
Water
Murk thick
black syrup surface
you broke
with your fall
Little
brothers, oh
if you could fly
above ham radio static,
oakwood and scream,
above the park’s intermissions,
its lonely lagoon music,
you’d do it now, wouldn’t you
and let your folding frames
wish bone to life
Forgive
rescue and all its failing light.
Forget the circling dogs, at first so close
your scent grew wet in their bark. Pay no mind
how tired you are, logged, full of cry and want for daylight.
Boys, evening’s come and before a manmade tide inches over
your sometime faces, take hold, lift yourselves up, and
don’t stop till you let your breath out at the heels of God.

 

Jane Alberdeston is a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico. She is co-author, with Lisa Alvarado and Ann Hagman-Cardinal, of Sister Chicas (Penguin Books/New American Library, 2006) and earned a PhD from SUNY Binghamton. Alberdeston is a Cave Canem fellow, and a former member of the Modern Urban Griots. She was born in Puerto Rico, and lived for many years in DC before returning to the island of her birth. To read more by this author: Three Poems, It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2009; "Cloaked Silences in Reetika Vazirani's Poetry," Profiles Issue, Vol. 7:4, Fall 2006; Five Poems, Vol. 2:3, Summer 2001.