Propping my mother by the elbow,
I enter the bodega on the corner
Of 57th Street & Fourth.
She just needs a seltzer
To combat the nausea
From the cancer treatment
She’s getting at Brooklyn Hospital;
It won’t work, but she believes it will
And I’m too beaten up to argue.
In comes Crystal who ran track in high school
And sang in my ear sometimes between practice
Because I loved a particular song she sang with perfect pitch
That calmed my nerves when the writing did not go well
And I was her artist friend who posed no threat,
Like surprising her with a kiss.
She is 21 now but looks as old as my mother:
Sunken cheeks, pale skin with dark blotches,
Missing teeth, stooped shoulders,
Though the shock of blonde hair still dazzled
Like the gold metallic stars teachers stick
To the corners of select student papers
Or the flashbulb celebration of winning finish lines.
She’s an image from a corrupted memory drive,
A scratched music file, an overwritten face.
But she gasps, Eddie?
And I remember all of her:
The smooth skin, the cool blue eyes.
The pop of starter guns,
The ribbons and medals,
The tight running shorts,
The perfect song.
Love does that.
And I introduce her to my mother,
Who smiles as if she just met the pope,
But later as we walk home, asks:
Which of us do you think will die first?
I will, I reply.
But I was wrong.
Attending a Poetry Reading Drunk
There are more empty seats than words
At the reading I attend after three doubles,
And a fourth in my pocket, sipping between
The stanzas of poets reciting monologues in cadence,
Like actors who have memorized lines
They don’t care to understand.
But I am drunk and do not care
Except about the redhead in the third row
To my right surrounded by lots of space.
She should be surrounded by suitors with cameras,
Taking pictures each time she stirs,
The slight up motion of her chin to catch a word,
The thick brambles of scarlet hair
That fall in accidental braids
Over her forehead whenever she nods
Into a notebook to write something.
And I wonder if she is waiting her turn at the mic
(She is not)
And if she is as alone as she appears
And if she will be horrified if I chat her up later
(I will never know).
And I moan, warily, I moan
And empty the flask
To liquefy the moment,
To drown its sharp cries,
To bring myself away from her
And back into my own head
Where there is safety, and sometimes a poem.
A Girl at the Airport
As I made my way around impassive crowds,
In Sunday best or casual travel
Or uniforms with gun belts—ghosts
All of them, all of them—they could not
See that I knew their most secret names:
The boyfriend who wiped himself
With my panties and tossed the thing
Across the bed where I’d been reading theory
Before he arrived to work off his day’s pain
On my body (then he left, just like that).
The mother who dropped cigarette ash
Into the mix of my birthday cake
Because the ashtray was in another room
And she had just cleaned the sink
And later I ate the burnt thing in fear of what would
Happen if I didn’t while she stared at me
In that heroin half-sleep of hers
Just before the doors came down
And the neighbors took her pulse
And the sirens wailed her away.
The teacher who told me I had a gift
For words but was taken out in cuffs
When her own words got found
On the phones of several boys on the swim team,
And her face was in a trance
Until she passed me under the school exit sign
And she had no hands to wipe the tears
That rushed her face like burst sugar water catheters.
Now you are here, all of you, bled corpses,
Hazy apparitions, talking, talking as if there was nothing
To talk about except where the bathroom is,
Next to Gate 28, thank you.
And there are more and more of you…
And I tell the boyfriend, why’d you leave me?
Was there no more pain in your life?
And I tell the mother, I’m hungry Moma,
More rice please… Where’d you go? Where’d you go?
And I tell the teacher with skin of Flemish wheat
And blouse of hospital wipes, words cannot absorb tears
But sometimes they can prevent them… So you said!
Why you so loud? Why you all so loud?
And stop crowding on me!
And who are you to tell me to calm down?
You calm down!
And put that gun down before I chew it off!
What’s wrong with you?
Close Dance with the Lead Actress at the Cast Party
The lead actress whose furnace eyes
Lit the first eight rows that night
And cast shadows on the rest,
Now locks her hips to mine,
In and out, Jamaican wine style,
And blows humid words in my ear
That mean I don’t know what,
But they are attentive and warm.
I whisper back, Oh, Dominique.
Then she peers at me in a way that
Burns the first three layers of skin
From my face and I am once again
The stagehand who loaded her prop gun,
The usher who showed her friends to their seats,
The sound tech who rang a buzzer offstage,
Her cue to pick up a pretend phone
And moan: Bon soi… Zees ees Dominique.
Dominique, Dominique, Dominique…
Cue the next sound! A shot! A scream!
Lights out. Intermission.
What is my name? she demands. My name?
The name floated in the glass
Of imported amnesia that I had emptied
Into my brain…
And I thought of the ancient Hebrew priests
And their fear of the Holy Name revealed on Sinai,
And replied, Your name is too beautiful to utter
Save once a year on the holiest of days.
She repeats, What is my name!
And now I’m as silent as Zechariah
Before the angel in the Baptist temple
And just as afraid.
And now an usher hands me the playbill
With the cast names and points to hers at the top,
But she’s now grinding with the playwright,
Then the director, then the romantic lead,
Whom she leads by the belt behind red velvet curtains.
A year away, I repeat the name as if memorizing a script:
A name too beautiful to utter save once a year,
Or a thousand times in a play
Of reflection and regret.
Eddie Vega is a Cuban-born writer, editor, English teacher, and amateur actor who holds degrees in literature, writing, and journalism from Columbia University and Brooklyn College (CUNY).
His news writing has appeared in Washington Post, T.V. Guide, Backstage Magazine, Billboard Magazine, The Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Austin-American Statesman, and his creative writing in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Little Havana Blues, Brooklyn Review, River Styx, Punk Noir Magazine, and Pearson’s middle school English textbook, My Perspectives.
His seafaring novel, Awake Now, Sailor and book of poetry, Translating Grandfather’s House and Other Poems, Puntos and Décimas, are available on Amazon, as well as several issues of Noir Nation: International Crime Fiction, a magazine he has been publishing since 2011.