Back to Issue Twenty-Seven.



Gusano (n):
    1. Worm
    2. Slur for Cuban exiles
In need                        of handling.
            Washrag.        Rancor.
The spittle      of Portuguese
on my father’s island        bleat.
Abuelita,    a nervous vessel.    She
pats my father
against her chest        like the sign
of the cross,    vows  to        never
            wear red again.
Blister.                    Escoria.
My father sleeps and wakes        a
        His father,        stoic
and sharp        as                vetiver,
the leather    of his weather-beaten
suitcase.    A year        later,
            Abuelito      will resuscitate
his pride        with a telegram
            addressed to Fidel:
Feliz Cumpleaños.
      I hope you never have another.
   Fidel responds:
Come back to Cuba,  and we’ll talk.

1959.          My mother  is  the  size
of two ripe mangoes        when
  she is            smuggled
onto a Pan Am flight        to
She cries        in three octaves.
Her sisters twirl                the    soft
    bedding of her hair        into
  small violets,    and she forgets
the sound    of her mother’s    voice.
A local priest      delivers  the young
girls        to a monastery,
where they        live        and go
    to school.    My mother    learns
the word absence    and hangs it
on       the    roof       of her mouth.
She takes            her first steps  into
             the arms of a nun.
200 miles north,            men shuffle
into lines    against    el paredón.
              Wood    is             warped
to the human form.                  The
soil        bleached         as       bone.

Sonnet for Ochún


Orisha of fertility, femininity, love, and sensuality

Last Saturday, a woman asked me about the first time
my body rerouted. If I allowed it to happen, if I moaned
or covered my mouth. Yes, I said. And then again.
She wanted to know how I knew. What subdued me,
and why. I was truthful: it first appeared as a series
of pulleys along my jaw. A yellow film beneath my eyelids
before the sudden sprouting of flowers, sunflowers,
from my hips. They weren’t very tall, just enough
to press against him, leave a small imprint. Eventually,
the florets began to barter: if we shift left will you meet us there?
And he did. Like the flight pattern of vultures, unexpected
circles along the thigh, the chest, the tongue. Night, night,
day, day. We took turns trading sweet water. I puddled,
I pushed, I peacocked. My vowels long as street names.

Leslie Sainz is a first-generation Cuban-American, born and raised in Miami, Florida. A CantoMundo Fellow, she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of Devil’s Lake. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from NarrativeBlack Warrior ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewNinth Letter, The JournalThe Florida Review, and others. She was the Fall 2017 Writer-in-Residence at the Hub City Writers Project, and is a 2018-2019 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University.


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