BY LESLIE SAINZ
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 defector. His father, stoic and sharp as vetiver, knuckles 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 Jamaica. 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. Splinter. 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
BY LESLIE SAINZ
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.