Madre, tienes 24 años y vives en un cuarto en la casa de tus padres en Puerto Rico. Es un apartamento pequeño sobre una casa muy linda y muy grande. Casi nunca nos vemos. Entras y sales de mi vida como un ghost. A veces me llevas a los parques. Y hangiamos durante los fines de semana. Me cuentas acerca de un viaje de autobús en Colombia. Hombres que bloquean los pasillos. They pull tu ropa. & tus pantalones. Encuentras una manera de bajarte. Nunca me dices porque nos fuimos de Colombia pero esto puede ser una de las razones. Activities on buses. Después, me cuentas a cerqua de vendedores gritando chancaca chancaca chancaca. Azúcar dura que ponemos en agüita caliente. Colombia es un lugar duro, me dices a veces.
page 22 from [Red Missed Aches] (Switchback 2011)
*We discuss the poem in the kitchen while she attempts to dye-- really, bleach-- my hair from its jet black to a softer brown. If there are any traditions among the women in my family, DIY dye-jobs with old, baggy t-shirts and plastic grocery bags is one of them—and it seemed appropriate to have a seemingly innocuous task while we talk poetry—especially the poems from [Red Missed Aches] which in large part depict the complexities of a mother/daughter relationship-- and, so as to avoid the tip-toeing i tend to do here-- the complexities of our specific relationship--what it means to be a daughter to Nancy and, perhaps, a mother to Jennifer. Earlier my mom joked about responding to some of the more "abstract" (read: clitory?) poems but settled quickly on page 22—a Spanish language prose piece that supports one of the clearer narratives in the book: specifically, (her) life as a teen in Colombia and our subsequent relationship when we emigrated to Puerto Rico. When I recognize the piece, a nervous shit-feeling starts in my stomach and I want to quit.
Because my mom insisted that I take notes and write her words verbatim, it’s only fitting that I write her response here, unedited.
“I take [this poem] very personally. I feel sad about the choices I made for not being present in your life. I own the fact that this poem is accurate. I was in and out of your life; though I believe that, when I was present, I expressed my feelings and my love the best I could. I know I’m not going to have a chance to do it all over again—and not having been so present in my daughter’s life reflects how not present she is in my life now. In reality, I built you that way. I’m solely responsible for it. Having said that, in the chancaca part of the poem, it amazes me how a kid that young of an age can remember such things. At a very early age, you were paying attention. More than I thought. What I’m going to say next is sincere: I felt invaded. You were talking about an experience that was private—yes, this was the very reason I left Colombia but I didn’t want anyone to know about it. You write what you want and I support it 100% but those were painful memories I wanted to forget and it uncovered a little part of me. But I realize the poem was composed to reflect all those different feelings: horror, shame, sadness, love. It was well done.”
She is trying to comfort and protect me there at the end—thinking a discussion of craft will make her poet-daughter feel better. I don't feel better. I shouldn't. She’s brought to light some of the exact anxieties I had as I wrote the book: I uncovered her. I invaded her privacy and exploited her trust. As I was writing this book, receiving feedback from peers, most of them thought she was dead, i.e. there's a way you can write about the living; this was not it. My scalp is burning a little and I feel like a large shit thing—perhaps because now she’s the one uncovering me a little—pulling back covers, forcing me confront ideas about myself and how I've chosen to lead my life as a writer. She’s reminding me that art has consequences, that art might actually mean** something and that being a part of it means being responsible for all of it.
*I wrote this piece for some poetry blog last Mother's Day-- it was never published but I'm thinking about it today. It's my mother's birthday.
** see: meaning &vs. pleasure in art, future post.