for Taha Muhammad Ali
when the first bomb fell on my Saffuriya
I piled all the dirty dishes of my poems
the bent forks and bit straws of my favorite prayers
flew them first-class explosive via carrier pigeon
to the place where the Earth kisses up to the Cosmos.
seconds later I rethought my act of aggression
prayed the Keeper wouldn’t notice
and return to my street with his current of bullets
a brown shirt on his back, a rusted scissor in his coat
to cut off my tongue for a table cloth.
I don’t remember the soundness of my sleep last night
how many times I prayed penance before my tower exploded
and hunks of my body became birthday balloons
each piece screaming Amen in a new bloody language
impossible to reconcile.
the year I was ten
my sister eight
pushed back the couches
turned my grandmother’s kitchen
into a wire cage.
my sister and I
sharp teeth red eyes
oozing at the lips
praying for a knockdown
in the first round
before the other’d wheeze with asthma
and jay would stop the fight.
often neither one would win
my sister’s hand to her rattling chest
my face a tomato off the vine.
we’d separate and Jay’d offer
two sets of score cards
promising each revenge
a bite to the bone next time.
People of the Forest
my father had a habit
of loving women
who hold pictures of crack pipes
in their skulls
years after the bowls are clean.
and of loving them desperately –
a dog abandoned in a burning apartment
digging his nails into the walls
yelping and choking on the smoke.
sometimes I feel I am my mother
........born with a habit of leaving my father
the type of woman who can hear
a phone ring and ring
learn to sleep louder
than the grown man whimpering
outside the apartment door.
I am finding you in the phone book
trying to call before Mother gets home
slamming the telephone when no one answers
pretending you are at work or asleep.
Your blood knocks in my blood
every year on my birthday
I turn 12
you die and I say the knocking is silent
I tell myself I knew you seven years
not nearly enough to break me up when you died
like an egg yolk breaks around a fork
the shell of your memory bone-white and thin.
Still beneath every poem is a prayer that turns
like the face of a flower, back to you.
Melanie Rivera is an undergraduate student at American University majoring in Literature. She has been published in MARY, a literary journal, and in the anthology DC Poets Against the War (2nd edition, Argonne Press, 2004). She was the first place winner of the 2004 Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival. Her most recent work attempts to unearth her own conceptions of cultural, familial, and class identity, while bearing witness to perceived injustices within her country and other areas of the world. Melanie serves as Writer-In-Residence at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Public Library, and as Program Coordinator of Punto Vivo, a literary reading series held at the Library on the first Tuesday of every month. For more information on Punto Vivo or other literary programs at the Mt. Pleasant library, contact her directly at MelanieSRivera@yahoo.com.
Published in Volume 6, Number 2, Spring 2005.