Naomi Ayala



They tore your pockets
into large whispering mouths,
backed up your dreams,
crawled under your mattress
and shook the bed at night.
They were the lead in your shoes,
a lost watch in threadbare dawns.
I woke with you and cried with you.
I watched you sleep under the broken
moonlight of the trees--
one eye keeping guard
as if the sky had eyes
and leaves could speak, roots cough
themselves out of the earth screaming.
You waited away the years
for all the if's that turned
loose doorknobs in the middle of the night
to burst into your hiding.



The pleasure of your speaking.
The loud rivers
of your speaking. The soft, bending
arch of recognition
between your smile & the speed of busy
hands at the salary of a cab,
bus, in the restaurant
of our millionaire ambition
minimum-waged into this narrow
small-breathing dream
we call a golden country.
Brown sugar. Te quiero. I love
your speaking. I go
with loving rhythm
through the revolving
door of days spent moving
without moving. I find you & my ear
is a blackhole for the music
of your dancing tongue.
My body is a blackhole.
If I carry home on my back--
crawling into foxholes
into the safeway of night--
when I pass you carrying all you have
on your own hardened back, your words
bring the cool sweat to the heat
of my daily life. And, I stop
to court you, azúcar
, brown sugar, your tongue
to drink of your crystal
clear music.

Ruth Bolduan
oil on canvas, 22" x 18", (1994)

more work by Ruth Bolduan




The night I walk into town
to meet my brother
I'm tripped up
by a car whose wheels rip
through a newspaper
along the white line
of the road.
The black bold
type is bleeding.
I scream
but the bleeding doesn't stop.
At the corner a man who hasn't seen
water, food, gloved fingers
this cold, snow-blowing January
asks hoe many faces do I see
holding his chin up.
Twenty-five, I say
twenty-five thousand.




It gives you pigeon eyes,
makes you brave
as a cracked slate
with all the weight
of a house on top.

It bids you
hold out your quaky hand
through bittersweet temptations.

You dream of it as slick
silvery fish between your hands
wide eyed & breathless
but it circles your bleeding
feet like sharks.

At evening time
between lampposts & garbage
drums turned over in the wind,
poverty is black ice...
or a train, whose departure you miss,
whistling at you in the distance.

Your will is chalky on your tongue
like aspirin
& patience hangs like frayed
dreads down your back.

Morning bends
the scalpel-sharp pain
in the rib cage,
love's sulfur-dazed eyes.

Two tea bags in your wallet
for when the day is done
& poverty at your feet
like a hungry dog
laps up the sweat of your calves.
You come & go not speaking
fumbling for a ripcord
through a thousand leagues of wild wind.




This morning, in Fundeci
the breadman's basket weighed him
down & his call was a broken bird's.
This morning, the broom man came
at five a.m. crying ¡Escobas! ¡Escobas! as if
he hadn't slept all night,
as if he had been crying Sorrow! Murder!
It is so many years before a war is over.

Yesterday in Fundeci
a woman swept in front of her house,
hills reflected on the sweat
at the curve of her back,
and her boy, the boy
who dug up dead bullets from the swollen
earth of nearby yards, found one
he hammered into life.
It traveled between his eyes,
only blocks away from her.

This afternoon she sweeps
in long, steady strokes
as if she were crying
The heat! The sweltering heat!, meaning
to come up for air.



the magnolia tree I've claimed in full
April bloom & come visit
is in someone else's yard, has a surname
that corresponds to a playpen
of a parcel & its owner
and I think that lawns
are a concept of colonialist
empires, that hedges symbolize
prisons beautified
fences you cannot cross

like straps for oxen they tighten
around the back of the eyes
of your soul, wrap & bear weight
leave open sores to become
the landing strips of flies

I have turned organic fences
& frontyards in my dreams
over & over--a country-full
and know they become walls
against their will

rebel by growing every
which way so often
in the middle of the dark
that only blades can trim
their constant disobedience



Naomi Ayala is a poet, educator, and community activist. She makes her residence in Washington, DC where, until recently, she served as the coordinator for curriculum and instruction at the National Council of La Raza's Center for Community Educational Excellence. She is currently the Program Director of Celebra la Ciencia: Changing the Face of Science, a community science festivals project bringing science resources to Latino communities in six cities across the US. Ayala is the author of Wild Animals on the Moon (Curbstone Press), selected by the New York City Public Library as one of 1999's Books for the Teen Age. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals in the US and beyond, including Callaloo, The Village Voice, The Caribbean Writer, The Massachusetts Review, Red River, the Potomac Review, and Hanging Loose. Ayala migrated from Puerto Rico as an adolescent in the late 1970s to New Haven, Connecticut, where she remained until 1997. She is the recipient of the 2001 Larry Neal Writers Award for Poetry from the DC Commission on the Arts, the Connecticut Latinas in Leadership Award, the Trailblazer Arts Award, and the 2000 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy of Environmental Justice Award.

Published in Volume 3, Number 3, Summer 2002.


Read more by this author:
Ayala's Tribute to Paul Lawrence Dunbar: The Memorial Issue
Naomi Ayala's Intro to Vol. 6, No. 2 (Spring 2005)
Naomi Ayala: DC Places Issue
Naomi Ayala: Split This Rock Issue

Naomi Ayala: Tenth Anniversary Issue