A Good Education
As a girl in Ecuador, my mother recited saints, prayers, and science formulas.
Our reports in Social Studies did the same when we studied places like Ecuador and commonwealths like Puerto Rico,
served up imports, exports, populations, lags in class with poster board markered and spilled glue.
The world's violence fell from minds like pencils dropped under ancient radiators.
It's all about patriotism learned in a classroom, my mother admiring the Incan King Atahualpa and shaking her head at brother Huáscar.
Lessons widened the divide with Peru, the other country.
Amazing how civil war boils between brothers, flaring up battlegrounds no one can pinpoint.
The blame game helped my mom and her class imagine the disputed zone, el oriente, that divides two countries, that bends young, confused thoughts that clamped inside her, tight fists balled in pride.
And I put myself there too,
getting a good education, oblivious to our country's failings, saying the pledge of allegiance and gawking up at the flag with my small hand on my heart, about which
I knew nothing.
I was five when I learned my own blood.
Dad and I fished the lake of cement slabs,
out past yellow grass, our feet jammed in mud.
I pulled the snagged line. Snapped back. The hook stabbed
my thumb, slid past bone, dented the fingernail.
The sun's search for horizon came about
reflecting filament line, a detail
like dad dropping the bucket of caught trout.
Everything halted: the water still cold,
red salmon eggs stuck on our hooks for bait.
He steadied my hand-shaking, uncontrolled.
Father worked the hook. Barbs excavated
through skin ripped. For the tiny hole, I cried,
the blood pools in our hands I could not guide.
An Apology to La Isla
I implicate myself for neglecting
the island, Puerto Rico, home of my
father, half of my blood, land voiced in dropped
syllable's Andalusian Spanish, isla
I haven't seen in too many years.
I hear hesitation of each coqui's
whistle sent to quell the night, the racket
of bugs bumped against the mosquito nets,
tiny lizards stitched along the house walls.
I've spent too much time away and clung to
my landlocked home state and obsessed over
how las montañas in my mom's Ecuador
dominates the view. I need to smell
empanadilla shacks feeding outlying
towns, try to sleep the humidity's torment,
drown in the hibiscus that color the
lush forests, coax out the island inside.
I will sacrifice a plantain in your
honor and fail to cook a passable
batch of mofongo and wash it down in
liters of cola champagne and accept
that I am a tourist who will ask for
forgiveness only after I return
to PR and say it en español
without tripping on any syllables.
-from The Siren World
BIO: Juan Morales' second poetry collection, The Siren World (Lithic Press), was selected as one of 2015 Latino Books: 8 Must-Reads from Indispensable Small Presses on NBC News. He is also the author of Friday and the Year That Followed (Bedbug Press), winner of the 2005 Rhea and Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition. His poems have recently appeared in Poet Lore, Huizache, Hayden's Ferry Review, Mas Tequila Review, Pank, Origins, and Duende. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, the Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine, and an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he directs the Creative Writing Program and curates the SoCo Reading Series.