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Raina León



i opened the door and flipped the black lock

of the clear plastic screen with the framing leaves in stained glass

and out into our postage stamp yard


sun-dancing dandelions

yellow heads and the white for wishing

i was making a bouquet for my mother


my father upstairs in the grips of a peace

that comes only after a 16-hour shift in detention

with boys to whom he never showed my picture


it was a boy passing on a tricycle

his mother far behind

that made me rush in fear


back into the house

i wasn’t supposed to be seen unguarded

not presentable and perfect




and down


to the basement for more spring bounty

blush tea roses under the tree bursting

cherry to color a world in petal pink


to go there i had to climb a tall shelf

to find the keys

hidden from little hands


three locks one creaky

method of a child's escape? double-handed body 

weight hang to turn the key


barefooted i crept out

careful of fallen pointed branch stubs

to snip and slip in my frayed chemise


a satin basket for all the flowers

then back in and lock the three

and up the stairs


to nestle under my father’s arm

that smelled

of roasted onion sweat


already the flowers had wilted

i threw them away when i woke

no one noticed the ruin


                 after too obvious, 1996. david hammons


papi says the pig is dirt

that the whiteness machine wants to feed us refuse

whiteness aches to make us weak


when tito was diagnosed type 1

even insulin had to be swineless

he needed the good human stuff

not what whiteness said was good enough

close enough

because he was human

no refuse

his pancreas heard human

and started acting right


what kind of puerto rican doesn’t eat pork

my titi vilma would say

the papi-kind

the me-kind

and we black too



give us

no choice

give us pig

we will split it

call spirits

claim our human

see the cowrie future

rattle and beat the dance calls

in cleaned bones

and you will see

how strong

our spirits

as they



our human




verde, verde, verde every color is verde

and i think on federico garcía lorca,

how i read this poem to him, days old,

his whole body less than six pounds on my chest

and now he stands a wild octopus boy

on a chair reaching for the markers.

verde, verde he says, though the uncapped tool

marks page to orange and his father says,

he knows what the best color is.

i say, naranja o anaranjado, he has to know his colors

and go into a diatribe about school,

not being behind. it is not about school.


he is my son and so the box waits:

a check mark of abuses woven into his identity.

will he ever be able to just be the creative child

who says verde, verde, verde for all the colors,

glorified for how his mind stretches divergent?

my husband does not know that the box

can be a casket and each day

we must fight for it not to be.


ahmaud ran on a street lined with green leaves.

lorca wrote a poem. they shot him, too,

so bright. i just want my son

to know his colors and live.

-from black god mother this body (Black Freighter Press), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

Raina J. León, PhD is Black, Afro-Boricua, and from Philadelphia (Lenni Lenape ancestral lands). She is a mother, daughter, sister, madrina, comadre, partner, poet, writer, and teacher educator. She believes in collective action and community work, the profound power of holding space for the telling of our stories, and the liberatory practice of humanizing education. She seeks out communities of care and craft and is a member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Macondo. She is the author of black god mother this body, Canticle of Idols, Boogeyman Dawn, sombra : (dis)locate, and the chapbooks, profeta without refuge and Areyto to Atabey: Essays on the Mother(ing) Self. She publishes across forms in visual art, poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and scholarly work. She has received fellowships and residencies with the Obsidian Foundation, Community of Writers, Montana Artists Refuge, Macdowell, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland and Ragdale, among others. She is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly, international journal devoted to the promotion and publication of Latinx arts. She educates our present and future agitators/educators as a full professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California, only the third Black person (all Black women) and the first Afro-Latina to achieve that rank there. She supports poets and writers at the Stonecoast MFA at the University of Southern Maine. She is additionally a digital archivist, emerging visual artist, writing coach, and curriculum developer.

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