The calla lilies beside the calavera
on the kitchen table sing Open the book.
Mami lays out a fresh bowl of apples
at the front door, beneath the portrait of La Virgen
with a burning sacred heart, to keep both
enemies & friends from bringing ill
intent inside with them. I want to roll
my eyes at Mami’s superstitions, but I’m beginning
to hear them too—not
the apples, but the flowers. Named for me.
The funnels of their flared heads, little throats
opening. Open, they say. They mean the book
I want to write. Instead I stuff
a spoonful of oatmeal into my mouth
silencing the burnt orange blooms, their
stiff green petals cupped toward the ceiling
as if asking for rain. It hasn’t rained
in months. We’re not allowed to use sprinklers
in our patch of weeds-for-grass, our smog-
black sky that makes me think of ravens.
The fan blades whirl, dust spinning sunlight
& city noise, the maize man in his sidewalk cart
readying to park at the end of my block
with his butter & chile & warm, steamed corn.
My mouth waters. I stir the goo in my bowl.
I eat it plain. I don’t spoon the brown sugar
I’d once loved until the boys at school called
my chest buds knolls, a word on our vocab
test, rhymes with trolls. How many boys
could I knock out with my makeshift-
spoon slingshot? I load the silver hollow, pull back,
fling the paste-white glue-for-breakfast
across the kitchen. It oozes down
the fridge, coating last year’s recital picture—
my last dance before I quit. My tights
couldn’t tuck in my pansa & thighs-
of-masa. Onstage in my costume
one of the girls whisper-yelled Oh em gee. Does Lila
stuff her bra? The oatmeal congeals
over the smile plastered to my picture face.
I smile back. Then Mami’s chanclas on the tile.
What in God’s name, Li? Mami pronounces
it like Lee, the I in Spanish sounding like eeeeeee
in Mami’s wooden-spoon of a voice.
Twelve years old y todavía un bebé, traviesa
throwing food across the room. She clucks
her tongue. Clean that mess.
The calla lilies laugh. The maize man
rings his bell.