Utuado, Puerto Rico
August 10, 1899**
Mud to your waist. Beside you, six men probing with broken
limbs. Behind, five men erased by rain. Wind grinding
the snapped off coffee trees. Everything redolent of sewage.
Then, the numb schwuck of lifting your feet, the swollen
piglets, dogs. Submerged lambs bumping
against you. All this you find. But not the girl.
Returning, looking down at the roofless chapel.
The torn metal nailed to the fallen cross, everyone hunkered
under it. Atop the wall, the vultures,
holding their immense wings open.
What with the blood heads dripping rain, the legs shining
with excrement, and the strange music of regurgitations,
some of the men drop to their knees, mistaking
the vultures for heavenly messengers.
Others of us descend the slope, call out to our women. Another,
that one who’s been dragging the porcelain doll,
approaches the wall, watches a vulture twist a talon
out of its nostril, flick loose a snippet.
Everyone hears the doll crack against the wall.
You can hear the hisses rain down on him, even after
he takes back the doll, tries to rub away
those black roots growing through the eye sockets.
* misfortune, disgrace
** Two days after San Ciriaco, the most destructive hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history,
tore through the island
Praise Song: Iguacas*
Manuél Sánchez, September 6, 1899**
Day twenty-nine. The rain has gone somewhere better.
We come out to the plaza, cautious. Everyone gazes at the ebbing
clouds, the mud. At the twelve cavalrymen advancing
through waves of steam. Behind them, hauling the wagons,
the same mules as before, the ones whose eyes are flattened
tin cans. The wagons are the same too; their groans are identical.
The bags stamped rice are different, their burlap blazes
in sunlight. Rising from under the bags, there’s the same dampness,
the same odor of the dead. Then, unexpectedly,
the horsemen come to a halt, yawn, look over their shoulders.
Behind, stumbling over a mound of rubble, the mule, riderless,
adorned in blue-green jewels.
Closer, slung over the saddle pommel: strings of parrots
hung by their feet, eyes glazed, wings inexplicably flapping.
* Puerto Rican parrots
** 29 days after hurricane San Ciriaco devastated Puerto Rico.
Ten months after the U.S. military took over control of Puerto Rico from Spain
Descampar: To Stop Raining
Carla Medina de Sánchez,
September 4, 1899*, Caguas, Puerto Rico
At least here in the deluged city there’s the candlelight
procession. And ghosts
welling up from the floodwaters, bent on begging Our Mother
to stop the rain from drumming
up another hurricane. Over the avenue, telegraph poles tilt
like sinking crosses, their wind-whipped cables lash our backs.
Manuél scoffs at those slogging on their knees.
With his palms calloused from stacking
the dead like waterlogged planks into oxcarts,
he lifts me, says We go upright.
Our Mother sleeps below the cathedral steps.
She’s knocked out flat with her stone eye cracked
toward the three soldiers boarding shut the cathedral doors.
Her lopped off wrists are starting to crumble.
Manuél rakes his fingers along the folds of Our Mother’s robe,
back and forth in the furrows,
plucking out bits of shattered glass. Those he lifts
twinkling in his cut hands, into the light I carry.
So that the child floating inside you, he says, will know
our blood. Stars. How to get up from his knees.
* 28 days after the landfall of San Ciriaco, the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history