Walls

When my things began creeping at the foot of my bed

I started keeping things by my pillow

And when I stepped off my bed the books I hadn’t read were stacked to my knees the letters friends had written me poked out underneath

My medals hung off the side of the wardrobe with the rosaries I kept in case I should believe

The rows of bottles I used to sustain myself collect dust

Half-checked to-do lists lie in wait

 

With this many fresh starts, my head begs for clear endings,

not the ambiguity of things, but the clarity of nothingness.

 

The day I emptied everything out I thought my house would look different

Thought if I expelled things and people that did not feel mine

I would be free

In the end all it is is space

And what if it never fills again

What if all that is left are walls

Native

About a month ago, I had the privilege to have been chosen by La Pluma Y La Tinta to read at their event, “Island Living: Tales from the Caribbean to NYC” as a part of Pen America’s Lit Crawl NYC 2018. For the event, I had to share a piece that embodied life on an island, life by the water. I grew up by the Hudson River. Those who know it, know that it’s not exactly the most poetic body of water.

So I wrote about the very first time I went to my family’s home country: the Dominican Republic. I wanted to share my piece with you all too, maybe some of you can relate. It’s called Native.

 

Even though it was my first time, it felt like I was returning

But I learned the differences

the distances

between me and this place

me and the mountains in Santiago

a place that was always in sight, yet always out of my reach

I remembered my grandmother telling me of her house at the top of a hill and when it rained, it flooded, taking down plants and chairs and all that the skies had the power to take

Our concerns were more:

“You cannot take out your phone para nada, for nothing.”

“You cannot go out at night.”

“Never go out alone.”

“Only speak Spanish.”

Common sense, if you’re not from there. This was home, but they know what you are when they see you. Americana. Some say you can tell by the reservation in our step. Skin unexposed to the earth as it comes.

And they’ll stare

Test you

See if you are made of the same blood

If your mother raised you right

If you are tough like they have had to be

Before I flew out, all my father kept wishing for me to see was the real Dominican Republic, the campos. He wished to go with me, so we can see it together. Something of a pilgrimage, of a place he had not known for 35 years, a place that somehow stayed the same without him. He wanted to show me the way people lived. Houses probably no bigger than a modest studio here, but made of wood and tin roofs, grounds that bred life, hands that knew work.

Everything he told me about waited for me, the day we went to Santo Domingo. Waiting for our bus to the capital city, I tapped my pen on the bare page of my journal, open on top of my bookbag, held tight on my lap. That was one thing that did console me in my time away: writing. I forced a relaxed composure, the exhausting act of trying to look like I belonged. As bright yellow buses pulled in and out of the parking area next to the station, picking up and dropping off those who lived there (and you could tell cuz they’d float off the bus, nothing in tow, walking as if they hadn’t just traveled in heat for hours) and tourists walked off stiff, clutching their bags. I resented that I was like them, foreign, without a clue.

When we finally get on the bus and drive deeper into the countryside, up and up miles of dry roads, cows, colmados where the people snacked and talked of their days, and endless green, we stop. Outside of my window, is a clearing. A clearing where the land dipped far into the earth and the palm trees followed. Engulfed within the town of trees and bushes were little boxes capped with the tin roofs I’d been told about. And by those boxes were the people. Some cleaning, others tending to their chickens, some just sitting, gazing into the trees, up at the lilac sky, the sky we shared. And I wondered what they were thinking about. Whether they yearned, whether the sky was always this full of feeling. I wondered if they were content.

Later that day, I wrote feverishly, and without a second thought, all of it was in Spanish. It reminded me of where I was, and how lucky I had been: to learn about my roots, the ones that lined the land beneath me, intertwining like veins. Every sentence weighed heavy on my tongue as I read the words back to myself. A part of me finally felt extracted, the weighty sap of it expanding and sticking to the five-by-six inch pages, commanding effort just to turn them.

When I made it back to Harlem, nothing here had changed. But something about having been home on our island, a country of givers, of humility, of lightness, I knew I had to bring some of it back here. And on days when I forget, I scramble back to the hurried scribbles in my journal, touching the marks on the now-imprinted pages, hungry for a sense of self—for a voice native to a distant mountain range.

the speck

One day she’ll just get it.

She will get up and grab it

as if it hadn’t always been hanging thousands of feet above her.

She’ll get that the distance between her and what she wanted was

a mirror image;

and the speck in the reflection above,

made up of millions of forgotten pulsing particles,

must act.

She must act

She must act

She must act.

For every piece of her hums,

restlessly pulling her upward

to meet a surface where

she is realized.

 

time

I’ve forgotten every song I’ve ever loved the same way I lose the years I thought would always matter

The way I felt what I felt then doesn’t move me the same

We were all ignorant at those ages but everything I knew was the truth cuz

it was mine

I always thought that young meant stupid so when I was in pain I thought I was learning

and the stir in my gut couldn’t be real because how could I know without seeing it pulled out of me and laid on my lap, telling me what I would not confess

Cuz when things were good, they were perfect

And my heart moved quick as the sand that swallowed you whole in the movies

The movies I saw over and over thinking they’d one day take me in too

and I could swing on my rope over the land I thought I knew.

 

I learned that when they say nothing ever matters it’s very fucking true

Because even a heart ripped to confetti heals

and Time doesn’t stop when the clocks are broken

They say It stops for no one

Well then shouldn’t every minute of your own breath mean more then?

Maybe Time simply moves for everyone instead

 

August 23, 2017 11:26pm

September

By September, I don’t recognize myself. My face bears heavy feeling and time. My skin thickens. I lose track of the days. I have poor memory so when thinking of the person I used to be, I can only trace it back to remnants of last year. I experimented with the woman I thought I always was. I tested my boundaries, trespassed them, indulged, retracted, reflected, re-reflected and attempted to move on. I was the most free I had ever been yet the grounded parts of me, what I thought I knew to be true, felt lost.

I’ve been safe for a long time. It’s the result of fear. It is fear of failure, of inadequacy, of lacking clarity, and of making the wrong choices. At some point after turning twenty, I no longer cared for fear. Why was I holding myself back? Then, after living with less restraint, I began to wonder: was I actually growing or just compromising too much of myself? Was I jeopardizing what I’ve built for myself in years of safety: my self-esteem, my self-efficacy? It was all of that. I coped with my problems at home in unproductive ways, wasted time for some validation, and didn’t have the conversations I needed to have, with others nor with myself. Since then, I’ve paused to heal. I’m working on regaining control, how to keep it and when to lose it; learning how to trust others, but how to trust myself more and ultimately how to be true to myself again.

With that in mind, I am still going to make the wrong decisions sometimes. I can’t fear it or else I won’t do anything at all. This is a relatively trivial example, but hear me out. Just this summer, I went to the beach with some friends. I’m not a fan of sand in my mouth or drowning, but I overlook those factors and still go (what does that say about me, I don’t know). This time, I went a little deeper into the ocean than I usually do. My friends were going in farther ahead of me, but I tried to focus on keeping my feet on the ground. The water was freezing and I didn’t know how to swim (still don’t…but I’m from Harlem, I don’t need it). When the largest wave I’d experienced knocked me over, rolled me onto the shore like a 7-11 hot dog, bathing suit all the way off, I was completely mortified and humbled to the core. But the water didn’t feel cold anymore. I had already faced the worst of it. After a short dignity-recovery period, I went right back in. It was still a really good day.

What irks me is when I know something I’m doing is a mistake. We usually know. If something is not meant for you, the dissonance with your spirit is loud. Choosing to block the sound of our instinct doesn’t ever end the way we want. One of the most difficult feelings to overcome is that maybe we don’t really know who we are at all, so we lose trust in ourselves. We think that we must let things take their course, but we already know what we want, and attempt to let the universe handle it for us instead. The truth is we hold more power than we think, and for the sake of our inner peace, we must use it. I’m still learning.

When the mistakes are made, it’s up to us to change what needs changing. Maybe those parts of yourself you once believed in so firmly weren’t really yours to begin with. All we can do is what feels right to us now, what ignites us. Logic doesn’t always play a part. This is how we grow. Next September comes and what you thought you knew is just the past again.

how do i introduce something i know nothing about

I started this blog(?) to have a place to secure my thoughts. I called this site “Ojos Dormilones” (sleepy eyes) because I’ve kinda built a reputation among my loved ones. To be honest, they wouldn’t be lying: I be sleepin’ (usually at the wrong times and wrong places, but nevertheless).

Maybe I’ll only post the poems that have been stirred on trains or lingering in far-off thoughts. Maybe this site will become something else. I didn’t come with a purpose because I’ve still been looking for it.

So we’ll just have to see.

best,

sam