Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi
San Nicolas fluctuated between mentor, master.
The more I travelled the stairs, he levitated. The more
I slid my finger along his goldstone frame, he’d say,
‘Ciónnn. Father said he was the heart of an old wooden
triptych, flanked by the ups and downs of the Atlantic.
Once, I kissed this saint for Father, placed him facing
the sky on the stairs, listening to Mother play a waltz.
See, I was too small to return him to that spot faded
under his weight. See, I learned to move among men,
the way I moved around this saint. See, when Father’s
god-voice broke, it broke like the sea and made me
wet myself. I had to wear a silky bombacha up
to my chest, baby-blue bloomers belonging to queen-
nanny Reina, Reina rocked me in her boat-like arms,
Reina with hair like dune grass.
And I should tell you that after Reina left, Father took
to cooking because Mother preferred the realm of river
women and men who changed their forms at will.
But Father was raised by women with arms like kneaded
dough. So, he started with spicy stews, and fruit shakes
from the island, mixed milk and orange juice to create
morir-soñando. At first, Mother drank them for us
because he needed to learn how to translate love
into something edible. So, he baked whole-kernel-
cornbread and mashed yucca topped with the bite
of cheddar, and when he wanted us to taste la isla,
he sautéd tostones, simmered red beans, served
breakfast for dinner, a version of Tres Golpes
made you impervious to a Virginia chill. See,
he knew why one sucks marrow from bone,
knew knowing fullness and feeling full.
Today, men still make me retreat to a space that mutes
Father’s rage over finding a San Nicolas I loved
and desecrated. But I should explain it wasn’t only this
but the shadow of his father, a man reduced to two
memories, shiny silver spectacles, a clean pressed suit—
a man who never fed my Father. Perhaps it was also
learning to exist in Trujillo Kingdom, a patriarch
delirious on power and women and whitening.
Or globetrotting, then the smack of ordinary at home:
his American kids, his wife living in a palace
of books and in the silences of her childhood.
And wondering: Will I always be el malo,
the villain in this movie? The weight of family
makes Father retreat. Where Mother remains
taciturn, tracing shapeshifting galipotes
in her texts, Father charges, improvising monologues
that epitomize he has no hairs on his tongue.
Then compassion or guilt brings him back to revise
conversations where he tries to get it right.
And I should tell you it’s more complicated than
I confide. Father cringes seeing me dance, lacking
the grace of a Dominican lady. Father speaks to me
in English but keeps our language with my siblings.
Father won’t read this poem, and still resents my marriage
to an Argentine Jewish fellow, a white man
who will never fully know how I walk through the world.
But it isn’t only what came after, what came before.
I’m still learning to beat Father’s pain. I still move
among my people as though every utterance demands
deliberation because every situation is
delicado. But I’d rather declare:
I dream with my Father’s silk hands, his squash
and mozzarella quiche, his spinach and gruyere tarta
makes your eyes close to remember. I’d rather you
picture us walking to the Metro, biting into baguettes,
and know I felt him getting old by the rhythm
of his gait. Know, Father perfected a canon
of recipes that exclude meat, fed me tofu
marinated in soy sauce, garlic cloves, drops
of sesame oil, a pinch of coriander because
even though you’re a vegetarian, you have to eat.
And this Sunday, the last Sunday of the month
he’s dedicated to gnocchi. Know, I won’t be there
to savor the undercurrent of sweet yellow onions
or red wine, to bite plump baby tomatoes and peppers,
all upon little doughs of heaven. Know he knows this.
And yet Papi calls to tell me he’s cooked something
special, something only for you, my dearest, my dear.