Poems by Nydia Rojas
Five Cents Worth of Cinnamon
The day Abuela rushes her husband
to the store to get cinco centavos de canela
no one is surprised.
Abuelo had been dead for fifteen years
and I doubt she even remembers how to make
arroz con leche- but that’s exactly
what she’s planning to do with the cinnamon.
My father promises he’ll run to the store
and get the cinnamon. He takes the nickel she
picked up somewhere around the house
from her hands and even pretends
to savor the arroz con leche.
Cinco centavos de canela, that’s what
she needs. I wonder, what would that
look like? A pinch or two of dark
brown dust? Three shakes of the small
tin can labeled cinnamon my mother keeps
in the cupboard.
“Y no olvides. Un centavo de azúcar.”
The imaginary one cent coin intended to pay
for the sugar returns to the depth of the pocket
of her night gown-
which is the only clothes she now wears-
not like in the picture, accompanied by
her youngest son- wearing jacket and tie-
and her youngest daughter. Both tía and abuela
wear blouses trimmed with delicate
lace and single white pearl earrings.
She had eleven children. At the moment
eight of them are still alive. The rest died
of infancy or childhood illnesses.
And now she calls on them- even
the dead ones- rushes them to la tiendita.
She really needs esos cinco centavos de canela.
The arroz con leche is about to boil over,
she announces, as she slips the imaginary
penny back into the depths
of her nightgowns’ pocket.
After it disappeared
Years after it disappeared, I still look
for it every year when I drive through
the interception on my way to my parents’ home.
The double arrow sign pointing
in the direction of two towns.
If you turn right, you’d end up
in the center of the Morovis Plaza.
Turn left and the road will take you
to Vega Baja- after that, the ocean
I wonder, was the sign stolen?
But who might feel the need to steal
a road sign, other than those
who are truly lost? Or perhaps
someone needing reassurance
they are moving in the right direction,
towards where they want to be?
But how do you follow an arrow
across the ocean without losing
your direction when the waves
are constantly bringing in thousands
of interruptions, all at once?
The arrow frame by palm tree fronds
and huge banana tree leaves.
Those arrows that if followed,
will lead you to the right place-
that beyond my young soul
was craving for.
I just didn’t know it back then,
while the sign was still present,
an understated controller of lives-
How many miles away from its origin
can a soul wonder and still be capable
of finding its way back home?
Years after it disappeared I still look for it
every year when I drive through the interception
on my way to the house where I first saw
the light. The two black arrows sign
turned into salty ocean breeze
spelling a name I no longer recognize.
¡Lo espantaste!- my mother says as we
approach the bushes of cruz de marta.
It’s summer. A profusion of red blossoms
create a red crown above the leaves.
The hummingbird had been hovering
above the blossoms of the flor de marta
bushes as we moved from the back
of the house to the side garden when
my mother pointed it out to me.
I startled it away when I rushed
to turn on the camera hoping
to snap the picture of the hummingbird
flying in such proximity- not considering
how the sudden movement of my arms
would affect the moment.
The blur of shimmering emerald
so difficult to keep in focus-
constant motion- a gift that must
be taken whole before it vanishes.
Next morning I stood near the bushes
hoping to notice any imperceptible
movement that might indicate
the presence of a hummingbird.
I inspect the highest branches-
completely covered by red, tiny
blossoms- like a connect the dots
picture. You must connect each blossom
to the next in order to get the whole picture.
A glimmering flash of emerald appears
between the shadows of two adjacent leaves.
I snap picture after picture.
The abundance of red, tiny flowers
is now documented for posterity.
The hummingbird will remain
a fleeting emerald sparkle
I will chase after for the rest
of my life.
I can’t remember
what was the occasion
we were celebrating
but the gown I received
rendered me invisible.
I walked around,
tried to join the crowd
in the festivities.
By late afternoon I realized
I had not heard my name
one single time.
I began to fear I had become
a wandering spirit.
One that walks from parade
to parade without ever been
noticed. One that could not
explain who I was or my purpose
for being there.
A wandering spirit no longer
in control of the words
that could explain
how much I detested the color
of the gown I had been handed,
in a rush, as the parade
was about to begin.
That was the summer my skin turned
into a question mark and my words became
a never ending puzzle reflected
on the eyes of those caught by surprise.
My own questions I kept to myself
and I mean those questions demanding
an answer of more than a pre made comment
about the weather or what was the time
of the day.
It should be enough to say days became
a continuous chain of falling clouds-
many days they came so close to me
as if I had done something for which
my punishment was to walk everywhere
I went with this suffocating fog
above my head.
And even sunny days turned into
a dangerous trap. Couldn’t trust
anymore sunlight would be paired
with warmth, with heat- another
jolting truth my skin silently taught
me one cold, New England January day-
still believing sunlight to be sunlight
either winter or summer I left
my apartment wearing only a thin sweater.
How easy it is to be misled
I went back to rethink my whole
approach to sunlight, then grabbed
my coat- my hands trembling even though
the heat was humming along- but with
every button successfully threaded
through the buttonhole my hands
seemed to tremble more.
Outside the temperature was below
freezing. I didn’t know it that day
but it was to remain so
for many seasons to come.
Nydia Rojas’ work has been published in the Wisconsin Academy Review, International Poetry Review, Revista/ Review Interamericana, Verse Wisconsin and in the anthologies Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest and I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin. Recently her work was published in Open Mic, Poetic Diversity and Your Daily Poem. She is the author of the chapbook Stealing Daylight.