Here’s a prose poem for National Poetry Month.
No, I’m not doing 30/30.
But here’s a poem anyway.
For our boy. For my boy.
Signs: An Epistolary
Bronx, New York
A man with your face crossed my path on the way to the Burke Avenue Bridge. By your face, I mean the bald head. The black frames of your glasses. The eyes that gave away nothing, noted everything. The gait that told the world that this was your hood, you had business here, you were not to be fucked with. I watched him walk away from me, all the way up the granite steps at the entrance to Bronx Park, and I knew I was where I needed to be. I saw your ghost. Yes, I saw your ghost. Because Boricuas stay seeing shit. Because bomba conjures. Because our mothers and our grandmothers and the ache of knowing bones. I knew it was you.
Three Dominican boys were playing in the Bronx River. It’s clean and clear now, and that’s unheard of. Because the city poured millions of dollars into its renewal, dredged out tires and skulls and bottles and horseshoes, because white people from Westchester run kayaks down here, like the good old days before Hispanics, there are signs that tell everyone No Swimming. Maybe these boys didn’t see the sign. Maybe this is a river in a homeland long ago abandoned, an exile no one has told them about. Or maybe, most likely, they saw the sign, and they simply didn’t give a fuck. Because this is the Bronx, and the Bronx stay doing illegal shit, because how else would we survive this mierda, this planned shrinkage, this forced march in the guise of progress. Because water is a birthright, and que se vayan pa’l carajo.
There was a spot near the boys, a patch of riverbank that would support the weight of your funeral. It was only gonna be a handful of us. It was as it should be. You made sure of it. One low path, and you could stand on the side of the river, on a dirt patch covered with something like carpet. Someone clearly had this idea before I did. A cop can’t see it from the bridge or the bike path. It’s grimey; therefore, it’s perfect.
I blessed the bridge with honey for Elegua. I blessed the river with an offering for Oshun. Nobody stopped to watch me. A white moth danced above my head.
We returned with your ashes in a plastic teal box. It could have been a bag of sugar. A sticker on the box says they cremated you in New Jersey, bro. Que jodienda. You came out there for me once, to go visit the ocean and eat ridiculous amounts of meat in Asbury Park. You looked for the city from the beach. It was your compass. How you loved that city. You would have walked on water to get there. Maybe you did.
I did some research, bro. In New York City, it’s illegal to release human ashes in public waterways. The fine is one hundred dollars. It cost us thirty grand to bury my brother, but that’s not illegal. My conscience is clear, son. Fuck em.
On the day of your funeral, someone cried. Someone took dirt home with them. Mostly, we stood gathering ourselves for what we had to do, what we knew to be right even though we had to hide it. She brought your ashes. She prayed and poured them into the river. You moved like a fog sinking to the riverbed, a slow motion avalanche on a film reel. You settled into tree roots, rocks. Shards of you. Thick remains of you. Clouds of you. I understand why the city tells people not to do this shit, because on the real, the river actually turned grey. Only for a little while, though. We watched the current carry away the more stubborn pieces. We saw ancient mud come alive with new ashes. And we watched the river turn clear again. We placed you in the last patch of forest left in this place. You couldn’t leave if you wanted to.
There was a butterfly in the underbrush, and he flew erratically at our feet. Oya sent the rain in sheets when I chose this place, like the entire sky wanted to fall on me. It didn’t. I still got home. If I told you a rainbow appeared over the Bronx River Parkway, you’d tell me to cut it from the story. Because who would believe that shit? That wasn’t you in the park, you’d say, and you’d be wrong. Even you, John, even you came back to the water, as everything must, eventually.