Trending »
Related »

Dendrology & Sappho In New York – Yesenia Montilla

on August 27 | in Poetry | by | with No Comments

The Summer of ‘77 I learned
the Spanish phrase: pelo malo
when my aunt announced
that I’d never be loved by a white man
con ese pelo malo. I loved my hair,
the way it frizzed around the edges
of my face & stood there like a woman
waiting to be asked to dance a slow bolero
a jumpin’ rumba. I was three years old
didn’t know much of love then
the orange tree that stood in my aunt’s yard
became my first lover. I would wrestle with
its tender branches hoist my small frame
around its tubby brown trunk thick as a liana
or a man’s waist. I wonder now if every lover
in my bed in some ways is a representation
of that orange tree & those words I heard
in that Miami heat about the way love
can be so damn fickle that the texture of my hair
would wilt a pink crotched man, make him
recoil from my locks. Today, I still do
have a fondness for trees, all of them
with their deep roots & their heartwood
The alamedas holding rows of them, singing,
shading my unruly hair reminding me that once
I was told there would never be an arboretum
in my future. That I’d never have the gift of choices:
bonsai, white birch, redwood —

 


 

SAPPHO IN NEW YORK

I.

She was first spotted on the corner

of 125th & Lenox
her plaited hair curled. Her eyes
pearls through a rainy mist.
The incense vendor told everyone
she lingered by her table
preferred the smell of myrrh &
frankincense. She smelled of the
other side: wooden boat oars &
sleep. She carried a bag full of
poetry books & a purse
of the softest leather dyed pink,
rumors trailing behind her.

 

I first saw her on the 1 train
She sat across from me, braided
leather sandals & her t-shirt
read “ I love Ferrymen” & her
lips were crescent shaped
like the moon during my cycle.
Her arms folded across her body
to protect. She asked where
I bought my shoes, the leopard
print ones with the red heels I
answered Jersey, she had
never been, only travels island to island:
Cuba, Dominican Republic, the Maldives,
Madagascar, Easter, Martinique, Lesbos.

My sister called on a March day
I saw Sappho, she said, I saw her
She was waiting for the M4 bus
I followed her, I couldn’t help it
the rumors of her beauty are true
she carried a lyre, her fingers,
they were the color of burnt umber
do you think it is because of longing?
Is umber the color of loss?

II.
 
It is so yellow, the way the buildings
stand upright & cast concrete shadows
against the speckled sidewalks. The museums
are full of the Gods. They look as though
they were stone, but I know they are watching,
waiting for me to enchant them.
I only want to pull the strings of this city
I am done with immortals, they are too quiet
I love the sound heels make against the streets
I am falling in love all over the city, leaving
peacock feathers completely abandoned on carousels.
Poems falling out of my dress
I cannot contain them.

The women here need me, the news reports
sightings of me everywhere, but I am not,
only where I am needed.
On the subway women carry heavy loads.
On the pavement their weary feet leave marks
that only I can see, like lipstick
stains against dirty napkins in dark bars

Sometimes I am recognized, but mostly, I am
like a blue jay everyone thinks is a sparrow.
I hear them talk about me, they say I am responsible
for the city’s young girls’ disinterest in boys. That
since I’ve arrived women are taking over industry
& men have fallen behind, a drop in men that
graduate from college. But I care nothing of
industry. I care about the way a moan sounds
in the ear before the chest feels the first pang
of surrender.

Tonight I will strap on the highest heels,
stretch my body as if I were
standing on stilts
standing on bricks
standing on the long backs —
Arabian horses. I will balance my song in
that space between the neck & the shoulder
blade. Announcing to every woman
that burnt umber
is the color of poetry —

 

 

nn, Yesenia, headshot, _bwYesenia Montilla is a New York City poet with Afro-Caribbean roots. Her poetry has appeared in the Chapbook For the Crowns of Your Head, as well as the literary journals 5AM, Adanna, The Wide Shore and others. She received her MFA from Drew University in Poetry and Poetry in Translation and is a CantoMundo Fellow. Her first collection The Pink Box is published by Willow Books.

Pin It

Related Posts

« »

Recent Posts

News

Safia Elhilo

2 Poems

Michele Robinson\'s Art [...]

Let Me Straddle Your Mind

X.J. Kennedy

The Crusader

Why did you leave bring m [...]

Yeah bring our electric shaver back, I bought it we shaved each others back it was important to me and

Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes

BEFORE YOU – Kwame  [...]

1 Yes, we were country, lived in shotgun shacks, where the road loses its way to dirt and live oaks

MENSTRUAL FLOWERS – [...]

[new_royalslider id="11"] Courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Art Gallery  

WHAT THE WOMB ISN’T [...]

         "Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leav

JUNOT DIAZ

Junot' Diaz and Edison, NJ

EDISON, NEW JERSEY – [...]

The first time we try to deliver the Gold Crown the lights are on in the house but no on

Rachel Eliza Griffiths [...]

Elegy & Poem

The March on Washington:  [...]

OTHER WORLD: A Conversati [...]

"We are all the other."

I OPEN A BOX

…and find inside a picture, of myself as a child, sitting on a small chair, wearing overalls and sho

Naive Paintings

Raphael Perez

CIRCLES OF THE MOON & [...]

To Alex, on turning two Some say the Ring of Brogar is the Circle of the Moon. There is n

In This Issue

March on Washington An Interview with Cheryl Evans

5 POINTZ: GRAFFITI MECCA  [...]

In a strange twist of what seemed like reverse vandalism, the Graffiti Mecca was painted over.

In This Issue

Forest Gander A Translation

In This Issue

Quassan Castro, poem Grandson to Grandmother

URBAN CANVAS: Wynwood Wal [...]

Wynwood Walls, of Miami has been called "a Museum of the Streets."

Pulaski Skyway

Low like the mean dream of Newark the sky must have seemed to its builders. Rickety now, unhinging, I

THE SPAN & OTHER POE [...]

At last, the extremes of his present methods seemed to offer the happiest avenues. The strengthening

Paul Latorre

5th Limb Poems

Joan Larkin

Poem, Knot

Gina Loring, Def Poetry [...]

Poem, Look This Way

In This Issue

Xue Du, Poem

AT THE END OF THE DREAM I [...]

A woman      in a black kimono      dyed black hair disappeared      behind a black curtain I

Marge Piercy

Poem: Behind the War On Women

Naive Paintings

Raphael Perez

Marie Miazziotti -Gillam [...]

Maria Mizzotti-Gillan

Vicky Dantel

Short Story

In This Issue

Pilar Fraile Amador poem

Quassan Castro

Poem

Lugensky Durosier [...]

Lady Haiti

In This Issue

David Trinidad

In This Issue

Landzy Theodore

In This Issue

Angelo Nikolopoulos

Scroll to top