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Rosa Angelica Martinez

Paradise Is Burning

Editor’s Note: Rosa Angelica Martínez was a finalist for the  2019 Boston Review Annual Poetry Prize.

I like edges
that you can fall over
into something,
maybe anything,
even Gloria's ojos de agua,
those sad eyes of water haunting my dreams.
I like edges
that you can lean over,
pear down into,
so I can make you peer down with me,
with hope
with belief
that it will lead us into something of the elsewhere.
I like edges
that you can pray over,
but, in Spanish,
since la india de maya, that indian woman from an ancient mayan past,
can no longer hear us in our mother's
sweetest tongue
1 AM
"¿Qué ven tus ojos brillantes? Tell us,
what do your brilliant eyes see?" we beg her.

“Miré dentro de la alma humana y díganos lo que ves de los viajes. Please,
     Look inside the human soul and help us, tell us what you see and help us prepare for the journey.”

“Ven, ven, come,” we chant.
       Then, she finally appears, in some way forever.
       Our wonder shakes us into a terror, and, on that edge,
                                                                                                                                       we remain silent,
                                                                                                                                                      and scared.

                  She looks a lot like Celia Cruz
                  and everything she says is a song,
                  but we can’t hear it.
                  Perhaps the edge is our seat, and all this tierra, the dirt of Paradise, is her show.
                  She stares through us and the movement of her lips,
                                                                                                                                              move ours.

                  Her “Yo Soy” thunders in the skies
                  and so loud that we feel “I Am” punch inside our chests,
                  but we can’t hear it. Only feel it.
                  Perhaps the shake of her bow shook the waters beneath her, not a show, an altar.
                  I stare through her but the movement of my lips,
                                                                                                                                      can’t move hers.

I call out to her.
Me recuerdes,” she dares and catches my eyes upon rising. “You do remember me.”
Lost in the stillness of her stare, a dangerous watery horizon appears, and then she removes her mask.

2 AM

Marcelo. El curandero, my own magical medicine man,
has, for thirty-eight years, been loyal and guiding me since birth.
El viejito yet a wise shaman whose old gaze dares to pierce the murk of death’s coming.
Whatever the tragedy, the pagan journeys from the underworld to bewitch the macabre into melody.

“That’s not Celia. That was Angel again,” you say. La Reinona, they call her, a deity of all drag queens.
At night, le dejan pasar la frontera. Them, letting him pass across the border, is dangerous.
Ten cuidao mirándolo. He will wake you. Be careful staring at him.
My heart. There’s no unseeing what’s been seen.”

The moving water in Angel’s goggled-eyes begins to engulf us.
                    Catching us in a mesmerizing glimpse into a spectacular hilarity of ourselves.
                    That to watch her in him is to snatch from her the righteous laughter of life.
Once I see smoke, I shut my eyes. He is the altar. She, the mirror.

“Escucha. Don’t look, just listen. What is he saying? you ask.
                      “Beeemmmbá coooolorrrra. Celiaaa eteeeerrrnidad.” I answer. Her big red lips. His Celia for eternity.
                  “But what do we know from this edge,” you say. “That mariposa de la noche who calls us out.”
“Only ella sabe. That butterfly of the night knows something and only she knows,” I say.

What it is like to stop being vida, whatever this life is, and to start being something else.
Maybe we’re all just jealous, that she’s left us, here on the edge,
                                                                                                                                                  of what?
                                                                                                                                for what?
                                                                                                                                           Like God has.

La Guarachera refuses to tell us anything.
Taunting us with every movimiento de su cuerpo,
                  the rock in her hips, the wave in her eyes, the gust in her breath
                  we are at an edge, where she’s conjuring a dark in the movements of her body.
                  There’s no hope here. Her rock, her wave, her gust has angered the trees.
                  Thunder cracks into deep screams. And then I feel her and hear her:

                                                                                                 Cumbia Colombiana
                                                                 Merengue Dominicano
                                                                                                  Tango Argentina
                                                           Pop y Disco Americano
                                                                                 Bachata, Bolero, Cha Cha y Jazz
                                   “Azucar azucar negra,” reminding us of the sugar in our blackness.
                         “De Afra, de Rica,” of our ancestors leaving Africa and arriving in Puerto Rico.
            “Soy de ayer, soy carnaval,” and praying that I am from yesterday but also that I am a carnival.

And, there in all the timbre and refuge, we fall:
into the Santería
to worship the saints who will save us
into the beat of an unreal
into the rhyme of vacillation
into the loudness of el transformista,
             to pray to the queens who will free us
And, into our very own (un)becoming,
             when all is finally clear, and you’ve glimpsed the darkness between the mask and the “real” of it all.

3 AM

She is staring at us, taking us in,
         Not us staring at her and taking her in.
Maybe holding us,
         From falling into the elsewhere?

She will wait for us at this edge,
         She must,
                 for our moment,
                        when we all must dare call upon her and glimpse her face in the fall.

Cómo sabes. How do you know, Marcelo?” I beg.
“That’s her edge at Gloria’s ojos de agua,” you say. “That’s her ridge. This is all hers.”

Then, in a whisper, Marcelo warns:
                                                                                      “After you glimpse her face and see her brilliant eyes, her
                                                                                      mouth opens and you hear the softest parts of her laughter
                                                                                      fill your ears, that’s when you wake up to the old owl’s
                                                                                      Spanish croon and know for sure it was not Celia or Angel
                                                                                      or any other reinona de esta vida but la llorona del otro ladothe
                                                                                                          weeping woman from the other side
, a different queen and not one
                                                                                      from this life—for she has returned and is calling you to the
                                                                                      ashes of your home.”

                                                                                                FRIDAY 3:14 AM | NOVEMBER 9TH 2018

Rosa Angelica Martínez received her Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley, where she co-curated The Holloway Series in Poetry & Mixed Blood Project. Currently, she lives with her wife in Northern California and is an assistant professor in English at California State University, Sacramento. 

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