Island Music

Island Music


I. Santiago

How can I say this so we can stay in this car together?
If I spoke his language, I would tell the cab driver to keep
his foot off the brakes, let us roll past the hotel, round
the corner, keep driving until the camera zooms out and
the audience sees our cab swimming in the stream of
those Santiago nightstreets. Fade to black, credits roll.
In the audience’s imagination we never left the backseat.
So what music would best befit the end credits? Mila would say
bachata, or merengue—something to match the turquoise
of the city’s breath and the orange memory of bodies swinging in time,
but selfishly, I would want something to which I could sing along
comfortably. Curse my clumsy tongue for rejecting our mother language for
I fear there are too many words in my head already I fear I’ll never be able
to find the place for new ones. Selfishly, I’d want the classic rock that
my father would play on his car radio on sweltering Midwestern
summer days, the songs of my childhood thighs sticking to the backseat.
I’d want that. But here in Santiago my thighs are always covered,
and I don’t sing. I want to tell you how I was writing our elegy song
that night our bus fought its way up the mountain. It would be
a sinisterly humorous news headline: dying on our second night of the trip.
Our bus losing the battle with gravity, sending us speeding backwards
blindly weighed down by our collective mass, our pasts.
I should think my spirit would have loved inhabiting Santiago
until the end of time. Until the end of time,
we would melt into the street under shadows of tree branches and
tourist silhouettes, would watch every sunset at the Monument with
every stray dog, would haunt the jazz halls, steal rum from behind the bar,
learn the words to every song ever written. Even the songs in Spanish. Especially
the songs in Spanish. I’d want that. Then my spirit would hail a ghost cab and
I’d tell the ghost cab driver to slow to a cruise, roll the windows down, let us
swim in this scene on loop. Stay here with me. There’s nowhere left for us to go.


II. Interlude

Conquistadors, your fledgling descendant is rising
fast above Puerto Plata in a cable car this morning.
Behold the birds of the heaven, she thinks, who see always
the Spanish architecture from this altitude. When she meets
her ancestors in the afterlife she will ask to return as
a black buzzard but knows she is meant to be a mourning dove,
meant to return to her land with an olive branch in tow, a message
of deliverance. Redemption,
conquistadors, means that when your fledgling descendant sees
her first Hispaniola beach her eyes
will dive straight for the ocean, will not forfeit
a single glance to your Spanish fort erect, a needle
pricking the coastline.
Conquistadors, watch now when she sees the island
in its naked entirety from heaven, how
she shakes the cable car on its wire, not from fear but from
fertile desire to sew herself­
to the horizon, to be the beckoner of greenery,
the sunlight. The promise of boundless blue.
Conquistadors, consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow,
after so long spent in the dirt,
how they rise against an alabaster sky.


III. Santo Domingo

In my next life I will know everything I don’t
in this one. I will speak perfect Spanish, will be
able to move my body like that, like the other
brown girls. I am not a snake but how I’d love
to have a voice and figure with such grace. I am
not a snake but the sun reminds me that my brown
skin is not immune to her rays, so she sloughs off
what is left of my past life. I am not a snake but
I am gliding through the undercurrents of this
city night, this concert hall, these heated bodies moving in time.
I am inhaling the blue tones of your violet exhales.
I am seeing red for my ancestors, their daughter
throwing shadow puppets against the walls of Spanish
architecture, fingers making beasts making serpent fangs
to quell the hunger for reclamation. I’m thinking I was born
out of the same death
that paved these brick streets, strung strings of light
rooftop to rooftop, painted every building an Easter pastel.
I am seeing green on the balcony on the backs of young lovers
embracing. I am seeing silver of moonrays on the backs
of my friends, of strangers, their bodies of water
being pushed and pulled by the moon in time with the music.
I’m thinking why
can’t I move my body like that? I have a few things I’d like
to say to the moon. I want to tell you
that you have always felt yourself to be full but
have never witnessed your own light.
I want to tell you everything I have learned about this world,
write you sacred textbooks on everything I have seen,
on these city dwellings, on holy sounds reverberating,
on lentil soup, on swallowing pills,
on blistered ankles, on mango trees,
on lime in plastic cups, on mint in plastic cups, on Coolmado,
on stray cats and stray dogs, on rum, on Mila, on our fathers,
on our fathers’ fingers, on ivory and nickel,
on sweet plantains, on tricks of the light,
on shadow puppets, on hunger.
On balconies, in silence, my mind swaying with the music,
I’m thinking where does the ocean end and the sky begin? I’m thinking
when does the morning bus leave? I’m thinking how much for one more drink?
I’m thinking what is happiness? What does it mean
to be content? In my next life I will speak perfect Spanish
and have the answers to all of your questions. For now
I can learn to love the shy grace of clumsy footing,
of language barriers, of crowded clubs. We can waste time
while there’s still time to waste, hold onto the night’s hand, stay
for one more song—it might turn out to be our favorite.

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