by Malcolm Friend
—after Willie Perdomo
We gave up on happy endings.
La isla became a myth—
tierra del Edén and all that,
a paradise many of us
would never return to.
New York became our San Juan
until it wasn’t or
until we remembered
the archipelago was always more
than just San Juan, that we had
Ponce and Mayagüez and Humacao
or until we decided all we needed
was a CD player blasting Lavoe
and Maelo, a chuleta sizzling garlic
in a frying pan next to a pot
Spanish became optional
as long as you could dance salsa
or recite Clemente’s stats by memory
or make some mean-ass coquito
come Christmas—or just hang a bandera
with the correct shades of red and blue
in your window.
To understand all of this—
el orgullo, la vergüenza,
everything in between—
picture me sitting in the car
with my dad. We are on the way home
from the airport, Eddie Palmieri’s
“Puerto Rico” blaring from my laptop,
and Dad has to resist the urge
to pound his hands on the steering wheel
like it’s a set of timbales.
And he smiles as another Nuyorican
praises an archipelago he hasn’t seen
in over thirty years. And for the first time
I see him in the only place he has ever known
Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and the full-length collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple (Inlandia Books, 2018), selected by Cynthia Arrieu-King as winner of the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Together with JR Mahung, he is a member of Black Plantains, an Afrocaribbean poetry collective.