An old man pulls the wrinkles of his dark face back.
I’m badder than you,
he tells me, handing me my change
for the rooster. My black & white
speckled rooster: My amulet,
like a necklace of herbs, I never told my mother about.
This market of rooms like those in a hive
or in one’s head. Black bodies mark these walls,
& walk away into an amber countryside.
Then, a dark sun.
My father’s black face he hated, the cobalt suit
he always wore, hanging here, in one of these rooms.
There is a woman and her baby;
a knee bobbing up & down.
Buy a potion for luck, an elixir for love, she asks.
My father had a baby, a boy
whose name I learned in a letter
tucked in a book on Papa’s shelf.
A faceless doll releases a bird-
one thousand pin pricks on the ear.
My mother was a saint who never said a word.
There are women plaiting hair
who only hear the way
hair sizzles and burns to seal the braids. Above,
wind-chimes with full skirts & tiny brass legs
never stop ringing.
There was a time I believed
my family was dead
because I slipped that letter right back in its hiding place.
The saints in Mama-Juana bottles.
It gives the rum a good kick.
An amber countryside
stretches across my eyes.
Then a baby falls to the ground. A Mosaic
of broken beaks & limbs at my feet & footsteps
never stop invading. Everyone needs a rooster.
They know how to keep the hens in line
Click here for PDF.
“At Home in the Modelo Market” was originally inspired by El Mercado Modelo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The market is quite literally like a honeycomb, room upon room, seemingly never ending, packed with artisan crafts and just about anything you’d like to find. When I was a child it was a place of wonder, a labyrinth where every room I discovered promised treasure. There was a kind of electricity that ran through the market because of the people visiting or selling goods, all the noises and smells, contrasts, and more importantly, all the stories that played out in front of me.
I wrote this poem as a response to that place. Inspired by Jean Toomer’s “Cane,” I also wrote the poem as an introduction to a chapter in my novel “Pajaro.” El Mercado Modelo acts as a catalyst for a reawakening in the protagonist; it is a wondrous place, but possesses a kind of chaos that mirrors the main character’s mental state.