en el campo my father caught me
with a candle on past midnight
wasting wax and light to write.
he told me that hands were made for tending
to cattle and children;
candles were for blackouts
when we needed the light.
mami saved books beneath her pillow,
pressed beneath her head like dried roses.
the pages were rippled from the rain
that dripped through the holes in our tin roof,
the covers curling upwards, begging to be opened.
i would sneak off in the afternoon
to read mami’s handwriting in the margins,
small and secret, red ink under lines
directing my eyes on where to stop.
she kept her favorite at the top -
the woman on the cover was tall, draped
in a dress clean and long, her straight hair
tucked into a bun.
she looked out a white
virginia, se llamaba,
and she reminded me of la virgen maria;
they were both supposed to save me.
i held the book and stained the pages
with wet soil and the smell of cow manure.
i felt guilty for thinking my four foot frame
with pelo malo looking out my pink house
could be like here.
i would never have “un cuarto propio”
just for writing.
i would never even have light
here, in los estados unidos i read
the graffiti outside my window
alongside my mother’s books.
on the table beneath the hanging plant
lies a busted rompecabezas
that my sister never finished.
the couches are covered in plastic
so they never get dirty.
there hasn’t been an apagón
since we’ve moved here.
in my kitchenlivingroomfivepersonbedroom
la virgen maria sits at the windowsill
listening to my pencil scratching the paper at midnight.
i don’t need my cuarto propio anymore.
these hands and the light and the pages are enough.
Michelle Moncayo is a poet, visual artist, and musician. She received her BA in English from Rutgers University, where her poems received Honorable Mention from the Academy of American Poets. She is an alumnus of the VONA/Voices of Our Nation Writing Workshop, and her work has appeared in Maps for Teeth, Best Indie Lit New England Volume 2, and elsewhere. Her roots rise from the volcanos of Ecuador, dance to the Dominican Republic, and curl up in New Jersey.