El Yunque was itself an exercise in the small death
of tongues, as I returned to the birthplace of mi Abuela
I was still no better at tuning my ear to the Spanish I left
at her feet, yet I saw sacrifice in the tree stump made altar,
an even exchanging of my shoulder muscles for the embrace
of campesina love, the machete in the desirous cup of my hand,
imitating veins Abuela used long ago, eyes watching the tightening
of tiny black ropes to limbs, its neck taunt in translation, the rainforest
demanding Sangre, my ears hearing trade, remembering
Abuela beheading her own chickens in the backyards of Bayamón,
her swearing Otra vez, me translating the first time,
machete swinging in her name, in her name, in her patria
bearing down upon the air, slicing each neck feather in wet
earnest, a begging kind of symphony cut open at its throat,
bulging with the weight of twilight, wanting to die but not
dead yet, a death so poor in reconciliation I hear Abuela pray over
a lifetime, still not isla enough to call anywhere but
the Bronx home, plucking feathers off a headless chicken
searching its body to absolve me of America, sitting across
from the bloodstained blade.
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Noel Quiñones is an AfroBoricua writer, performer, and educator. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Pilgrimage Press, The Acentos Review, and Winter Tangerine Review. He has received fellowships from Poets House, CantoMundo, and Brooklyn Poets. His performances have or will be featured on Centro at Hunter College, Button Poetry, and Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival. Noel lives in NYC, where he is a member of the Bowery Poetry Club slam team and works at the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families supporting communities in the borough of his upbringing, the Bronx. Visit him at www.elninoquinones.com or @NQNino322.