Novenario: A Dominican Funeral in 3 parts

How hot does the Caribbean get when a brown girl

Dies in the South Bronx on a Spring day?

&  all there is to offer is a hot bowl of soup

composed of what a past generation had grown accustomed to—

bones and chicken feet, all the forgotten parts of taste and marrow

& her body shares the kitchen table with it

& her mama still thinks the stew will wake her

                (someone cried over her and into the stew anyway so it really is authentic

                Has mucus mixing the oils together.

                Does the grease of a dark sancocho not bring her to remember her mother’s food?)


3 days of: Grieving


& her mama buries the portable nebulizer beneath her bed

Because no one cries like her daughter did

(chest heavy at night, knows that the hospital is close)

& all the children who have tears don’t hold their mothers right

Don’t know if their lungs will fail them this time

& maybe if they stayed in the South Bronx long enough they could learn

                  (how a short breath could be a mother teaching her daughter that

                  even the air could betray her.

                  The South Bronx held both of their lungs tight anytime

                  A child left home)


3 days of: silence


& yes, it’s true, her upstairs neighbor

Could speak to her through water

No, not the constant droplets

before the ceiling chips onto the floorboards again

But with the agua florida, the cologne water that bathed her back into her mother’s arms

But now the faucet only leaked out dirt

                    (& her body could not be blamed for the stench. No one would say so anyway)

Her last shower a cold, brown one

                    (the superintendent said so through the pipes 20 years ago).

& the grease on her scalp had already collected dust

But all her mama could do was run a comb through it and watch it snap

                     (& be reminded that she ain’t touch her hair since her last relaxer

                     When her scalp be a tender kin to flesh)


3 days of: release


Do they still talk about

Her hair decorating the kitchen table on her last days?

                   (the last time people mourned her they found her mama

                    picking strands out of the sancocho.

                    They saw her put the scissors in the drawer covered in bees wax.)

She’d never buried a black girl before & the hairstylist charged extra

For hair that swallowed brushes

                    (any mother that let her daughter look like that

                    Must not have loved her anyway)

& so her mama cut her hair short like she seen all the dead brown boys do

                   (like her brothers first and her father last)


Tell her mama that her daughter look just like her now

                   (Pale and always mourning)