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Four Poems from
Wild Animals on the Moon

A Coquí in Nueva York
Race | TheTattoo
Personal History

by Naomi Ayala
New Haven, Connecticut

Naomi Ayala. Photo by Peter J. Crowley.Naomi Ayala migrated from Puerto Rico as an adolescent in the late 1970s and settled in New Haven, Connecticut where she lives today. After years of work as a translator, court interpreter, and high school teacher.

Ms. Ayala now tours the state as a Master Teaching artist working with primary and secondary schools, prisons and community centers. A committed community activist and accomplished arts administrator, Ms. Ayala is also responsible for overseeing the Inner City Cultural Development Project on the Arts and the Institute for Community Research, for co-founding the New Haven Alliance for Arts and Cultures, and helping establish New Haven's first International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals -- among them The Village Voice Literary Supplement, The Massachusetts Review, The Caribbean Writer, Callaloo, and Kalliope and has been anthologized in The Creative Resistance: Puerto Rican Women in the U.S. (Third Woman Press, Berkeley).

All four of the poems published here can be found in Wild Animals on the Moon, published by Curbstone Press.

A Coquí in Nueva York

I am a loud mouth coquí
that broke out from the island
because the yanquis were
crowding the place, talking ’bout
chopping up trees in El Yunque -- as if
paper products could feed
the eyes or fill the lungs -- talking
'bout turning Loiza
into an open-air museum,
'bout eating broken English anthems
for breakfast at school
& how wonderful
& necessary it all was.
In the gallery
of their economic dreams
I sat by, shoving my song
deep into the fat briefcases
of their intentions
& sandwiched
between so much crap I knew
it would rot & make a stink
they'd have to tend to sometime.
All I wanted was to sing,
sing of my green onlyness.
I braved it to Nueva York with an attitude
I could sing where
I wanted what I wanted to.
I would invade the land of freedom with songs
that rotted into stinks
songs that drew people, made them move
toward the dance of action,
songs that composted
the garbage of nightmares
into fine, fine food.
I trained my song to live on air
years at a time, to leap
the tall buildings of frustration
and no-peace until I could smuggle it
back home & forth the back door way
& it multiply
& multiply
there & here.
And so I am alive today
& I call that a victory.
My song may be missing
a few fingers & its legs bandaged up
but it's alive, loud, brave.


 In your eyes I am not a woman.
You see me, my face square
as La Plaza de San German,
so square a place
you feel you can walk
through it any time you want
without taking the time to sit down,
feed the hungry
bastard pigeons of your solitude,
without whistling from inside our humanness,
and you might be thinking
I don't belong
any place anymore than you do,
so you push me around
thinking you are pushing yourself around
but I belong. I am whole,
wholesome, every drop of sun
inside my fruit.
Despite you
I celebrate my clay-softening hands,
my island-country song full of flowering
compost heaps where there should be graves.
Yes, me.
I praise the power behind my song
and my singing, behind where I've been
and know I will be going.
You might say I'm crazy
singing like I do,
but my love is green, wild
fields of morivivi,
beside you.

The Tattoo
-- for Reynoldo

The tattoo came after we'd moved
after the pale green LeMans
burned to pieces along the side
of the highway & we'd lost our brother
Max to bourbon & pot & dope & suicidal
acrobatics in the afterhours of dark rooms.
It was a dragon, cost a lot,
stung a lot. He had to work up
the guts for a long time.
I almost got one too,
a rose. He loved roses.
He wasn't the dragon sort at 16.
Every time he tried to spew fire
out came the roses.
But this was before Max,
before die-casting, the wife
that came with the child
and the child that came afterwards.
He wears a headwrapped bandana
with his shop uniform.
He can keep his hair long that way now
I tell his wife about the roses,
how he gave one to every girl,
how his tattoo
could've been a long-stemmed rose
luminous and delicate as his eyes
& he keeps quiet,
very, very quiet when she laughs.

Personal History
When your history gets too big
to keep fitting in the wagon
you've been pulling all your life
your sleep is thin as water
you zigzag up hills
rely on a ladder to climb into your hammock
flush the toilet with a stick
pick tomatoes with a long steel hook
open beans up with a knife
cut the flowers in your garden with your pride.
There is no Spring like another Spring,
no lover like another come before,
and dreams, they all have a familiar sound
like a song on the radio,
a new pair of shoes,
a phone call in the middle of the night
When your history gets too big
to keep fitting in the wagon
you've been pulling all your life
you leave your keys
where you meant never to go back,
remember what you wanted to forget --
a stranger on the street
selling songs for a dime,
like you his face, his eyes,
his song, his story --
because you are kin with all things now:
the man you kicked into the wall,
the car you crashed,
the food you cannot eat,
the whisper of countries
that open before you in the street,
the mechanical laughter behind the prime
time of your day, somebody else's dreams.
When your history gets that big
you walk backwards as you pull,
run after things that fall out on the street
forget exactly what it is you carry
in that wagon but live your life
as if you knew, always looking
for the sides of things that slope
down smoothly from a straingt line across,
the memory that fits
so easily in your pocket.

Published in In Motion Magazine January 31, 1999.