“Poem for the Educated Black Woman Who Asked My Opinion on Shared Suffering” by Leslie Marie Aguilar

Leslie Marie Aguilar


Not to belong anywhere in particular means somehow
an ability to go anywhere in general, but always
as a tourist, an outsider.
—from Carl Phillips’ foreword to Slow Lightning

I nurse my Shiner Bock, in an Indiana bar,
because even though I hate Shiner
the lemon floating at the top of my glass
is a life raft—a wedge of soggy yellow
membranes that carry me back home
down I-20 through Abilene, Weatherford,
Fort Worth, and Dallas where I am the majority
not the minority—but the bitter brown
liquid slides down the back of my throat
like the grains of sand that stick to my lips
during a dust storm. My cells are the same
as your cells, your cells are the same as my cells,
our cells are the same as everyone’s cells, but
here, I am a stain on a laundered white sheet
dancing a cumbia no one else can hear.
In Texas, we use barbed wire as clotheslines
and cactus for hair brushes. We walk barefoot
over freshly mowed grass and let the caliche
make molds of our footprints. In Texas,
tough skin is a product of spit, Goldbond,
and walking it off. We are the same, but
alcohol makes my mouth faster than my brain,
and I agree. We is a federation of bodies that are tired
of remembering, but won’t stop talking.
It is history, a claim on language like
the right to knock the shit out of the gringo
kid who called me a wetback during recess,
on our elementary school playground,
because he didn’t want to touch the monkey
bars where my dirty hands were swinging.
I flew off that elevated ladder like a bruja,
black hair eclipsing the sun, and popped him
square in the jaw hard enough for his father
to feel. But, I don’t tell that story.
My brown pride runs as deep as my hair
is long, until I pick up a book that tells me
otherwise. Being educated means I can
marry a white man and carry his children,
tell them to be Hispanic the day they fill out
their college applications, but Caucasian
as they walk down the halls of a university.
Tell me again why we are the same.
Ask me if I want to perpetuate
my grandfather’s chronic back pain
by lowering my head towards the ground.
I understand the need to band together
in this place where we are outsiders, tourists
who wear their skin as carry-on luggage, but
my tongue grows fat in my mouth
like a red hot salchicha bursting over a flame.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets

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Leslie Marie Aguilar (Texas): “I was born and raised in Abilene, TX, and am currently an MFA candidate at Indiana University. As a displaced Texan I have successfully managed to ostracize myself in Indiana by using the collective ‘you’ in public. When I’m not writing poems about the winds of the Panhandle, I teach creative writing to uninterested students. However, the expression of understanding on their faces when they finally reassemble Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ on large pieces of blue poster board from strips of paper and glue sticks makes me want to teach poetry, and more importantly to write it.” (website)

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