“Self-Portrait, Despite What They Say” by Gabrielle Otero

Gabrielle Otero


Being a Latina from the Bronx means:
I am everybody and nobody at the same time. I know the sound
waves of the train tracks better than my father’s voice.
I look like I should speak Spanish but nobody ever taught me.
I look like you should want to bend me over but you try not to
think about that as I walk by.
I disappear in a crowd on the 6 train.
1 in 5 of me will die
from nothing in particular.
Nobody will remember us. Most of me is trying
to just get by without hearing the name of someone I could be
related to in the news because they were shot or stabbed.
I am starting to think in tragedies.
Maybe then it will be less
daunting when they happen.
I am starting to resent the part of me that believes the man
who told me my biggest accomplishment at 25 years old was
not being pregnant. He does not see me
bent over the kitchen table at 2 a.m. reading Audre Lorde.
I want to rewrite that safety slogan
printed at every subway station so it says:
When you see something (in someone), say something.
We have to tell ourselves every day who we are
or else we become what they make us.
It is not lost on me that my mother and my mother’s mother
were both secretaries and brown women,
and her mother before that
used to work in a dress factory,
and her mother before that, also a brown woman,
used to tell time by how many rags she could beat clean before dark.
And if you go far back enough there was a woman
who was either the slave or the owner, but nonetheless came by boat
or perhaps, she was already here
bent over the dirt like a damp flower, kneading it with her whispers
when the land was called something else, but in the records
they say it was nameless.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Gabrielle Otero: “A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a Latino man when he commented that at least I made it out of the Bronx and to 25 without getting pregnant. This poem stemmed from that moment and is an accumulation of all those moments when my identity as a female Latina from the Bronx was dictated to me by both fellow Latinos and others outside the community. My identity is whatever I say it is. It is fluid. This poem is a rebellion.”

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