maria, on a lesser plane of mourning


The only question was whether they would kill me or not:

All their fumbling and grappling with hooks and buttons,

Hurried and unfocused, like sharks after a bloodied fish,

And the shouts of Hey, puta, how ‘bout white meat for a change?

Left no doubt as to the first order of business.

If the old Jew hadn’t stepped forward, it was probably a short trip

To some cold slab and Potter’s Field

(Perhaps it was charity on his part, a sentimental gesture

From the old punching bag to the new,

But he stays open all night on Saturday, head always uncovered.

Most likely it was the fear that half of the dimes for soda and papers

Would head elsewhere.)


Maria? She is a child, and mourns as a child.

Oh I know she was with the Polack,

But only in some misty fairyland of songs and flowers and ever-afters;

She may as well have given her cherry to a teddy bear.

Some of us know what it is like to be with a man,

For better of for worse, vows or otherwise.

How many nights did I hold Bernardo’s head as he wept

(A strong man, strong enough to cry)

After a night of being mocked while waiting tables

(Dos cervezas, mas frio, boy the fat businessmen would say,

And how ‘bout your sister’s phone number,

If it isn’t on the bathroom wall) and then harassed by some beat cop

For committing the crime of being Puerto Rican

In the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time of night.

You cannot know a man—truly be with him—

Until you have shared conquests and beatings,

Ministered to bruised egos and iced down swollen eyelids.

Ah, but our Maria, she is allowed to don a widow’s weeds,

To tread behind the body with steps light as an angel’s

Whereas I am afforded no such grace, no such dignity,

Simply Bernardo’s woman, they all but spit.

Such is the work of poets and playwrights,

Who write of passion and principle

Without knowing the first thing about either.

God save a woman from men without blood or honor.


(For the most recent Thursday challenge at Real Toads. Stop by and read and partake; licking the toads is optional and not necessarily recommended.)



6 thoughts on “maria, on a lesser plane of mourning

  1. After reading your pieces, there comes a time when I must stare at the screen-mouth agape, hand to cheek uncertain of what to say. These are moments of poetry, when I can feel my brain being absorbed by the narrative by the voices and places you had put forth into the world. And for that I realize, I have never thanked you, not properly.

    Here is another stunning piece, your talent in growing this with every line, every word building into something and transforming nothing but truth into understanding. It’s as if Bernardo’s woman sat down across from me and spoke and then got up and walked away. I know I am probably reading a little too much into this, but I am picking up a Magdalene theme here. I love this piece entirely and utterly. Viva la…..G

  2. As they used to say to the Beat poets while reading live, “Go Man, Go!”
    Awesome work, man. It they taught your poetry to high school students, poetry would come to be considered utterly cool again.

  3. here’s a change of pace and dimension…i entered expecting to see a pin placed on the fading new england map, and instead (mixing my metaphors) burned my hand picking up this how pan…my friend, this one is in orbit

  4. Hey man. This was an interesting read, somewhere between Lorca and Borges. I was a bit thrown by the change of topics between the stanzas though, as if these were two separate pieces.

    1. This is one of those cases where knowing the source material–in this case “West Side Story”–helps. I’ll grant you that it makes the piece too referential, which is close to a cardinal sin, which is one of my problems with this piece.

      As an aside, you need to be posting more than once a spring, my friend.

  5. holy *$#!, kortas. this is … i have no adequate adjective. which is saying something. i’ll echo everything Izy said with gusto. the voice here is clean and incisive in its amalgam of resignation and rage.
    this rolls like its been sitting behind a dam for years just waiting, and with each turn of the line, it gathers strength and force, and it’s like sitting on the threadbare bedspread in the tiny room with the waterstains on the walls and the little card of la virgin tucked into the mirror while the woman pulls the scarf from her head and rolls off her stockings and lets it all pour out.

    as to the referential aspect of the poem, (opinion alert) i’ll confess to not picking up on it till somewhere in the middle. catching on to it was something of a let-down. i think this could be just as strong, if not more so, standing on its own. without the already-told story sitting behind it, looming over its shoulder. the story is universal, and hasn’t changed all that much with time or locale (tragically). switch out the names or the one or two specific details, perhaps, and this becomes something completely independent.

    just by way of landing the point home, this is slam-you-in-the-gut-with-a-two-by-four-out-of-the-blue good. my hands are shaking a little. God save a woman.

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