Grab and Go They give us food here. My mother always taught me to look Inside the clearance bin at grocery stores All the way in the back back, the bar code Sliced through with a permanent marker And a new handwritten price, fifty cents or a dollar. Here, they place the food on plastic picnic tables Here, the give us almost expired chocolates on Fridays One day there were golden balloons tied to a tall parking cone A celebration of sorts, if you squint a little at all the food One day, I took a frozen tray and bit into a cheese ravioli Before I noticed a dark mass multiplying like a tumor Across my fork and down my throat from the bits I already ate. I spat it out. And went back for more the next day. I wear a mask the color of my mother’s hair. That I bought at Smart & Final around the corner Did you know there is a national coin shortage? I saw a sign there at the register. What do the People living at the park do now? An economy that saves lives with the currency of coins. An abuelita in front of me pushes an empty baby stroller for her food A viejito holds a dandelion yellow bag from Forever 21 We push and pull our food back to our familias A jacaranda petal falls into a curl of my hair, inside my bag, the cement. The trees are not surprised to see this sickness They observe how we gather food now. I walk and a man inside a truck Who looks like my father Slows down, leans over, demands, “Donde vas?” I grab and go. A prayer for protection. My mother taught me this too. A desperation that usually doesn’t work. The trees know this too. My mask cannot deter men Like that man in the truck, like my father, And probably your father too. My mask, my sweater, my food for my child The man’s breath and his threat is noxious in the air See how it binds with the smog from the freeway Lifetimes of soot within my lungs, the bronchioles, Pulmonary veins, the diaphragm a container for both lungs and grief. At home, I close the door to the world and we feast On little pouches of cold baby carrots, fresh apples, Hamburgers with too much gristle and grease, cheese pizza Smeared with thick hydrogenated oils that the tongue Cannot wick away from the mouth, cookies and cakes, And rotten raviolis. These become parts of my son’s new cells The lining of his tissues, the marrow of his bones Producing platelets and pleas to live another day. Because a brown boy almost his age was shot in the back a few years ago. Just down the street. A police officer did it. He is alive. The boy is not. But they don’t know that my son’s blood produces pandemics too. Can you hear it? When the bones release blood? It is like a boiling. The next day, I am on the sidewalk again Lined with purple petals of possibilities. The jacaranda taught me this.
Cecilia Caballero is an Afro-Chicana single mother, poet, essayist, scholar, and lover of all things spooky. Her writing stretches from the scholarly to social justice to the speculative. Born and raised in Northern California to immigrant parents from Michoacan, Mexico, she currently lives with her son in Boyle Heights, LA among an abundance of oranges trees with strange insects of all kinds. Cecilia holds BAs in English and Chicanx Studies from UC Berkeley and she is currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Aside from her academic work, she facilitates poetry workshops for BIWOC and non-binary people of color. In addition, she is co-founder of the Chicana M(other)work collective and co-editor of The Chicana Motherwork Anthology: Porque Sin Madres No Hay Revolución (University of Arizona Press 2019). Her creative work has been published in Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, Third Woman Press, The Acentos Review, among others. Follow her on Twitter @la_sangre_llama or Instagram @bookworm_por_vida.
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