Two Poems (Rocío Iglesias)

Che Guevara T-Shirts

When you must leave behind everything you know, you are prepared for pain
longing for your abuelas cremitas de leche;
for childhood songs sang in your native tongue;
for the feel of century old brick scraping against your hand
dragged along city building walls,
the comforting smell of muck, mire, fresh bread, garlic 

You are not prepared for the poking and prodding, the “othering”
the way someone choking on their own stale whiteness can make you feel ashamed
of existing in your brown body, of your tongue-tied English, 
of being smarter than they are

You are not prepared for the romanticizing of bloodshed,
the way Americanos will shout “improved literacy rates!” in your face
to absolve the murder of your friends, the starving of your family, 
the diaspora of your people 

The emptiness in your belly when you have to nod through the re-telling
of someone’s vacation to your home, the home you were forced to flee,
Your pasted on, rehearsed, well-placed smile faltering slightly at the phrase
“Cubans really are such a happy people,” carelessly invalidating and exoticizing 
as if people do not live, eat, and die there
as if a piece of you didn’t die there

Se Pasan

Cubans have a saying about other Cubans–
we always go too far, or we never get there at all
it means we never quite hit the mark,
it means we are error adjacent
it is a reminder that “everything in moderation” was created by our oppressors 
to clot the hot blood pouring from our ruptured vessels
and stop it from flowing and flooding the streets
it means that sea wind will always blow through the empty rooms inside my body,
A touch ancient as the ocean
familiar and comforting,
like steam rising from a bowl of rice 
but dangerous
like the doors of a church,
carved into something like a warning 
it means that I will always love you too much or too little


These poems are about Rocío Iglesias‘ childhood in post-revolution Cuba and years spent in exile thereafter.