by Alessandra Narvaez-Varela
Cursi, but the smell of the panadería in my neighbor-
hood is part of my step against the steepness of the puentes
(Libre, del Centro, Santa Teresa, Zaragoza), arched
cement pathways plagued with chicles, empty mazapán
wrappers, the mala palabra I keep mostly to myself (pray
for deaf ears in other caminantes) and, possibly,
the weak rattling of a river-turned-stream that meets soaked
dreams and jeans, ankle-level—all becoming one
with the exhaust of cars, the piercing sun, and the sole
of every shoe that walks to the garita: please have your documents ready.
Officer: What is the purpose of your trip to Mexico?
Resident: I had to go to my doctor, sir.
Naturalized Citizen: Tuve que.
Officer: Do you know what happens over there?
Resident: Yes, sir.
Naturalized Citizen: Sí, ¿y?
Officer: Did you know we have doctors in the US too?
Resident: Yes, sir.
Naturalized Citizen: ¿Y?
Tan lejos de Dios, pero tan cerca
de los gringos, my abuelita spouts,
just after Officer Contreras asked us
if he pronounced “propósito” right,
and let us pass. Trae el nopalote
en la frente y—she stops: the Mexican
güera gene (honey brown hair
and skin, just like marranitos, muddy
blues blue enough to be a half-baked
American) skipped everyone but me, my
own Spanish mocho, and my English
still a bit “whachumara la gallina”—
that’s what a nasty kid said after I killed
“watching” by saying “guaching.” Mira
nada más, my split, and some would say
chafa, soliloquy where no tongue, or flag
breaks even, is interrupted by abuelita:
¡el maldito puente ya me dio brazos de albañil!
“I bet there’s one [Weinstein] everywhere!”
—My mother, October 2017.
He sprinkled drops
of saliva in her ear-
drum with Paris
tales—I can imagine
you walking, beautiful
Mexican girl, Eiffel
tower erect, doused
in Chanel: I’ll buy you
goes his hip, crushed
by his belly. She wants
to say no without
saying no: her parents
own a coffee shop
inside his glass sky-
wallet is full
to pay the meter,
El Paso is a nightmare,
trolley lanes being built
to erase Segundo Barrio)
because of him. In a way, all is
because of him (does power
taste metallic?) Her upper lip
shakes when she smiles
to his I was never here
(smirk) before running
as fast as his stiff
joints allow, as rancid
as the cologne of white
hair and sweat pinching
her neck. He will get
another latte before
el Puente Libre, a drive
in a Maserati on Sunset
Drive to the offer,
where perhaps less
back seats, an oxygen
prevent a heart
attack. After these bodies
of land, asphalt—could he
buy her Ciudad Juárez too?
For My Sister on the Eve of Her Episiotomy
I couldn’t make it on time even though I dreamed of you and your belly splitting open, and I woke up to a cold sweat on my upper lip (unusual in sticky Galveston): maybe it’s because you sent me that picture, your belly not yours anymore—Leyla’s fists, torso, ass breaking all strength of the skin. It was a nightmare really, but nothing like standing outside the El Paso airport, waiting for a ride to take me to you, because then it was all about you. Locals and visitors stared at me; I didn’t realize it was odd for people to wail in an airport, less so when the dry heat felt so good on my acne. She finally arrived, the mother of the father of your daughter, and she looked at me horrified: was I OK, was I alright? your sister—look at the baby’s picture, she’s a beauty. Though not the one I had in mind, where I stupidly imagined her coming out of you all grown up—dark hair, elegant posture and your nose on her—ready to take the world by the ears, to take us on a ride where I could finally be an aunt. I’m here, I think I said, arriving in the room where not two, but eight people swirled around the center: a surgical throne where your beating crotch almost sucked in the doctor’s hands; the doctor, who thankfully was able to stitch you close despite all of it: the too-loud Luis Miguel soundtrack, the oohs, aahs, she looks like me, she looks like you, she looks like him—never she looks like her mother, when that was clearly the case: it was just too hard, the genetics of it all, your carbon copy in our mom’s arms holding her. Holding, with something more than grandmotherly love, until it was my turn. I loved her, that’s all I can say—I loved her like one loves a Kahlo painting, and I said: I’m your aunt, I’m sorry for being late. Aunt, but first a sister: that’s what I never said because I forgot, along with everyone who asked how you were doing, but turned their bodies, mid-sentence, because Leyla sneezed, or the spare mucus on her head made a cloud. And just like that, faster than the snapping of fingers, you became a mom. You, who gets no balloons that say “you’re a mother” or aahs because your body made it through this ripping of flesh, served as the background for a picture where I held Leyla, and looked at nothing else: the blood between your exhausted knees, and the sweat of half your forehead splattering the lens.
Born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, México, with a Bilingual MFA Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso, Alessandra Narváez Varela is a creative writing lecturer at the same institution, and a high school tutor at Anthony, Texas. Her work has been published in Huizache, Acentos Review, Duende, Razor Literary Magazine, and The Normal School. An excerpt from one of her poems and a conversation about her experience as a bilingual poet was featured in the New York Times’ Education Life section (2017), and Her, a chapbook, was published by the University of Houston (2018).