An Excerpt from the new collection, Swallows

Tocaya

There’s an i and an e at the end of my name
Mom and Dad did not pick the last vowels
But they did have the concept: breathing, baby, girl
Mom says the black nurse who spelled me
White teeth smacking peppermint gum
My name is a reference to Victoria
My other half who left Loveland Street before I did

Victoria, the older sister who never beat me with her left hand
While she curled her hair with her right
I didn’t tag along with her hoochie friends
To watch Purple Rain through our hair-sprayed bangs
Victoria peeked out from her crib at our teeny house and said, Chale girl,
I’ll catch you later. Coughed her baby lungs into dusty dried persimmons
So I could be the oldest sister to our two younger brothers
So I could beat them with one hand and sip
Strawberry milkshake with the other
She died from pneumonia at a general hospital so I could take
Our younger brother to watch Batman with Spanish subtitles
Drag him to Smiths-loving, pimple-skinned parties
I’m named after a ghost for whom our mother makes birthday cakes
Out of Styrofoam discs, lovingly smothered with real pink icing
Plastic ballerinas every one of her 38 birthdays
Neither of us got to be a chola, or a cha-cha, a new-waver
She left me thick glasses in fourth grade
A name for which to make up another life, every day
Don’t fuck it up…

To get your copy of “Tocaya,” order Swallows here.

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