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In the Poet's Spotlight for February 2007:  Myrna Amelia Mesa

Myrna Amelia Mesa, the daughter of Afro-Cuban political exiles from the Bay of Pigs era,  is a first generation American and a native of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Loyola University of Chicago, Illinois, and a Juris Doctor from The University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a Masters in Fine Arts degree candidate at Old Dominion University. Myrna is a practicing attorney in the Tidewater area and currently serves as a Judge Advocate in the United States Army Reserve. She has been selected as a finalist for her chapbook, "Traveling Stones," in the Červená Barva Press 2006 Poetry Chapbook contest and was recently awarded Honorable Mention by the Women Studies program at ODU for an essay entitled Actin’ Like You Know: Black Women Rappers and Hip Hop Feminism. The poem, “To Be American,” also won first place at Chicago's Green Mill, legendary home of the first Poetry Slams. Myrna has introduced poetry to at-risk high school students through Old Dominion University’s Writers in the Community program. Her poems query the intricate complexities and possibilities of race, ethnicity, gender and language. Myrna seeks to craft an aesthetics that pays homage to the idea of both culture and individual expression. She is currently working on a collection of poetry about her Afro-Cuban ancestry.


Gusanos on a Rainy Day


                Helminthophobia - Fear of being infested with worms.



My mother’s cinnamon hands dug deep in dirt,

except after rain.  Afraid gusanos may crawl


inside her open spaces and gnaw at her

flesh.   She strained to block sounds


of their tiny nibble and soft slither

as they twisted their bodies through dark


peepholes in the ground.  She recoiled

at the feel of glue that coats their skin and makes


them stick to you, unwelcome, or split in two

or more short pieces of themselves.  Sometimes


she stood back waiting for birds to descend

and feed the flock with their bloodless


pulp, then spit out undigested membranes.  She’d loiter

under a covered porch before she’d dig a hole


in her garden to hide a weapon or American

dollars in tin coffee cans.  She knew Castro’s disdain


for dissidents, and so she plowed and tunneled through dirt

and like a gusano, buried herself in darkness


until the time came for rain.


© copyright Myrna Amelia Mesa, All rights reserved.


The Closed-Mouth Fish

El Pez de la Boca Cerada




My mother sought darkness

to learn of grave things. 


She’d paused to consider a whisper

from an empty socket

of a fallen hibiscus or a siren

from a surrendering ocean wave.


She choked on secrets dropped in furrows

along side streets, sneaking underneath homes

and in between gangways of compañeros

to learn when she could visit my father again


at El Castillo de Príncipe, a prisoner

condenado to thirty years.  Waiting

for my mother to emerge also,

a gusano: tired of standing in lines


to eat, refusing to wash away

dark shades of Africa from her skin,

rejecting demure tones to speak: comrades.

But no rumors crept into her open ears


nor sickle sounds seethed from Castro’s

radio hosts announcing su permiso.




Days passed into shallow shapes

of moons, absent my father’s face,

month after month: weariness.


She wanted to see him in uniform

or cast in gray.  To see his chest

move up and down as he suffocated

his own rage, waiting.


She needed to spin raw silk

from the ducts of her eyes and coil

it around a reel, string it to a rod,

at the end: lure, laced with miel.


Waiting, she prayed for him

on her knees, her back, her feet

until her blood turned blue like Yemayá,

goddess of the sea, mother of fish.


My mother waited to lift from sleep

and hear the murmur of an angel

hum and sigh and hum again, carnival rhymes,

this gift she must bring to the Orisha,


Yoruba saints, gods of all things. 

Not coconuts, nor candles,

nor crow’s feet.  No more spinning silk

tangling rays of sight.  Simply,


a closed-mouth fish, which swallowed

my father’s name whole, thick with honey,

nailed to her front door and hidden

from a scalding sun.  Waiting months


for my father’s release, for the angel to speak:

Espera, mi querida, tres días mas

for the fish mouth to open,

for his name to escape, and on that day


prepárate, prepare to travel a protesting sea.





compañeros—companions, friendly neighbors

condenado—sentenced, condemned

gusano—worm; also Castro called political dissidents worms

su permiso—his permission


Espera, mi querida, tres días —Wait, my dear, three more days

prepárate—prepare yourself


© copyright Myrna Amelia Mesa, All rights reserved.


What My Father Remembers



My father’s mind reels around

the past, Castro’s Cuba, his political exile,

the cell, its stone walls and floors, the rats

that must have skulked in corners, perched

on his mat; the Jesuit priest whose back hunched

in a black coat as he crept across the classroom

teaching boys God created little white children

in his image, and the devil created black children

in the image of monkeys; my father, the only little

black boy, was dismissed from school for cursing

the priest to hell—he never forgets it, recounts daily:

his fight in the Bay of Pigs, the prison, starting

over, working countless hours, the language

barrier, his miseducation, re-education, the education

of his five children, running down a rat

in the middle of the road.  His lessons:


Never forget, be fearless, look ahead.

Drive fast and straight, backwards and forwards.

Reach your destination and when necessary

find a metaphor to murder instead.

Run over the rat and keep going.


© copyright Myrna Amelia Mesa, All rights reserved.

Kitchen Story



Cooking in the kitchen for an early afternoon

dinner, my mother tells me about the old lady

living down the hall.  I ask her how old? 70 soon,

in her sixties?  With a wry smile my mother says, Maybe

no se.  My mother is 71.  Pero anyway la vieja always

complainin’.  She say the little girl, que tiene seis

años iz playing the piano loud same time everyday

My mother tells her, I luv-it, the sound falling like lace

from the ceiling; it’z peace from GodEntonces

la vieja quejandose about pounding, al medio

día and I telling her I never hear itPoon, poon,

poon, imitating thuds with her voice like a fog horn

announcing dead weight and my mother smirking with a plain

stone in her hand machucando garlic, then mashing plantains.

© copyright Myrna Amelia Mesa, All rights reserved.

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