Three Poems

Poetry / Maria Guzman

:: Kitchen Sink ::

My mother’s kitchen smelled of cilantro ripped clean and fresh linens.
Cleanliness was virtue. 
The way we spoke to God.
Here I am, God, my mother would say. 
Wetting her palms open, Llevame.
I ran my fingers across mami’s pantry, 
a pristine altar of Rosa Maria cinnamon 
dust smeared on tinted jars of jarabe,
a glass of holy water perched
next to tiny plastic bags of dried oregano 
from someone’s finca back on the island.
In the corner of the room, an entire sack of La Fe cornmeal, 
eight aluminum cans of tomato paste,
three yellow cases of Embajador chocolate that never seemed to expire.
Every nook and cranny with clusters of rosemary leaves 
dried hibiscus marooned into a clay jar.
My mother, standing intently 
before the rusted cauldron
in her pressed, Japanese robe 
wild violets stitched at the waist
mixing fat pieces of yucca and plátanos 
and hunks of corn into a green broth.
She was never the same after my father left us.
Slicing aloe at the kitchen sink
two porcelain angels flanked at her feet 
like a life-size Bellini painting.
I watched her become
a feast of herself, again.


:: Blood orange ::

In my house, if you didn’t learn to cook 
no one would marry you.
They call you, queda.
It meant you were stuck, in a bullpen 
unmoving, without a man,
dealt a long hand of Netflix and Chinese takeout.

They call you, amargada. Bitter citrus.
Not like Julissa perusing racks of Colombian fajas on Bergenline 
or pruned like Martha plucking her mouthy kids from daycare
or ornamental like the belly dancer at Cedars with the speckled rind.

Woman of orange pith,
You are not the obvious thing.
After years without sun, you are seedless, 
green veined and nearly thornless 
unharvested and unlike the rest.

No one calls you mami
when you open the door except 
men who arrive, spineless
and varying in their sweetness.

Nini calls them mucha espuma y poco chocolate. 
You say it is just something to do,
something to pass the time.

You will stay until you can’t 
or he will leave you
keep your books on the shelf, 
your favorite t-shirts,
the vintage record player he gifted you.

For years           he will call your name.

You are the brilliant and bloody paradise 
left clotting on his lap.


:: Cornucopia ::

No matter how many times 
I never see it coming
the minute I stand upright 
a cornucopia wilts 
between my thighs
and out from under me 
streams of ripe plum 
bead down my left leg.

I am tired
of being vulnerable.
To spattered clots on toilet seats 
the color of a wet November 
browning at the tip of the leaves.

And I, the reluctant servant 
summoned to report myself 
on my knees, for seven days.

My body clamors.
I know he can hear me 
sound like somebody’s fool 
like somebody’s nobody.

Off the wall, I rest against
I am ready to give it all back. 
Horned, river god of plenty. 
Take this bag of stone fruit 
and be done with it.

From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems doc­u­ment the costs of being a woman in the home, in the body, and in rela­tion­ship to the world. “Kitchen Sink” draws on Ital­ian Renais­sance painter Gio­van­ni Belli­ni and his stu­dent Titian’s illus­tra­tion titled The Feast of the Gods. I was once an art his­to­ry stu­dent in the thrall of Venet­ian nymphs when I real­ized how much art his­to­ry focus­es on the Euro­pean canon. I began to imag­ine a world where Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean peo­ple exist­ed as the very same indul­gent gods and myth­i­cal crea­tures being taught in the class­room. Fer­til­i­ty and food are a cen­tral part of what it means to be a “woman” in Lat­inx cul­ture. In “Blood Orange,” I was address­ing the bless­ing of wom­an­hood by embody­ing the fruit itself, while “Cor­nu­copia” touch­es on the curse. Years lat­er, I encoun­tered Flem­ish painter Peter Paul Rubens, who depict­ed Roman god­dess Abun­dan­tia hold­ing a cor­nu­copia. Grow­ing up, I spent a lot of time sim­ply observ­ing the women in my fam­i­ly and how they moved in the world. It taught me a lot about self-preser­va­tion and becom­ing the true source of abun­dant paradise.


Maria Guz­man was born and raised in Union City, New Jer­sey. She earned a Bach­e­lor of Arts degree in Urban Stud­ies and Anthro­pol­o­gy from Saint Peter’s Uni­ver­si­ty. A 2019 poet­ry con­trib­u­tor at Bread­loaf Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence, her writ­ing is focused on fam­i­ly, iden­ti­ty, and the nat­ur­al world. Com­mit­ted to the advance­ment of com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, Maria works at the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Alliance.