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.