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Sample Poems by Raina J. León


Each day I kill a little less.
I learn to swirl air so gnats

don’t land in rising bread.
I allow a fly to rest on my nose

while we both sniff things out.
Waterbugs play by the ladle and pail.

I don’t crush their wings
under dusty soles.

What cheek have they to offer
if I smack them all down?

Fly, little brother, fly

That old kitchen butcher knife
with that miserly, crooked point,
burned black at the edge.
I remember the whistling as I ran with it high
cutting the living room air, making
sparks fly.

You were a Roadrunner, little boy – alive.
I was Wily and wanted you dead.
Perhaps I would have eaten you,
coyote gnash and pull.
I knew you could reawaken in full form –
be the South Park Kenny of Philadelphia
with a Spanish name.

If you had been a girl and just like me,
I never would have run the knife along your door;
I never would have scratched in your nightmares.
I never would have laughed as you cried.

But you were that sand soil thing that made Mamí fat.
You were the biter, the screamer, the urine stained.
You were the beloved.

I attempted to make your skin open wide
to gushing red rivers. I am not

It’s a good thing you learned to fly
over the stairs in Superman leaps.
Smart boy, I
didn’t walk until I was 2.
You could be a dead fly in my old coffee by now.
It’s a good thing you learned to fly.


To this day, I don’t remember when the first
hair sprouted screaming “Grow up!”
I just remember that one day when I noticed a woodland
upon my body, and I gave in to the urge
to grow up and torture someone. Just like a good American.

Grandmom speaks of mouths to feed

“If you sit still, the kids will eat
you. They’re so many, food so few,”
Grandmom said to church friends she would meet.
If you sit sill, the kids will eat
the dogs, cat, even Grandpop’s good seat.
“God helps those ...” she said all sweet. “You
sit still, Brother, the kids must eat
you. They’re so many, food so few.”

Serpent and chisel

Serpents wind around my hips.
No flames spark in my mouth.
I allow them free passage
through damp body, thinning hair.
My face is already stone.

You want me to fight,
bite hissing heads and lap the blood
like destruction’s fiend.
Catholics forgive, learn to be meek.
Yemayá swims too much for my arms.

Writhing sins you spit at my toes,
beg me to stamp them out.
Don’t you know?
Don’t you know?
Sculptors chiseled my feet
on the Devil’s neck.