by Julio Montalvo Valentín
We, the roses under hushed suns, march in tune to bring change to the oppressors as we attempt to appeal to their humanity. Over the heaps of dead stems we are all raised to stretch, to bloom, to consume until we die but proudly, even under their egos and high-stomach belches and bloated fingers that count us like dollar signs and test subjects. I hope the power-waged pansies who stand to gain from your death realize before they burn in fever, like you. The doctors said, “Death is like two crows picking at the inevitable in gutters.” And into a carousel they go like a disco ball, spinning doctorates into pages and your name into ‘Patient 101.’
They found you in the staircase of my youth. You were black-eyed with a fake ID and foaming at the hinges of your lips, having prayed for rice. They registered you as Susan on paper. They told us you had nothing of worth as they carried your down 7 flights of stairs and teleported you out of existence. They revived you with Narcan and orange juice since the system still had sympathy for diabetics. You didn’t wake up for weeks as we left prayers, because we know there is something divine inside bowls after they have been eaten when you have known the pains of hunger. Maybe God too knows what it means to be hungry. Maybe he craved for companionship and made us. I guess that’s why your hunger seemed so natural, as we all aspire to be lifted the same way, just through different means. Months after they took you away, we no longer danced to Gran Combo and filled our hearts with strings of memories, meant to keep us afloat.
Who knew flamboyant butterflies are scorned by obscure people below? Not I. Not a Puerto Rican child who knew nothing of climbing white mountains and dancing under kaleidoscope stars. Maybe you were like me, browsing the city skylines for dreams tangible enough to grasp into our brown palms as we live our lives like straw men, hollow men, doomed men to be stuffed with nothing of our own. Had I known sooner, I would have thrown your shooting stars out at night like everyone one else in the South Bronx. Maybe then, you wouldn’t have been encased in a bug jar with orderlies set out to make your days bleak and gray.
Did you ever tell the Doctors that Puerto Ricans ebb and flow with wind as sharp as politics? That we survive because we know life is like quicksand and humans were never meant to stay still? Have they been able to figure out the quarries etched into your arms? I bet they still don’t know your name.
When I last saw you, your skin felt like bark. Your shape was air, dissipating as you were ready to dance with the other Black-eyed Susans in fields of grounded sky. They only let me know when they learned that you couldn’t infect anyone else, just a carrier forced to deal with the burden alone. But we, my family, we were the flowers that bloomed in last winds, cultivating a miracle beyond measure as you sat up on the hospital bed, pivoted your feet into the stillness of the tiles and stood with last of your strength as you smiled, and danced with us once more.
You died the same morning and all the flowers of the Bronx died. We lived in the world that saw love as something like infliction. Everyone came in mourning with buckets of laughter. Even then, you were so beautifully dressed in yellow and everyone wanted to lift you up for another dance, like monarchs in sap, fluttering spores of love and glitter on all you have touched.
When the ceremony was done, two bearers were enough to carry your bones to its last party, where all hollow things dance with Mother Death and never truly die. For we are all buried in the cloaks of flowers that hopefully pay for our freedom in the afterlife. But I still curse your lover and his blood.
Today was the first time I heard of you again. I went to school dreaming of raindrops. Afterwards, I went to visit your rebirth as she no longer burns to the touch. She glows in the best memories of you even though she too is doomed for hardships. She told me her doctors still lollygag your name in their throats, saying you were cursed from birth. They still call you Black-eyed Susan from the Bronx who died not knowing her own name. But your name was Lily and your name is still here.
Julio Montalvo Valentín (they/them): Julio Montalvo Valentin is the author of two chapbooks, "Don’t Give up the Ship" and "Ship Lost," with a forthcoming chapbook called “Those Who Pray to Rice” next year with NightBallet Press. No longer an editor and publisher, you can find them working on their next project: converting a school bus into a poetry caravan within this year.