Who will make Your long bed, Smooth your grass quilt,…
July 16, 2003
In other places, slick, smooth plastic clatter
across family formica tables,
bright white bars and black divots
so round and perfect they might hold
plump orange caviar, a smattering
of pepper and sea salt,
or seat for pungent capers.
But across the burroughs,
in Far Rockaway, Bensonhurst, Washington Heights,
Saturday streets smell of sweet onions,
barbacoa, huancaina, the parks
with their chess tables convert to dominoes,
old Dominican men and Eastern European boys
sit to a game, pieces move in careful
patterns, groups of men on either side
sweat and chatter and gesture.
No language barrier, they speak in forehead slaps
of flawed moves, claps on the back when it’s well done.
Plates of grilled vegetables, brick oven breads
and meats spiced from oceans apart passed
around both sides of the table bring fingers to lips,
groans of appreciation.
There is no shared language for grief,
but there is food, so plates of ropa vieja,
rice and sofrito are laid across the tables,
dominoes put away, heads nod, hips salsa
as Celia Cruz’s smoky voice carries from speakers
across the parks, from parked cars lining Lenox Avenue,
air split with timbale and great belling brass notes,
and even the youngest of European boys grins
and finds the words La Negra Tiene Tumbao,
the old Ukrainian men shout Azucár!
and grasp the forearms of the Cubans,
cheering them when the dominoes
are brought back out, smacking their lips
in approval as they move pieces, clack
and clatter lifting again beneath guitar and claves.