We dress my daughter in amarillo, not butter
or sunlight or mirasol, maybe an Easter yellow,
maybe a Dia de los muertos yellow, a baby chick
yellow, it doesn’t matter. She flickers around the house all bare-foot. She takes you by the hand and makes you play La Suavecita on repeat, her hair in brown bouncy pig-tails. All day. She watches your mouth, the way you say tambores, the way you say cumbia. She won’t stop smiling.
When she laughs I hear my mother. I am
back in her house, all bare-foot, dancing
to the same song.
My mother dresses in a teal bata, not Miami
or peacock or Tiffany Blue, maybe an Easter teal, maybe a Dia de los muertos teal, a robin egg teal, it doesn’t matter. She flitters
around the house. She takes me by the hand and teaches me how to spring my arms, how to move my hips, how to follow the beat already in my legs. She tells me,
ay mijo, one day, las muchachas
will want to spend the night with you
on the dance floor. Find those feather feet.
Carry a smile and laugh, mijo laugh.
I ask to play the song again and run
to rewind the cassette tape. All day.
My mother is all baila, baila,
all brown curls of bobbing hair
abriendo sus brazos the moment
I learn how to spin her in
our shot-gun house. She won’t stop smiling.
My mother loves the color yellow.
There is a sing, a flow around inside.
My daughter ooooos the color teal.
When they lay eyes on each other, they watch
each others’ mouths, see just who smiles first.
I’m just here, waiting to see who wants to dance
--si no la invito, me invita ella.
Lupe Mendez is the author of Why I Am Like Tequila (Willow Books, 2019), which won the 2019 John A. Robertson Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. An educator, curriculum writer and literary arts curator, he lives in Houston, Texas.
“I wrote this poem Mid-August of 2020, at first in celebration of both my mother’s 86th birthday on August 7th and in celebration of generational love. I wanted to write a poem of joy and rhythm, something with some base in it. I wanted to write about bright notions, on what is passed down between the generations and in my house, it has always been el gusto y la musica. This poem takes on new meaning now—about ten days after writing this, my mother caught COVID-19 and passed away by October 1st, which is why the poem is still in present tense. My daughter lives to dance and laugh and through her, so does my mother.”
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