by J.L. Torres

Brandiron the Spaniards used 
to mark the african slaves

Y la senorita Miss Puerto Rico says:
this island still burns
with the mark of the carimbo.
The mark of the carimbo reigns
deeper than the skin.
Who would know it by looking at me?

I The Suffering Ships Come

From Seville they came, their fists
clutching licencias to seek gold.
The suffering ships came to these shores
on fruitless quests that planted the seeds.

Bozal, on your strong back
they placed their asientos
and said you were of poor spirit
and little strength, but after they worked
the Tainos to death, you worked their fields,
our land, and harvested cane, filled
our blood with sweet melao.

Before sunrise they woke you
from the rags that served as a bed.
They marched you to the fields,
fed you food that today has become heritage:
Sancocho, harina con habichuelas,
surullos, vianda y bacalao.
For you, the food of oppression.
Tu pan de cada dia.
You toiled under the sun and
the ever present Juan Caliente,
the whip with seven tongues
that would not forgive even those
who fell exhausted between canestalks.

To the rhythm of machete blows you took shots
of ron cana to numb the pain, to forget
the number of days since leaving home.
With the women you worked
and cursed in song the mayordomo,
who squeezed life out of you,
working you at a pace not fit for beasts.

II The Carimbo At Work

When the new ones came,
hands caressed faces and shoulders.
Those branded, feeling what they
would never see in a mirror,
scarred tissue on their bodies:
The welcoming to the new world,
a door to fading memories.

They got a few hours of rest
to watch, to re-live again and again
the carimbo do its work.
Whether on the shoulder or face
depended on the mayordomo's mood.

Pity the poor devil with defiant gaze.
The young woman selected for his bed
they stripped to the waist,
fondling her breasts as hot metal
came down on her back.

Forced to recall, grasping to forget,
feeling what they would never see,
burnt flesh filled their nostrils.
The screams crowded the little space
they occupied under the heavy sun.
As rolling lisps bounced
along waves of laughter
and talk turned to mundane things,
the one holding the brandiron
marveled at how well black skin heals
before bringing out the children.

At night the worm-like scar swelled
and undulated across a shiny sea
going nowhere, but even the breeze
would not soothe its delirious pace.

III Ecco Mulatto

In the gallego's heart sang the moor
when passion moved him there,
to take what he thought he owned.

Asi nacio el mulatto
En una coma de can"a
Under a starlit canopy
Balmy breeze for sheets

We do not call her Malinche,
But mujer caribena, madre.
Her scream a roar of survival
crowning a people

connected to the sun.
She started our pulse beating to clave.
Fed us the milk that became cafe con leche.
Filled our veins with strength,
stuffed our tongues with the language of plena.

Asi nacio el mulatto, negrito,
En una cuna de cana,

IV Coro

The mules march in fine line
through the constant in-between.
This mulatto nation that doesn't know
where black ends and white begins.
Living in the common ground too long
they search for revealing signs
in things they take for granted.
Outing others from the race closet.
Pointing to la taja they try to hide.

La prueba del abanico
Y to abuela donde esta?
If I listened to these folks
Everyday be a bad-hair day
You say negrito means love,
but you say it only when
you order me around

We don't need no stinkin' hyphen
`cause we be livin' on the colorline

And the missi says:
We don't talk about color, thank you
It's understood we all screwed up
But don't discuss it all the same.

Stop lookingfor blue eyes
In mine you will only find yourself
Don't call me trigueno
Can't you see how
I dissolve into the night?

V Where are you going, Cimarron?

You escaped your amo,
ran into the hills with armed men in pursuit.
I am ashamed that your defiance has come to this.
With Tono Chauboniel you proclaimed
"more blood will flow than Haiti."
You rebelled in haciendas,
You rebelled in streets,
you fought for freedom,
your passion blinding you
to Holstein's false promises.

You would run and run knowing
all roads always led to water.
And if they caught you
el cepo would greet you,
your wrists and neck locked for days,
but you would rise again and run and run.
But look around, see how your people
wear their chains proudly and call them jewelry.
Armed foreigners are called guests
and the bombs that kill our people
are branded accidents, our oppression
proclaimed free association.
I would tell you to stop your flight.
Don't waste your time.
Your descendents have deserted themselves
to enslave each other
for the sake of MacDonald's and cupones.
But your spirit must live.
It must live like an ember
to a man on a cold night,
forever burning like Juan's cross
lighting the way down the dark river.

VI Condembe

Adombe, ganga, monde

Let the condembe begin.
Invite all my relatives
European, African and Taino.
Bomba and plena will play `til dawn.
Nam-ham, Calalu y quimbambo,
ondongo, anand, funche and gandinga.
The feast unfolds
and we all nourish our blackness.

Tutun de pasa y griferia
Pales and Laviera will be there.
So will Campeche, Schomburg,
Clemente and El Canario.
Ruth Fernandez, Juan Boria,
and Rafael Hernandez, too.
El Gran Cocoroco will sing.
La Gran Cocoroca will dance.

In Loiza the vejigantes rock
to the rhythms of enkricamo.
Let the music lift you
from this island to the other
where boricuas hip hop
to the tru cu tu
tru cu tu
pra pra pra
y bamboo.
La sangre llama
la llama sangra.

How this blood surges
like a mighty river through our veins.
It is Tembandumba's gift to us.
Open the floodgates.
Let it run, let it wash the streets.
Let it drown babilongo.
Put a fufu on those who
deny the griferia in our hearts.
Si no tiene dinga, tiene mandinga.

Yoruba congas and bongoces move feet
in Manhattan nightclubs, spill salsa
onto sidewalks from boom boxes.
They arouse tropical winds
and melt frigid city air,
as the coro calls us to respond
to history in the colors
of calabo, cafole, caoba.

Clave keeps us on a course
as strong as Langston's rivers.
We will pray for Ogun's protection,
and let Yemaya bring us home.

So come with me
into the night
to free abuela,
to let her take flight
into the light of the dark.
Come, listen to the bata.
Surrender to the danza negra.

Carimbo by J.L. Torres

© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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