The Animals and Other Poems

The Animals

with a line from Elizabeth Alexander

If I say my grandfathers were both pedophiles,
the poem can go no further. I’ve given you
the punchline. If I were to ask, why did they do it,
by which I mean, why did they rape their children,
this question is not in opposition to the assertion
that they showed their children small kindnesses,
by which I mean, Papito was known to tear off
thin strips of chicken from the flesh on his own plate,
which he would quietly feed to my mother—
who, not content with her frozen dinner, would
sit and watch him eat, his silent but doting
animal—and too I am told Mackie always paid
his full share of child support on time, if this can be
interpreted as a certain kindness, or a duty, or
repentance, and though he died before I was born,
Mackie lived in my father’s voice as a sharp, metallic
sound, a horn-shaped gust that forced its way
into my ear tunnels and came alive there, its shell
hard—as some sort of malicious beetle—and though
as a girl I only met Papito twice, and this after
he’d had his first leg amputated, and he was barely
as tall as I was at thirteen years, I remembered
that this was the man who fed my hungry mother
slivers of chicken flesh—despite her warnings
not to ever find myself alone with him—
I’m telling you, he had the most face-splitting
and beautiful smile, like my mother’s—
and a voice like the wooden washboards I’ve seen
women rake soaped linens across back in the island
city where he was born. What else could I say.
He was so thin and slight my thirteen-year-old bitterness
could have shaken him to the ground. He was
so like the skeleton of a bird, I wanted to feed him
from my own mouth—by which I mean I did not
hate him, no—and when he looked at me and beamed
Eres como la gemela de su mama, I was proud he’d seen
my mother in me, his proud and doting animal,
what else could I say but Gracias, how could I not
give thanks.


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