Please show me your body, I mean your body of work, collecting some pieces you’ve painted, etched, drawn, whatever you’ve done in your life that may lurk in closeted boxes, forgotten, nearly gone, or works you’ve shared around the world or shown to handfuls of people, or possibly a pet, pieces through which you may be partly known, by even someone whom you’ve never met. Please show me your body of work as gallery, curated, assembled, like cells in a body of flesh, your works that enrich, or nourish, or free, or do whatever in a way that’s fresh. Please show me your body of work, and I will stare in thankful wonder regarding your body you share.
Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, all labels peel off since there’s more to you. You’re labelled by your ancestry or hue, but labels peel off since there’s more to you. You’re labelled by your wealth or job you do, but labels peel off since there’s more to you. You’re labelled by your sex and preference too, but labels peel off since there’s more to you. You’re labelled sharply by your point of view, but labels peel off since there’s more to you. Some labels look appealing when brand new, but labels peel off since there’s more to you. You’re branded as if by a skin tattoo, but labels peel off since there’s more to you.
Divisiveness and hatred which are sick have come from making people labels stick. This harmful, awful illness will be through when we repeal all labels for what’s true…
You’re someone yet nobody can say who. All labels peel off since there’s more to you.
In nineteen sixty-three, when I was born, my parents had just recently been torn from Cuba which had been their lifelong world till its descent to tyranny had hurled vast numbers of the people of that isle toward a permanent and far exile. But though my birth occurred in sixty-three in what’s been called the land of brave and free, my sister’s birth had been in sixty-two, and shortly afterward, my parents—who as Catholics had avoided contraception— were taken by surprise by my conception. My mom and dad were poor, but life had worth, so on the heels of my big sister’s birth, that which would be me unfurled un-thwarted, since they believed no one should be aborted. To this I owe the fact that I’m alive, plus that my dad possessed a hardy drive. My parents, while they were impoverished, had one more child than they would have wished. Already with two girls to bring them joy, they got what then they lacked, with me, a boy. Their friends donated blood to pay a fee although the doctor’s services were free, and I am thankful to them to this day who paid for me with blood they gave away.
Although we started out as poor as dirt, each with not much more than pants and shirt, the country welcomed many refugees from man-induced disasters overseas and helped my family get on its feet till we ourselves could work to make ends meet, returning many times the help we got, still who we were, yet in a melting pot. Years later, when I’d long since passed the age my parents were back in that youthful stage, I’d see as people who had been exiled from homelands full of violence were reviled, and parents even were torn from their kids while seas arose from underneath eyelids. I know, despite a life of ample ease, in some way we will all be refugees, exiled from our youth, or homes, or health, or happiness, or way of life, or wealth, and so I hope that all who flee some hell are met with open arms and offered help as were my parents when they were exiled not long before I had become their child.
My memories of when my life was new are almost nonexistent. Though they’re few, my mom has told of funny things I did or said when I was freshly hatched as kid, so, like a journalist who writes in rhymes, I can report of those amusing times. Old photographs have told some stories too about the life I led and things I’d do. When memories have slipped from my mind’s clutch, I’ve leaned on them—a photographic crutch. One funny tale my family would tell, of when my sister caused a mess and smell, is of me singing that I’d change her diaper and clean the mess as jolly little wiper, but when they gave me what I’d need for that, for cleaning up where my sister had shat, I’d sing a jingle that I couldn’t now, because I didn’t—luckily—know how. Another funny tale that I was told, of how as little kid I had been bold, was of a time a visitor came by while I was talkative and not yet shy, a pretty woman whom my parents knew, whom I conversed with when my life was new, by whom its possible that I was carried. I said, “You didn’t tell me you were married!” When I found out, I seemed offended, as if she led me on and had befriended the guy I was who wished to be her spouse though I was not much bigger than a mouse.
I grew up with two sisters who were older, and unlike me, the most shy, they were bolder. Maria, eldest brought to childhood imaginative fun: she often would make up some stuff for us three kids to do and others times we wrote a lot or drew. At her direction, we’d perform some plays like Sleeping Beauty, me as prince who slays the villain, and then goes to plant a kiss on the sleeping princess’ lips. I’d miss the chance to do this, though the princess was a girl I had a crush on years, because I lacked the nerve although the play was granting a perfect opportunity for planting. Instead, I missed her lips as my knees buckled and kissed her cheek while watching parents chuckled. As prince in Cinderella, I would put a boot that didn’t fit on her wrong foot. I still recall as funny she’d react with some annoyance, not part of the act. In looking back I’m glad I was employed in roles the grownups of the home enjoyed in what for me became the first taste of the acting classes I would later love. Maria held a family election in which adults would vote for their selection for President of our home, and I won, I think as in my speech I was the one who spoke of arguments that wouldn’t cease and promised in the house there would be peace. Some games of ours would spin off from the shows we saw on television. Out in snows or warmer times outside or else indoors, we played as spies. Imagination soars in playing just for fun as though a kid. Grownup, I’d like to play more than I did.
Sometime around the ripe age of eleven, before obsessions as of hell and heaven, I dropped out of a game that we were playing with neighbor children friends, involving slaying each other with imaginary gun, though acting like we had got shot was fun. But since I felt that guns were wrong and bad, I quit the game as scrupulous small lad. No fan of school, I’d watch at night the snow, grow deeper, hoping I’d not have to go, because it had been cancelled by a swarm of flakes. I’d hope it wouldn’t warm, so flakes would not fall uselessly like rain, not piling in my yard, outside my pane. But unlike other kids who liked to play, in clean snow freshly fallen where it lay, I liked to see it in its pristine state, untrampled, unmuddied, and I grew irate if neighbor kids disturbed what was pristine. Now looking back that feels bizarre and mean or like a sign of trouble that would hit when I wished to remain pristine like it. I didn’t want to see the fresh snow marred and monitored from windows like a guard. Although I played in it as photos show, I still recall my wish for pristine snow.
When I had reached the ripe old age of ten, my mom, who had become a poet then, advised me on a day that I was bored that days that would be empty could be poured in projects that would make them meaning-full, counteracting any boredom’s pull. My mom’s advice left more than just a mark and altered life ahead as it would spark a way of seeing days as being meant to work on things so they would be well spent. The speech she gave me didn’t specify which projects would be meaningful, but I then wished to be a surgeon of the brain, so I decided I’d begin to train and researched for a book I wrote about the brain, with drawings helping figure out its different parts and what they each could do and built a plastic model of it too. My interest broadened from the brain to other organs after that speech by my mother.
And soon I built a model of an ear, a model of a person that was clear, so you could see inside each painted part, like sandwiched by cross-section lungs, the heart. My surgeon dream expired quickly, though, when I had tummy pain and had to go to see a doctor and the sight of blood awoke me from that dream as with a thud. At that office, it soon dawned on me, a surgeon wasn’t what I wished to be. The pain turned out to be a thing I ate. I wished to leave there at a rapid rate. Another dream took quickly that one’s place. I wished to travel far: to outer space. The plastic models of anatomy gave way to many spaceships made by me, not just from kits but ones that I designed to make from paper, toothpicks, things I’d find. The cardboard of a toilet paper roll became a rocket stage that I’d control with strings in short effects films I would shoot. I aimed to wear an astronaut space suit and spent my weekends and my long vacations in making things like rockets and space stations from paper towel rolls I’d wrap and glue and hang inside my room as if they flew. And science fiction mixed with science fact in models that I measured with exact precision for proportions true to life with parts I’d cut with my exacto knife, from paper, cardboard, toothpicks, balsa wood. At first I made some messes but got good. I kept on writing, but my subject switched to space exploring, where my dreams were hitched. Each month I wrote reports of what I’d done as though it were important, not just fun.
It seems now that I lived in my own bubble, quite possibly since outside there was trouble as I was shy, and where we lived there were a lot of kids from which I would endure some bullying in part, I think, because of being Cuban, when Virginia was, where we grew up, a place that seemed to lack diversity, few people brown or black, or immigrants of different mother tongue (Spanish was my language when most young). But though I never stuck up for myself and acted life a scared, defenseless elf, there were some times that stick in memory that others stood up for themselves and me. Once, when we tried sledding on a hill, we had to swallow constantly the pill of being called mean names where we were at (the one that sticks in mind is “Cuban Rat”), and while we tried to sled we’d have to dodge an unrelenting, thrown snowball barrage. But then my eldest sister gave a speech, delivered very loudly, that would teach, the kids a lesson, so they didn’t dare hurl any balls or mean names in the air. Another time, my buddy Greg and I were walking, and a short and bigger guy came up from close behind to beat us up, but thanks to Greg they drank a bitter cup of being thwarted in their foul plan. Knowing how to fight defines a man at least according to some culture norms, but fights, like us, take many different forms, and, sometimes, maybe better than a fist, is fighting as did Gandhi, pacifist. Ironically, the bullies that were beaten made up the lie that Greg and I had eaten defeat, rewriting history to fool the kids who went to Layton Hall, our school.
We dug up history from in a field behind the school. Its dirt would often yield a relic from the civil war. We’d pull it from its dirt grave and find it was a bullet. Across the street, we didn’t need to dig to find a wartime relic that was big: a plane that had been used in World War II had been consigned not only for our view, not only for a history display, but as a place where kids like me could play. Its cockpit had two seats, in front and back, and we’d play that we fought off some attack. The artifact of battle for a nation became a haven of imagination. Unlike a toy, the plane wreaked of its past, and in its cockpit we could have a blast, but not the kind of blast its pilots faced; the blast of fun that hasn’t been erased from memory though many wars again have come and gone or stayed and stayed since then. My buddy, Greg, loved building war machines, like plastic model planes. As kids and teens, we each collected, building tons of kits, although we liked much different ones as kids, as even then I was averse to war, preferring things like spaceships that would soar to space for exploration, like Apollo, a path I hoped that one day I would follow. We’d often have sleepovers I recall as being lots of fun: we wouldn’t fall asleep, but sneak around the house instead, and race back, if we heard a noise, to bed. We’d go on secret missions where we’d raid the fridge like spies in danger, unafraid. Such fun would often last the night and seep into the day that followed, with no sleep. Following one night, imagination helped us to play suspended animation, so we could sleep imagining we were in frozen state till reaching Jupiter.
My love life didn’t start till as adult, I launched to it as from a catapult. With one exception; in the first grade, I recall myself as small romantic guy, as I remember on the phone I’d cry while saying to my ‘girl friend’, Lisa, “bye,” because I would be leaving for a year to Venezuela, after shedding tears. From then, for decades, love was from afar, though from nearby, not like a distant star, remotely scintillating in the sky. Discretely, from the corner of my eye, I’d look at Leslie, in my fourth grade class, but with no word from me the year would pass. In Venezuela, during second grade, I had a crush on one whom with I played because our families were friends, so I could have some fun before the year went by, and when it did, like all do, in a rush, for years I had on her from far a crush.
When first I went to school, I snuck back home, as kids back then were freer and could roam the neighborhood when they were done with napping without parental worry of kidnapping. The memory of school I think is first is probably among school memories the worst. My throat would tighten with the urge to cry, but I’d suppress, so my cheeks would stay dry. Besides that sneaking out of kindergarten, throughout the schooling through which I would smarten, I was considered well behaved and quiet, except for one class where I was a riot of misbehavior, so that I was sent down to the principal’s office to repent. The class was after school, called CCD, where Catholic doctrines first were drilled in me. I don’t know why it’s there that I rebelled, as it was long before I’d feel repelled by doctrines as of endless hell that’s burned in countless damaged minds where it’s been learned.
In Eighth grade, I attended Catholic school. Till then, my grades had been those of a fool, or someone with no interest in their classes, unlike smart kids seen sometimes wearing glasses. From that year on, I strived to get straight A’s, as though my mind before were in a haze in which I couldn’t see the mountain peaks of A’s that every driven student seeks. My interest in my classes had been none. In classes, though, taught often by a nun, my interest in my classes rarely strayed so far that it would cause a drop in grade. But anything with exercise or sports, with sweating, showering, and wearing shorts was something that I’d totally detest, preferring some hard pop quiz or a test. One memory that still I find amusing is one of softball in which I’d be using the far outfield, my customary place, as though I were a galaxy in space that drifted slowly off as space expanded. By Phys. Ed teachers I was reprimanded. Though Phys. Ed wasn’t ever to my liking, I did enjoy as kid a lot of biking, though libraries were often where I went with all the muscle power that I spent. The classes that I wished I could escape taught how to get in and to stay in shape; taught what back in my kid days didn’t seem of much importance—being in a team that played for fun but also for their score, exerting to the point of getting sore. Those things I’d learn in later life, although, it would have been, back then, great good to know.
Maria liked ghost stories for a spell, and I’d be spooked by eerie ones she’d tell, and I who got involved with things she did was in her club for watching ghosts as kid. At home, I wasn’t shy. I wouldn’t muzzle my mouth and not speak up, but made a puzzle on many late nights in a terror of the ghostly stories that she used to love. A memory I taste as bittersweet was when our family would sit to eat, the seven of us at a table so us three kids sat together in a row. Our grandparents would sit across from us and sometimes us kids made a jolly fuss, and dad got mad and told us to be quiet, but we would laugh as though it were a riot. Between my sisters, I would try to stifle a giggle that shot out as from a rifle. Although my father’s temper then was scary, to me, his funny laugh was legendary, the way it rolled like hills from lows to highs, not little giggles but whole-hearted size. I shared a room with my two sisters till my parents had one built for me, I’d fill with astronauts and other things of space while time elapsed at its prodigious pace. An early memory of Lourdes, with whom, when I was little, I had shared a room, was her annoyance at my snoring: she slept on the bed beside where I would be and hollered “Stop your breathing!” and would toss a slipper at me like she was the boss. That memory is funny now, because she’s been the opposite of how she was through times I’ve felt close to the brink of death, by telling me to focus on my breath to help restore a health-instilling calm when mental health exploded like a bomb. In childhood, us two were opposites: while I would build at home my model kits, uninterested in sports and awfully shy, she swam in teams, a social butterfly, always out with friends, or in a sport, and forming interests of a different sort: in music she’d pursue through life ahead, and I would follow this where she had led.
We had a pure-bred dog with pedigree, Sir Winston Ashlee who was dear to me, but if the door were open he would flee, returning later after freedom’s taste, apparently for fun of being chased. My dad gave him away so that one dawn I woke to find my canine friend was gone. He’d killed a blind cat and a rabbit too, but still the dog was special in my view. Years later, when I had an orange cat I sometimes followed him outside, so that he wouldn’t have a chance to kill a bird, although that may seem silly or absurd, because I’d grown to love birds I would feed by filling up a house with some bird seed. I loved star-gazing, at even Four AM, and also used my telescope for them. The passion that a mockingbird displayed while jumping up and down as he relayed his song while perching on a pole or wire enchanted me so much I would aspire to make sure birds were safe from being hunted by my cat who was dear to me but wanted to catch a bird when he could get the chance to do his silent, deadly, pouncing dance. One time that I recall as awful trauma was staying up all night to watch the drama of one bird he had mauled look toward the sky and after night-long agony then die.
We took long road trips every summer, and would stay in Florida by coastal sand, and in the backseat us three children sang of bears in tennis shoes as hours brang a chance for fun although the trip was long, since we could play games in between each song. We didn’t have the gadgets of today that would have entertained us in some way, but I don’t think that we were often bored despite the lack of gadgets now adored. We had each other and imagination, a fountain then of lots of fun creation.
Abuelo was the peaceful patriarch who sailed familial conflicts like an ark. A fan of Chaplin, he had been an actor, and in my forming years he played a factor, so I have aimed for his serenity and humor through my own adversity. Abuela I recall as filled with pain, because a twisted back had been the bane of her existence. I was close to both my grandparents through childhood’s long growth.
In childhood, I wasn’t close to dad. Some traumas formed from times when he got mad: I acted like a robot at age two; a shrink concluded that’s what I would do from fear of him: to some world I withdrew. In later life, my dad was penitent, supportive, loving. He was excellent. But to that fear in childhood of him was added in adulthood one more grim: of someone in the sky, a father who may damn me for the things I fail to do, or do, or say, or feel, or even think, so it seemed to a hell I’d surely sink. The fear of dad on Earth or in the sky perhaps helped me remain withdrawn and shy. But as my dad grew in his life with love, there may be nothing to be fearful of, my view of God evolving as he did as I’ve become no more a frightened kid.
As child of two exiles, my parents, to me it’s grown, as I have grown, apparent, that I’m exiled too, like everyone, from something like a childhood of fun, or state of health, or favored circumstance, or from a time, a home, a lost romance, from early mornings when we were awoken to wholeness still when nothing yet was broken. Although we can’t return to childhood, I try to keep its aspects that are good: like wonder, creativity, and plays, so fun’s lifelong, not just a youngster phase, retaining though the woes of life have piled some precious qualities as of a child. My dad liked making movies with fun plots. In one, us kids were genies and had lots of fun with making things or people blink into the frame or out, in just a wink. Another one that I recall he made took place among the forest trees and shade and was about a boy who’d gotten lost, concern and separation which that cost. The boy was me. It had a happy ending that I recall as if it now were sending a message from my childhood to tell that in the end all will be found and well.
With seven billion people on the planet, it’s sad that we’re bombarded in the news with pictures of a politician bandit who daily seems to get a zillion views. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t stand it, and possibly it’s driven some to booze, yet while we’re flooded with shots of this man, it helps to focus on the pics we choose. Like pictures of a woman who has led in ways that aren’t divisive but that fuse, uniting, mending awful wounds that bled, not inflaming, like he has, old feuds. The world will never change through hocus-pocus but may the more we learn to change our focus.
We write, compose, design, make art, alone,
exporting our creations to the world
by way of our computer or our phone,
so artistry, like blooms, can be unfurled.
As we make more, it can become a body
of work that’s sent out as an emissary,
and whether it be perfect or be shoddy,
it represents us in a world that’s scary.
The world is weirdly wonderful as well,
awash with things we find or else we make,
the things of which we have a show and tell,
and build community for which we ache.
The world’s not only full of what may scare,
but poems, music, artwork. Come and share.
Weekly “Art Parties” for sharing poetry, art, music, or other creative ventures
are held on Sunday evenings 7-8:30 PM EST, online through Zoom.
Invitations are sent out through the group L.A.M.P. (Literature, Art, Music Play),
and also listed on Meetup.