When people discover
where my family’s from,
they unwittingly gasp and immediately I see
the images silently flashing behind their eyes.
Palm trees and white beaches,
coconuts and tropical birds and maybe monkeys
(wait, they do have monkeys right),
dancing, drums, laughing,
the clearest ocean and Campo slang, rice and beans.
A laid-back, Caribbean paradise.
Gushing, they exclaim
that it is their favorite tourist spot
and have been many times or
they have aspirations to go to visit
for their yearly summer vacation and
in their excitement remember they forgot
that I’m still there in person and
am not currently vacationing with them in their head.
So politely they ask me,
“Have you ever gone back to the DR, Briana?”
The answer is no.
as I’ve never been
to the Dominican Republic
in the first place,
it’s not exactly a place that I can “return” to.
Instead, that question belongs to my parents.
For my mother,
The answer is still no.
She didn’t return even when
the woman who raised her
her great grandmother,
My mother knew it was coming, she says
because her grandmother came to her
in a dream
shortly before her death,
because my mother wears premonition
in her blood
like a funeral gown on a body.
And for my father,
he only just returned
for the first time in 27 years
to say goodbye to his dying brother.
He could not return
for the funeral,
or to give his brother’s daughter,
away at her wedding.
For many of us, this is not strange.
As better opportunities bring us closer to our sueños
they bring us farther from our family,
We come here
not running from paradise,
but dead ends and desolation.
This is why my father scoffs
and thinks me naïve
for wanting to live in his homeland.
“Visit, yes, but live, no! For what? There’s nothing there!”
He spends a whole 20 minute car ride
alternating between Spanish and English,
bemoaning the state of his country.
My mother, on the other hand,
always smiles as she tells me stories
her of her and her twin brother
(the Ravelo-Reyes Ibeyi)
with parasites in their bellies,
barefoot, stealing mangos
gambling for meat,
happy despite a desperate,
I will never know
and to which I am currently serving
a poetic injustice
because of my pure inability to match
my mother’s linguistic cadence,
luchando literary license.
But more than that I lack her words,
I lack the knowledge of pain
of these unspeakable,
of being so vicious split in two
of being thousands of miles away from familia,
of being here in America
and still not having much opportunity or hope
a dark “in-between countries” place
where even death cannot promise
to usher us back home
because our poverty is stronger
than our end.
But yes, by all means ask me,
ask me if I’ve gone back
to a country who I’m
as consistent as a hurricane about,
that I revere and fear and
doubt and dream of and
criticize and rage and and yet
feel so unbearably hungry for
(all why asking if it’s even my place)
when she is is powerless to once again
command the Caribbean like when
she first birthed from the skull of a god
and usher her children safely freely back and forth
from home to home, from body to body
from dust to dust.
Ask me if I’ve “gone back”
Reminding me that they barely even want me here,
don’t think I belong,
and so it makes sense
to subtly tell me
to “go back” to a place
I’ve never been,
and when it isn’t guaranteed
That a woman like me
would be welcomed there, either.
Please, ask me if I’ve “been back”
When Dominican mothers leave their nenes
to nanny white people’s children here,
or when the nenes who are here
living the “American dream”
are yet targeted
in cold blood
and their mothers lack the visa to come
to say goodbye
and bury them.
I have spent so much of my life
putting together borrowed sad Spanglish stories
like salvaged art
my poorly constructed makeshift refuges
that are constantly under siege
that do not last
that are sad excuses for a home
for safety, for familia
because at this point,
that is the best option
someone like me