Claritza Maldonado, better known as Clari [as stated by her gold cadenita], is a Chicago Rican creative writer, poet, and researcher. She holds a BA in Linguistics with a minor in Latina/o Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Come Fall 2017, she will be a graduate student at Brown University in the American Studies Ph.D. program with a Public Humanities bend. Her research and creative writing purposefully overlap by way of language and content. As an aspiring curator/educator, she aims to make her work undeniably Spanglish, undeniably woman, and undeniably situated between cityscape and island. Her poems are stories of familia, history, and resistance.

How Papi’s Salsa Lengthened My Brown Spine

i remember sitting in the backseat of the car—
papi’s white Suzuki sidekick
windows rolled down
papi had Hector Lavoe sounding from the radio
tapped his fingers
and his palms
onto the steering wheel so hard,
he swore it was un tambor
you’d think he was part of the salsa band

he made sure to blast Lavoe’s music
loud enough
to exit the windows
so that cada persona in his surroundings
had to listen
so that even if they didn’t understand
the spanish words,
they would understand
the Caribbean beat

salsa said todo
papi ever wanted to say
but couldn’t
shape his mouth around the words
to say it

and as i sat there in the backseat
with my
blowing with the breeze
i covered my ears with my hands
and told him to turn that down
told him,
nobody wanted to listen to that

his island voice
on a city’s labored soil
that being
his only chance
to speak sometimes
begged him
to put on the radio
and complained by saying
“that’s too loud”

so he’d turn the dial down
two notches
three at most
only to say to me:
“you’re going to appreciate this music someday”

at that moment,
i did not realize
every facet
of that appreciation

took me years of learning
about myself
learning that
i didn’t have to hide
certain parts
of myself
didn’t have to alter
my tresses
or any
of my Boricua blessings

learning that there is no such thing
as too loud
for us
when all they ever wanted was
for us
to be quiet

learning that my parents have their homes
in two locations
and when you realize
you are from an island
that is framed as
“belongs to, but not a part of”
blasting salsa is that bold stamp
that never asked for approval

to papi: i am sorry
is now

i appreciate every moment your salsa
shakes the speakers
and the ground
that you always
subconsciously knew
that salsa would be able to
the attempt
of a nation
trying to
my spine

pues, turn up the dial four notches
para que sepan
your voice spoke
and still speaks
loud enough
for both of our homes to hear

they’re listening
i am listening

from the sounds of animal noises
in the intro of Hector Lavoe’s “Aguanile
to the increasing speed of
African rhythms

there will always be
an instrument reserved for you

ocean spelled m-a-m-i

when my mother’s mother became an ocean
i wonder who
at her

upon her transformation

she became an ocean
but still had to tread water
still had to swim

i never knew her,
but i knew
she must have been
a good swimmer
because my mother
also became an ocean

became the waves
Puerto Rico and america

when someone referred to my mother as
“Puerto Rican-american”
i asked what they thought
that meant

how could you hyphenate territory,
hyphenate exploitation
how could you hyphenate the result of war
how could you hyphenate labor,
and hyphenate a country-with-a-country
not able to be its

a hyphenation is quite redundant
it is a false bridge

and why would my mother need a bridge when she is the ocean?
when she existed before the bridge
when she,
the ocean,
is the reason the bridge even exists

she is the ocean
that still treads water
and swims

she is that ocean
she had no choice in becoming

remind her:
that her body borders an island
until she meets the Caribbean Sea

her body still fighting
to take a hold of the nation
that attempts to drown her

but then you remember
you cannot drown a body that is

so what really made my mother an ocean?
was it when the atlantic tried to swallow her whole?

or when she swallowed two whole nations
when they tried to scarf down
only one?

she began holding her breath
in 1898
sinks to the bottom
always manages to rise
back up to shore

my mother is an ocean
because when you attempt to hyphenate her
she waves back
and smiles

hex poem to colonizers, recolonizers, and haters

i hope you feel the sting of
platano poppin’ oil

i hope when you try to jump back,
one drop jumps a second quicker onto your hand

and i hope when you bite into it, thinking the sting was worth it,
you realize you didn’t let the platano ripen enough
and it ain’t even that sweet

just like you.

arthritis and schizophrenia

“estoy aquí un poquito jodía”

body stiff and still
while her mind
from room to room
never feeling safe

“estoy aquí…”