Portrait of My Dad as a Vejigante

It’s unclear at what point moros
became negritos so let’s just say
it was in the streets of the colony,
in the notes of plenas carried on humid
Ponce air while masked diablos
danced through the streets.
How no cédula could erase
the pandero’s vibrations, the scrape
of güiro buzzing like leaves
of a flamboyán. How the ghosts of a city
revel in the riches they brought through their labor
in sugar, in coffee; never let it forget
its canciones y bailes and this city
holds ghosts in the juice of every quenepa,
rattles a percussion of skeletons
in the waves that crash along its shores.
How our dead ask for the chance to reinvent
themselves through their lineage,
the plenas that sing in our blood.
And it’s unclear at what point my dad chose
to don a papier-machê mask, become diablo
or negrito or moro or all of them but hasn’t this song
been rattling in our veins? Isn’t this centuries-long
remixing always been its own survival,
making a new song so that one day your kin
can sing all the old ones? Hiding your face
so that one day your kin won’t need to hide theirs?



Portrait of the Author in Plátano Heaven

for JR Mahung

Here the plátanos peel themselves, even the green ones. Especially the green ones. The husks of their outer layer sit by almost perfectly intact. Slit of a knife down their sides, holes where the first incisions were made. There is no sting of hot water underneath our nails. Their underside is left clean, unpopulated by the bits of skin that stained them in our previous life. Here el pilón works itself. No one struggles with its mashing. Mofongo comes out perfectly formed, no bits left behind though a taste of garlic is, works its way into every new plátano that touches it. Because on the eighth day, God said Let there be mofongo and the plátano and the chicharrón and the olive oil all crashed together. And the Lord looked down on that garlic and said it was good. The chicharrón is replaced with fried chicken skins for anyone who can’t eat pork, almonds for anyone who can’t eat meat and we don’t judge that in Plátano Heaven. Here every dinner is mofongo, is tostones, is jibaritos, is pastelón, is canoas, is maduros. There is always a dish of arroz con habichuelas or arroz con gandules on the side, ’cause what’s dinner without rice? Every breakfast is mangú con queso frito, is frijoles con huevos y maduro frito. Here there aren’t white people who mispronounce your name, call you plan-TAN-o. My white former roommate isn’t here to call you a banana. Let’s just say there aren’t white people here. Here Afro’d Caribbean Jesus eats every meal with us. Prayer is initiated by Maelo and Cortijo, voice and barril the only religion we need. Here, when we look back at the empty green husks behind us they are not a metaphor for our bodies, our emptiness, for the pop of scalding oil we are always willing to bear to find something beautiful and golden on the other side.

MALCOLM FRIEND is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and the full length collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple (Inlandia Books, 2018), winner of the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Together with JR Mahung, he is a member of Black Plantains, an Afrocaribbean poetry collective.

  • If you had to brag about yourself: I make some mean ass coquito come holiday season

  • Best breakfast: mangú con los tres golpes OR fried catfish and grits (it’s a tie; don’t ask me to choose)

  • Best book nobody talks about: Maybe I’m not looking in the best places, but I’m honestly surprised there’s not more discourse around Tato Laviera’s La Carreta Made a U-Turn outside of Nuyorican and Afrolatinx circles