by Luivette Resto
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Miss Maudie
Seventh grade fingers
discover the word nigger
as they dog-ear their favorite moments.
Refusing to say the word aloud
in classroom discussions
or write it on reading quizzes,
they rather say “that bad word.”
For them Atticus became the hero
as we all wished he was
our father, neighbor, legal counsel, friend.
They rooted for a not guilty verdict but said
Tom’s storyline was foreshadowed
the day he was born.
I don’t know, but they did it.
They’ve done it before and they did it tonight
and they’ll do it again and when they do
it seems that only children weep.
They shed a tear when Tom was shot 17 times
calling it brutal, excessive, and unnecessary
as my newsfeed becomes the embodiment of Sophoclean irony
reporting the 6 shots in Michael Brown’s body
reminding me of Amadou Diallo’s 41.
Our courts have their faults,
as does any human institution,
but in this country our courts are the great levelers,
and in our courts all men are created equal.
How do I teach
grace instead of fear
when a uniform approaches
or explain the paradox
of an all-white male jury of one’s peers
deciding men’s fates.
How do I explain rape and domestic violence
to fifteen adolescent girls
when Mayella points her shaky finger at Tom
as her father clenches his fist.
How do I teach that lives matter
when classmates in other schools
make the headlines as victims or instigators.
How do I create a lesson plan for empathy
when Boo Radley is isolated and taunted by his neighbors
like they are in chat rooms or school yards.
Most people are nice when you finally see them.
Sandra Bland was a mockingbird
Trayvon Martin was a mockingbird
Freddy Gray was a mockingbird
Tamir Rice was a mockingbird
Eric Garner was a mockingbird
My sons and daughter are mockingbirds
and thirty mockingbirds sing from these desks
when they highlight the lines:
You never really know a man
until you stand in his shoes
and walk around in them.
The Case of My Resting Bitch Face (R.B.F.)
I don’t smile all of the time
I sit still, emotionless
looking straight ahead
and somewhere in the timeline
of the post-feminist movement
this has been dubbed
as a resting bitch face
as if bitches had time to rest
on the body parts
of their choice
when choice has been
taken, given, teased, vetoed,
eons before Margaret Sanger
opened the first clinic.
I am called a bitch by my pothead neighbor,
the guy I eye behind discount sunglasses,
the teenage cashier for my wad of coupons.
All because I don’t place my emotions
on display to be picked apart like a thesis defense.
Society tells me
I shouldn’t be insulted
the connotation of the word
means strength, confidence, empowerment.
But I don’t feel empowered or strong
like an Amazonian princess
because when quit being a little bitch
comes out of a man’s mouth
it is meant to emasculate and degrade
his boy who has decided to behave
emotionally contradictory to his gender.
What’s up my bitches?
a dictum when a person
enters a room is not the salutation
of kings and queens.
That’s my bitch!
affirms my membership
into a sorority
I never pledged.
The latest newsfeed article
coins my stoic visage as R.B.F.
and in those still moments I am
insular and pensive
and my face is all I have
helping me make sense of the
sadness, pain, anger,
and devolution of language.
Fingerprints on Tortillas
Before mouths agape into a yawn
and eyes squint at the sun’s strength
Cielo mixes the masa harina con agua
rolling them evenly into twelve balls
petite, five inch hands pressing them flatter
than any tortilla maker sold in the marquetas
it was the silent relationship
between her fingers and the comal.
How come she never winced or said hijo’le when she flipped them?
Her culinary talents
preceded her at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
We can’t get a clear fingerprint, Mrs. Castro.
They seemed to be burned off.
Rubbing her fingers together
Cielo spoke about the comal
like a Borges novel.
How she tempered it
not by the numbers on the knobs
but by ojo like bisabuela Eulalia taught her
watching the tri-color flames hover over the gas grate
like the celestial glory prophesied in Bibles,
hugging the bottom of the cast iron
with its blue, purple, and white fingers.
This was her sunrise ritual
in satisfying six appetites
with refrigerated butter
con un poco de sal or eggs
running after school buses.
Does this ruin my chances?
No, Mrs. Castro. We will find a way.
Let me try one more time.
contributor 2016 second edition
Luivette Resto, a recent Pushcart Prize nominee, was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico but proudly raised in the Bronx. She has two books of poetry Unfinished Portrait and Ascension both published by Tia Chucha Press. Currently, she lives in the Los Angeles area.