Featured Poet » Juanita Rey »



What is silence for
if not to ask myself
the same question over and over –
what am I doing here?
It’s not just about
what am I doing in this country.
It’s why am I in this room.
Why am I alone and talking to myself.
I glean my answers for consistency.
If more than two or three agree,
I stay.

The Remote

The woman’s in a low-cut dress.
He’s dating her but she’s married
to someone else.
And there’s her children
playing on the beach
just this last summer.
This guy’s a famous investor.
He’s telling me
which stocks to buy.
And this is a renowned chef.
She chats to the camera
as she cooks.
So this is America.
In my homeland,
there are no celebrities.
Just neighbors
but the paparazzi
don’t follow them around.
And various aunts and uncles,
first and second cousins.
They don’t sign autographs
because no one asks.
But here,
with remote in hand,
I have immediate access
to the people I will never be,
the money I will never have,
the good life
that’s sheer fantasy
from where I sit.
In Santo Domingo,
neighbors, family,
popped in all the time.
Their lives were
accessible to me.
Nothing was remote.

The Clips

Plastic clips
fix my hair in place
I promise only to loosen these curls
for the right man.
they’re the first things
greedy fingers reach for.
I slap them away.
This mop is mine to free
and no one else’s.
I know the game.
To avoid the traps,
I practice restraint everywhere.
When they snatch at these threads,
they don’t know it yet,
but it’s the first line in goodbye.
But tonight could be
this hair’s awakening.
The scene is set.
Lights from the street below
flatter the five- and-ten store curtain,
the couch that faces a candle flame,
a burning jasmine stick.
I tremble at the thought
of letting these ringlets fall.
A wonderful hand is on its way
to catch them.


She’s that indeterminate age
between brown-skinned senorita
and leather-faced anciana.
How old is she?
How old are the grains of sand on the beach?

Gray invades her brown hair.
The ceaseless sun
attacks from every angle.
Salt wind flails
where once it used to nurture.
Uneasy hang the breasts.
Unwieldy walk the legs.

No longer lovely,
she will be resilient.
Her husband will never look on her
the same again.
But he’ll find a new way.
The good men always do.

Living Day to Day

The floor creaks.
The radiator constantly clears its metal throat.
A tap drips more incessantly
than my pleas to the landlord.
Walls shrink and swell with the seasons.
It’s four in the morning,
a time when sleep and I part ways.

I can’t get out of bed.
I feel paralyzed.
I need that injection of sunray
before I can move.
An hour and a half pass by.
Time and early morning
do not work well together.

But, finally,
glare overtakes the window.
I no longer operate
on the periphery of who I am.
I can face-wash, coffee-sip,
my way into existence.

I worry that I worry too much
and that, more than the
clatter of cheap lodgings
is the core of my restlessness.
Like how do I hold together
the life I’m living
let alone move it
both onward and upward.

I need to get dressed.
I have a job to go to.
I could use some more sleep.
But it’s been too busy using me.

Tales of My Landlady

My landlady’s apartment
is on the ground floor.
It is no bigger, no smaller, than mine.
The only difference
is that mine’s at the top of the stairs
and hers is littered with ashtrays.

She’s forever complaining
which saves me the job.
The handyman she hires
to fix a leaking tap,
to patch dry wall,
charges her more than her doctor.
And she’s always cleaning
and chasing the kids
who hang out on her stoop.
It’s what comes of living in the inner city.

Whenever I go out or come home,
her light is on
and the door’s slightly ajar.
Someone breaking in
doesn’t matter as much to her
as missing out on what
her tenants are up to.

When I pay my rent,
she’s always slumped on the couch.
TV talk shows
talk to her.
She nibbles on crackers and cheese.
And complains about her husband,
lazy even in death.

Her robe is spotted with chips.
Her eyes are red.
Her moustache, brown.
Her double chin is working on a third.
But it’s her tenement, she brags.
She owns it outright.
That amounts to more possessions
than anyone I’ve ever known.
But I don’t tell her that.