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We gather ferns,

fallen leaves, tendrils

of Spanish moss.


We place the plants

between sheets of water

color paper.


Stack the sandwiched

flowers inside a plastic

container, press them


down with planks

of wood and heavy rocks,

add tea, coffee, and ash


for good measure.  We

discuss the nature of evil

in the world.  Green


spiders float on this soup

we’ve made.  Nothing

changes for the smaller


creatures.  What corrupts

absolutely is our hunger

for control. Who will save


us under the weight

of  our own sorrows?

It’s midday.  All we can do


is wait for the paper

to tell us what stories

will make us cry or sing.




In 1970, Havana, Cuba, my mother

took it upon herself to inject


B12 on the butt cheeks of as many

neighbors as brought her doses


and paid for her service.  My mother

wanted to be a nurse but was not


a nurse, but the house filled with women

waiting for their shots and I, at eight,


watched them lower one side of their

pants or shorts or pull up a dress


to expose their flesh to the needle.

The needle disappeared into the flesh.


My mother swabbed their skin

with a cotton ball drenched in alcohol


after each shot and threw it in a bucket

by the kitchen door.  When she was


not looking I reached for a handful

and went outside to look at how


the blood darkened.  I wrapped my

toy soldiers in the used cotton.


They were wounded.  Cuba

was sending military personnel


to Viet Nam.  My mother shot up

more people, “patients,” as she called


them.  When my father came home

there was no trace of anyone ever


been over.  My mother expected

me to keep her secrets.  On the mud


fort I had built in the patio all my

soldiers lay wounded, bloodied


and dying.   At night I dreamt

of the house filling with mother’s


pillow cases full of cotton balls.

In the United States, my mother


worked in a factory, sewing zippers

at 10 cents a piece.  25 years.


She never looked up from her machine.

Her fingers became arthritic . . . 


Every time I cut myself shaving, I reach

for a cotton ball to soak up the blood.


Blood is a cardinal taking flight

against the darkening of the sky.

Virgil Suárez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1962 and is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, two memoirs, and ten poetry collections. At the age of twelve he arrived in the United States. He received an MFA from Louisiana State University in 1987. His work has appeared in a multitude of magazines and journals internationally. He has been taking photographs on the road for the last three decades. When he is not writing, he is out riding his motorcycle up and down the Blue Highways of the Southeast, photographing disappearing urban and rural landscapes. His tenth volume of poetry, The Painted Bunting’s Last Molt, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in the Spring of 2020.

ISSN 2632-4423

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