Today's poem is by Lisette Mendez, a Miami poet of Cuban heritage. The piece is a prose poem, so I have printed it below instead of beside the video in order not to disturb the format of the image. Our reader today is Lisa Palley, the publicist for O,Miami and my official life organizer, tour guide and confidant while I was in Florida. Many of the Miami videos you've seen this past month were made possible by her. Thank you, Lisa.
My mother holds two jobs- 8 to 4 at Forté Towers, she orchestrates a symphony of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and the apartment cleaners who are always women with a limited command of English. She utilizes her personal relations skills when dealing with tenants suffering from leaky pipes, rusty hinges, and cockroaches, and is comfortable in a Windows environment, though her office has no windows.
At the Saxony, Miami Beach’s last kosher hotel, 5 to 11, Thanksgiving to Passover, she keeps pink phone messages in a wood, pigeonholed wall, and breaks her nails pulling out safety deposit drawers that smell of old nickels and were hung along with 535 mezuzahs and a gargantuan lobby chandelier in 1947 when the Saxony opened to much fanfare. The owner has never computerized anything so my mother prepares the nightly income reports by hand; we joke Microsoft isn’t kosher.
I know all this because my mother is my mother and because on Sunday morning I helped her with a résumé. She’s applying for a job she’s scared she might get at a doctor’s office house in Mt. Sinai Hospital, so I type: Objective: To secure a position in a challenging atmosphere where I can utilize my interpersonal, technical, and organizational skills.
But I’m not sure she likes this sentence, has an aversion to the type of truth embellishment I’m so good at and therefore watches me closely, spelling the name of the school she received her certificate in computer studies from but refusing my request for the exact name of the degree from the University of Havana, emphatically reminding me she never finished and wants none of it on paper.
Nothing on the résumé, she says and closes her face resolutely, like those flowers that fold inward, protecting their core against the night.
My mom wants to tell no one about twilights spent in rowboats treading Cuban swamps, mosquitoes sucking on ankles and neck. Wants no one to know about the microscopes and slides, test tubes, beakers and lidded jars, Latin-named plants, parasites and one-cell lives she dropped from her mind into the oiled waters of Mariel’s port, into the Gulf of Mexico’s froth, into the streaming rush of Florida’s straits.