Beth Cortez-Neavel - Forever

When I was far away young, in Brownsville
and even though dad said it was against the rules
running down the spiral staircase
with my hands
left forever in a concrete step,
third to the bottom,
name scrawled
in newly learned letters –
not knowing what forever meant –

and the pistachio-ice-cream house
(this side of
a whole hour across the border)
where Tía Angie and Tía Diana would tan all afternoon
on the flat roof
scandalous
in the eyes of the so Catholic neighbors
in a neighborhood peligroso

and the little white dog who barked at its chain
there, until one day it wasn’t
but now I could pick fruit from the guava tree
outside – that
may be someone else’s memory.
at least I know
my first word was teta
which explains a lot (considering)

and when I told the black lady in the supermarket
not to touch me because I would turn dirty
like her, and she laughed Niñita, que preciosa
pinching my cheeks
and talking over my head to abuelita
who had barricaded me into the shopping cart –
with her large knock-off of a knock-off purse –
like someone would steal me

and staying up past ten o’ clock
with Oreos that we licked
dripping with milk
watching the news
in Spanish
and abuelito telling
that if we didn’t go to bed soon
the cops would come get us

and asking for abuelita to take down the dolls
of various Strawberry Shortcakes
so I could pretend I had friends
who could speak my language.
we would go on adventures throughout the house:
sometimes we would find treasures
that weren’t really treasures, but some thing
that belonged to someone else.
we would take them anyway.
Strawberry Shortcake didn’t care –
she was named after a baked good
(how dumb is that)

and back across the Rio Grande,
in Matamoros,
swirling down those
wedged concrete steps
with my hands forever:
my name and the date
and my sister’s hands small next to mine –
not knowing what forever was

and bored of talking with the formal mannequins
dressed to the eights in used tuxedos –
because nothing is dressed to the nines there –
dancing, spinning in circles
until the world was too dizzy
to recognize me

and the broken never-clean-white tiles
gathering dusty footprints
of people who hardly ever came back,
of mice who refused to be caught,
of little sister handprints
sloppy with saliva from her tiny mouth

and the cracked black leather couches
like the sidewalks outside
with holes so big I could sit inside them,
safe in the cushion

and the white fan moving back and forth,
back and forth
my voice sounding into it
(like a tiny distressed robot)
every time it turned towards me,
cooling the sweat from the effort of just sitting still;
my dark wild hair wavy and blown back from my face

and looking out through the gritty glass,
the black iron window bars;
wishing that the peeling yellow house –
with the broken upright piano,
with no bathroom (but an outhouse in the concrete backyard),
with the boxes from a leftover time –
were mine. so I would be there
outside the colmado
sipping Mexican Coca-Cola from the bottle
with a bright pink straw.

and pretending to call out to them
to come play with me
and my 3 pesos bouncy ball
that I then lost forever
after I was bored with it.

and wishing I could speak in their sassy border slang
even though they were older than me.
in pleated plaid skirts, those socks up to here,
neck-ties like a boy’s;
wishing books on my shoulder –
roped together, frayed –
dusty scuffed Sunday-best shoes

and the annoying three-year-old sister
crying
because abuelita finally had a dignified customer –
not a friend who just came in to gossip,
or steal money –
so couldn’t play with her any more.

and my dad coming back
to the place no longer his home,
parking the car in the small garage that
looked like nothing, but behind a rusted tin gate

and dad taking her crying –
mixing little sister tears and summer sweat –
saying “I love you forever”

and me running back up that staircase
where the tenants lived, sometimes
without doors and always with los cucarachas
not knowing what forever meant
but knowing I didn’t like that word

and standing on the balcony, also against the rules –
there was no railing in some places –
the drop below far for an eight-year-old.
but there was a bigger ball down there
in that other backyard,
and half a Cabbage-Patch Kid:
it would have been worth it.

and hearing my name from far away up there
and the words pan dulce .
I liked those words,
but I didn’t answer.
I was above it all,
especially that word:

forever.

Author: Beth Cortez-Neavel

Beth Cortez-Neavel has lived and played in Austin for over 20 years and has been writing for almost as long. She enjoys cooking, writing, sarcasm, good art and video games set on “easy.” The daughter of a Mexican-American father who was the first US citizen in his family, and an American-born gringa mother, Beth is no stranger to living the life in between borders. She has been published in print and online in a few anthologies and electronic magazines. She makes sporadic appearances at open mics and poetry readings around Austin. Her short essay “Vacation from Life” was published in Writing Austin’s Lives: A Community Portrait (2004). She has been a regular contributor to the e-zine Haggardandhalloo.com since 2007. She was published in the 2011 Austin International Poetry Festival anthology Di-verse-city. Beth is currently working toward a Master of Arts degree in Professional Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and has worked as a freelance journalist for KUT News, The Austin Times, Culturemap.com, and The Austin Creative Alliance.

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2 Responses to Forever

  1. Eugene "Gene" Novogrodsky says:

    …one of the best, if not the best, slice of the border pieces in Writers Of the Rio Grande; the words, images …all work ….It would be great to hear Ms.Cortez-Neavel read this and more …. Many try to capture border moments ,,,,She has done more than that – she has firmed them!

  2. Teresa Longoria says:

    Beth –

    This is beautiful. I’ve read it over and over and it gets better every time.

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