Ana Portnoy Brimmer

Backyard burial

“We’re finding dead people, people who have
been buried, [people] have made common graves […]
We’ve been told people have buried their family members
because they’re in places that have yet to be reached.”1

Dandelions sprouted from the splitting skin on the tip of her toes
                                  the grime snug between flesh and nail 
when I realized no one was coming

Five days had passed and my mother       
an oxygen-masked ghost at the flickering menace of a bulb 
                                                    grew garden-bed of chamomile and clover

No wailing sirens curled up the mountain    only wailing    
No machete-wielding rescue team    only my desperate swings to 
                                          clear a patch of welcoming ground 
No emergency funeral procession     only candles to drag her mossing 
                                          mound through humid darkness 
No relief helicopters on my driveway or half-a-roof    only overhead   like vultures circling                      
                                                         the dying with no promise of swoop devouring release 

I dug up a hole in the backyard    next to the flattened chicken coop
                                                 smell of damp rotting and excrement 
cleared slabs of zinc    branches   vine-choked fence   
and waited 

for a voice 
a footstep 
the slam of a car door 

the dull thump of my mother’s body on hollowed wet earth 

1 The poem’s epigraph is a quote from the following article, “Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico is higher than official count, experts say”, by Omaya Sosa Pascual, published in the Miami Herald.  

A plea to Puerto Rico after hurricane María

All I have left is
spit and duct-tape
(and my spit is running dry)--
I will lick your wooden splinters into a house
        a salve to soothe the down-hill gash where it used to be
wrap your snapped trees whole again
             patch up the leak in your sky  
             your bleeding shore--
my tear-ducts    wells close to empty but 
I’ll cry your containers 
        in shaky hands full
fill your tired tanks to the top 
        drop by drop 
my hands have nothing to hold nothing
        to lose              let me             
cup your forced nakedness       hold 
our weeping people
        refugees in their own land
just give me a drink of water
a crumb to feast on
and tell me I can stay

This is not paradise

waters death-scented     chained corpses undulating to undercurrents  
waves whipping wildly  lunging layers of landscape suffocating the     
weed glass and bottle caps    coconut missiles  palm projectiles  river branch bullets   aiming for
heads bobbing  hearts throbbing       because it’s all too beautiful
sun scorching scalps  blinding sockets      raindrops like army rockets drilling dents
into towel sprawled burning bodies        opening their mouths to say 
                  This is-      
         not what you think    these are not golden sands translucent waters and lush greens    this is not the place for flowered shirts    this is not sunshine and clear skies    this is not summer year-long    this is not a travel brochure    this is not a worry-free weekend    this is not a coconut-scented fantasy    this is not piña coladas and daiquiris    this is not yoga by the beach    this is not sun-bathing and cabana boy service    this is not made-in-china sarongs and beaded braids              
                  But this is-
         not your family summer    this is not those good old times    this is not like that movie you once saw     this is not an exotic getaway    this is not a tropical utopia    this is not an all-inclusive (exclusive of everyone except yourself)    this is not island life    this is not seaside living    this is not horseback riding by the shore    this is not sunsets and sangrias    this is not salsa, merengue, reggae and calypso all day every day  
                  Oh, this is-
         not a selfie-moment    this is not springbreak 2017    this is not a the-Island-in-a-day bus tour    this is not a romantic niche    this is not the-people-who-live-here-are-so-lucky    this is not your spa week    this is not an ocean clean of history    these are not fields free from memory    this is not a land unscarred by time    this is not a people of sunshine and amnesia    this is not an invitation    this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is your dream
sandcastles     tourist skin sizzles and crackles   
you better put on more of that barbecue-block to   
protect you from the               truth                          is that                                this is not paradise

Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Puerto Rican poet-performer, writer and ARTivist. She holds a BA and an MA in English from the University of Puerto Rico, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark. She is the inaugural recipient of the Sandra Cisneros Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a co-organizer of the #PoetsForPuertoRico movement. Ana is also a Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation fellow, an Under The Volcano fellow, a Las Dos Brujas Writing Workshop alumna, and an inaugural Moko Writers’ Workshop alumna. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Foundry Journal, Sx Salon, Huizache, Kweli Journal, Centro Journal, among others. For more on her work, visit