Father reminds me we live in the city not the country. Yet, I put the dried corn from the market in the mortar; I drop the pestle from a foot above the mortar’s rim. Again and again and . . . Your brothers need a bath. Did you bleach their underclothes? Have you hung them? My little sister moves quickly with the dried clothes in hand, ready to take the pestle. I gather my brothers into the steel tub. Daniel pees as I’m lifting him, Antonio pulls my hair, Pedro kicks like a live fish washed up on the sand by the ocean, and Paulo grimaces as he poops. In the tub they fight for space. Antonio refuses his diaper: he likes being naked. In the struggle to get Antonio clothed, his diaper rips; I must patch up the hole. At the mortar and pestle, my little sister breaks the corn’s kernel from skin and grounds the kernel into flour. Where’s breakfast? My sons need breakfast. I start the fire with wood and boil coffee in a pot; my sister toasts the flour over the fire. I sift the remaining flour with sugar and cinnamon, and fill the clay pot with it while adding water for kuz kuz. That too goes on the stove. We feed the boys. My palms turn red. I remove more skin from dried corn. My sons need lunch: They are still hungry. I bring the flour in and fill the clay pot again. This time, I add salt and water to flour. My sister browns salted pork and simmers pigeon beans for the jagaceda I’m making. Dinner will be leftovers, fish, and Katchupa, boiled kernel grits. I’m almost mastering the tenth grade. I’m only eleven. I’ll read my studies by candlelight. When I pass tenth grade I’ll leave to teach on another island, in another city. On Sundays, I go to Mass: I pray my mother Rita gives me strength, watches over, and protects my little sister and my brothers.
I hold a BA in English and Political Science from Boston College and a MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. I have taught writing courses at Emerson College, Phillip Academy’s (MS)2 Program, Massasoit Community College, and UMASS Boston Upward Bound Program. Contact Jessica.