After her grandmother said you were portable
& you replied, No, I’m Puerto Rican,
your girlfriend kicked you under the table.
You have this tendency to mishear old people
because they’re often right & remind you
of desquamation. She was right. You were born
in a nasty little stripmall. You’ve come from a place
where it’s prohibited to discuss politics at bars
to a place where it is legal to shoot cats on the street.
On the way, you stopped in Pittsburgh.
You’ve studied the anatomy of exit signs
in the largest & most prestigious lecture halls.
You’ve waited at Grayhound terminals
where voices emptied into each other
like tiny rivers, straying a delta of accents.
Always, as currents merged & counterposed,
you thought, Now this is the true voice of a nation.
Once, you answered a payphone at Dulles
& a woman asked what you knew about Jesus,
& this is how quick the mood can change
when you’re portable. The only thing
about which every doctrine seems to agree
is that existence is a type or another of thunder.
Theoretically, all children are born with a piece
of cloth on their hands. In some countries
they use them as gags, & in the rest of the world
they wear them as blindfolds. Puerto Rico
is so proud of its gift shops, it makes you sick.
Even the grains of sand the sea throws-up
come with flags pinned to their chests. Commonwealth
implies something valuable exists to be shared,
but when spoken out loud, the word is nothing more
than a plea: Come on, wealth! Come on,
wealth! There really is no polite way to say
you do not wish to subscribe. Wisconsin
is like the all-you-can-eat buffet of your dreams
in which you’re allergic to everything. This is
the type of place where you’ll always end up
when it is a million red suitcases
what streams through your veins. O how quick
the tone can change when you’re portable!
In high school, you lied about having read Dante
to impress literature girls from the UPR
& now, you lie about having read Dante
because you fear for the life of your fellowship,
& later, it’s possible your girlfriend might leave you
when she finds out you lied about Dante—
that is, if she first doesn’t leave you
for ripping on her grandmother’s squamus.
She was right. You’re as portable as the Energizer Bunny,
that pink Buddah of Youth, whom you’d follow
into any circle of hell. As for Jesus,
you know his life was shaped like a dumbell
because all the weight in the middle is missing.
As a schoolboy, his arm was full of helium.
Then, his hair grew long & pure, like the sponges
that slither up windshields at the Octopus Car Wash
here in Wisconsin. Always, there has been a backpack
strapped to your heart, & asking Where are you from?
has not been unlike asking, What is this poem about?
Because wherever you are, a nail clipping of light
will laze in the sky & the full moon will glow
somewhere else. In Puerto Rico, someone
bites his tongue off at a bar. In Wisconsin,
someone polishes the barrel of a nine
before going out to hunt tabbies. Fuck the moon.
Sometimes the world is one giant batiscaphe.
So what? If every night of your life
you hop in a cab, you’re bound to see
every flag ever made
hung from a mirror.
Kevin A. González
Cultural Scope was first published in Hotel Amerika.