Small boy in the back row shouts louder than the others.
He attends a small school at the bottom of a big mountain
With a big voice, Carlos calls.
Wide brown eyes and a smile that beats the dozen—
I snap him up in my gaze, a photograph of life.
Life in this small rural town feels foreign to me,
Yet, little Carlos’s smile is home.
He is the tiny whisper that keeps me company at night-
He is the promise of all my dreams-
He is the present that is afforded, me in spite.
Carlos is one child.
One child only, in my grandmother’s land.
And boy is he alive!
He came up to me day one
Behind the too small chairs & new ceiling fan.
With hope and wonder in his eyes, he said to me, do you speak English?
Why, yes! I replied.
Me too, he said and grinned spit on his lips.
His energy bounced like a ball and paddled me
All I could do was zig zag and play ping pong with hm.
Then I zippered him up inside my cool pocket.
I scooped him up by the handful silently wanting him
To keep interrupting the task at hand.
He was my hero.
Sad teacher was supposed to be teaching.
Teaching without books or pencil sharpers or language, even.
Carlos understood the paradox and forgave us both.
He would not quit!
Sly dog, fast dog, loyal dog Carlos was, my fast friend.
He did his part and hers too and then patiently waited for the others—
Like he knows there’s a purpose behind school.
He knows more than the mountain
And the trees
And the ocean
And the breeze.
He even knows me.
And he loves me in spite of it all.
Then one day Carlos was gone.
Where is he? I asked.
I was told, he’s out in search of something more.
What parents know enough to wonder?
Who are the parents who dare to stand up and holler?
Even me, I sometimes can’t.
It’s too damn hard.
What ‘holsum’ surprise on this small island I found.
The island, the land, the nation of my mother’s mother.
There are families here who fight for better schools
There are folks who won’t stand by and wait, even in the shanties
The mattresses on the street, the barefoot men and the cascading paint
Don’t stop them.
Even though they blend in the with the velvet mountain greens—
It’s all pretend.
Some do blend in, but fight on the inside of life.
Just like big ‘ole New York City in the good ole US of A
This small and tired and old and poor and old and poor and tired
Town! A rural town in Puerto Rico.
There is someone here who expects more.
These folks don’t have internet and yet they know.
They know. Not all but some know. They do.
The homes are small hot rooms with humidity seeping
Mosquitos and large insects flying,
Iguanas and Jurassic Park bird flying
Sticky and heat and rice and beans and the cafeteria women smiling
With hair pulled back and my aunt’s flat nose,
I recognize all of them, every one of them, in my people.
Those eyes are my sister.
That nose is my aunt.
That hair is my uncle.
That skin is my mother.
That phrase comes out of my cousin’s lips
Every time we talk on the phone, or is it the curl of her lip?
These strange new people are my people
Carlos is my son out here.
And I am so proud of him.
He’s gone from this small place, in search off
Something more. And he deserves it.
So, the next week I find him in a better school.
That also happens to be in my charge.
He’s got a haircut but the same smile and big wide brown eyes.
We look at each other and say
I know you!
I know you, we say, at first.
Then a long pause.
What do we do with this crossing over into a better life?
He’s in my class again, you see
He asks all the same questions but this time, he’s less jumpy
I give him all the time he needs
Because Carlos is my son.
At the end of the class we meet.
He announces quite carefully, please, Missy—
Give the message to the other school.
Tell them that I’m here and that you saw me.
I promise, I say, of course.
And I do.
I’ll tell them that in all the newness,
Carlos misses them the most.