I never learned the intricacies
of salsa dancing, or the syncopated
mincing cha-cha steps.
But my body drew power
from notes quivering
from the tumbao,
the beat fluttering over
my skin, a lover’s breath.
With the lights flashing,
history rolled like a newsreel.
And I was there bending knees,
hips shaking, battling the drums;
a flute solo filled the ballroom,
danzas during tiempo muerto;
trumpets heralded the cafetales bursting
with harvest, the coro narrated
the struggles across an ocean
as feet shuffled over wood
to rhythms of clinking chain.
The heritage embraced me,
the lost relative
who could not dance, witnessing
boricuas work the floor
in ways alien to our past.
Flaunting fashion at the expense of food.
Vanity creating islands
on a restless sea of rumberos.
With every snort we drifted
to oblivion, every English word
uttered split our tongues.
Every drink abetted our amnesia.
Lotus-eaters with rhythm
sliding across the floor,
lost but beautiful to watch.
Barrio streets appeared distant;
in the dark all bruises disappeared.
The loud music drowned out
slashing words that bleed families thin.
Unopened bills on rickety tables,
mice hunting under a moon-hungry night,
and garbage trucks wailed the start
of another lay-a-way day.
My feet straddled
a moment of recognition,
and I hated the scene.
But as I glowed in the comfort
of rhythms spinning my head,
melodies ripping my chest,
I spotted a couple dancing,
sensual like fog floating
across the cordillera—and I, too,
am up, stumbling and faltering,
but dancing, dancing.