tthat morning I ate ice cream,
Ccatholic Sunday ice cream,
ttrekking across the central square
pplaza after Mass,
hholding hands with my father
mmy older sisters ahead and
apart from us and
the twins pushed content
in baby carriages.
The ice cream in those days,
in that part of the world, was still
hand-cranked: Papaya, mango,
guayava, quenepa, tamarindo,
these are the flavors of Naguabo,
Puerto Rico, and you
consumed them in the shade
of the cross on top of the Cathedral
in the plaza.
My father would hand the weekly
Catechism over to the gap-toothed
owner who would gap-tooth smile
and hide it in his apron pocket.
I would tear apart the bread bowl,
throw the crumbs to the ducks
paddling in the stream we crossed
on the way back home;
that is what I remember of that
morning and most Sunday mornings
of my childhood.
... it rained later, a fifteen minute
spring shower. My father left to talk
to a man about a horse.
I took my Tonka trucks and clanked
them together. I squatted on top of a
rock pile still wearing my
Church shorts and clip-on tie.
The setting sun blinded me briefly.
I cocked my head and shielded the
diminishing glare with the basketball
backboard from my neighbor's driveway
and Mathilda, the youngest twin, she
was always wheezing and coughing and
full of snot and just kind of crusty and
I could not stand to touch her,
she was so tenaciously sticky and elastic
like caramel gum
always stepped on a rubber top but it
was no toy top at all, just some archaic medical
apparatus that got thrust up her nose to
suction all the phlegm out
and my mother held Mathilda upside down,
clutched the baby high above her head,
as she ran across the street to
pound frantically on the door where the
My mother's screams were hoarse and deep and
guttural and distant and not particularly loud.
She pounded on her own stomach as hard and
as much as she pounded on Mathilda's heaving chest,
as much as she pounded on that nurse's front ddoor.
tto the knuckle, holding the baby upside down
and shook her,
like a near empty water flask,
like a piggy bank,
and jammed her fingers in and tried
desperately to get all that gunk and spittle out.
One of my sisters vaulted the fence to run around
and attempt to enter the nurse's home by crawling
through the cat's door. She could only stick her
head and one arm in and scream and point.
The male nurse rushed out and took Mathilda
and very gently laid her down on the concrete
sidewalk and with the
weightlessness of sweet mouth
tried to gift her a whisper of life,
a silkworm's weave,
the mist from a Japanese garden waterfall
blows a kiss on a dandelion,
a mosquito scampers on top of a pond,
she seeks the extra-still breeze of life
like a heart stop blanket on a dying
afternoon, a given last swallow
that she shattered beads all over Mathilda's inert
that is the first memory of fact;
the second recollection is my mother slumped
in a Catalina station wagon's backseat,
covering Mathilda with my father's suit jacket,
and whimpering when they drove away to
the hospital and morgue
the male nurse died in San Juan in 1996,
the victim of a well-publicized
gay bashing murder case,
just a third fact that does not really
I slowly savored tutti-frutti ice cream
that morning after Church, out of a bowl
made out of bread, which I broke apart to
feed some ducks swimming in a creek.