to be soft

his mother and i
stare at the inflamed tendon
protruding from his thin, bruised wrist.

“i can’t work anymore,”
the 17 year old reveals.
“i can’t write, so the teachers said
i can’t go to school.
i don’t feel like doing anything
or hanging out liked i used to.”

there is a pause. his mother is nodding.
earlier, she said that she doesn’t understand english.
i think of how heavy pain is, and wonder
if his mother can feel the weight of his.

“i was surprised by what happened to me.
but i ain’t soft.
i don’t want them to think i’m soft.”

mother’s advice for a hot afternoon

we walk to la iglesia to the beat of heat waves
that amá tries to ward off with her black sombria
hovering over her head. she notices me wiping
sweat off my forehead. “take this so you won’t
get prieta like me,” she advises, handing me
the umbrella. i shake my head.
“there’s nothing wrong with that.”

we go to the church sin hablar, and as
the black nube lingers above her head, i think
about much easier it is for me to say that
being prieta is beautiful.