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At Daybreak

By Jasminne Mendez

Essay

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Alabama. 1984. Mami is very pregnant.

 

Open your eyes and breathe life into your belly still swollen

with pain pills from the night before.

 

Papi is working the night shift as a guard on base

and his gaze is on the moonlight hovering over

Mami’s room in the barracks across the street.

She came with him “por si acaso.”

 

Gaze at the moonlight. Let the covers hover over

your bare shoulders, curl up to the warmness of you,

hum a birdsong quiet as dawn, and linger

there a little bit longer “just in case.”

 

Mami groans. A contraction.

She calls Papi but his name staccatos

on the way out of her mouth. “Ben-ja-min!” She hums.

Another contraction. It lingers. She hums. It lingers.

The contractions make her sing. Papi is nowhere to be found.

The lingering hum.

 

Sing into the spine of your body

and wait until the alarm chimes.

Your arthritic bones bend, snap and staccato—

the melody of the broken queuing up as you reach

out and turn it off. Curse the chronic pain.

Rub the aching still. Forgive yourself.

And will your limbs to hang idly.

A weeping willow tree.

 

Mami’s voice crescendos. My two-year-old brother,

Ben, wakes up weeping—his own willow tree.

Mami moans. Rubs the pain to a stillness.

Ben weeps some more. Papi sits by, idly, too far away to hear.

Mami becomes weary.

 

Become weary. Understand what it means to swell like water

Rise out of bed anyway, groan with heavy fingers and wake

your eyes free from the dirt of night. Smell the morning heat

and speak into the silence of you. Let your feet float

like mist off the side of the bed. Hollowed and wasted.

Give your brutal body a chance. It’s time.

 

Mami’s melodies break the silence

down the hall, echoing a call

that prompts the staff supervisor to come to her aide.

In English that cuts like grass, like an out of tune guitar,

Mami explains to the white woman:

“Baby! Es coming! Baby! ¡Estoy teniendo un bebe!”

 

“Baby,” he says, “Are you alright?” Lie.

Nod. Contemplate life, if only briefly. Breathe.

It’s coming, the pain that chokes you. Breathe.

This can’t last forever. Breathe.

Cradle yourself and breathe.

Think: you don’t have time to turn it all around today.

Work’s waiting your arrival.

 

I’m soon to arrive. Mami is in labor.

“Breathe,” the woman tells her.

Mami knows this can’t last forever. So she

breathes. The woman leaves to get Papi.

Mami swallows the pain and waddles

to the other side of the room, hands steady on the red brick wall,

and her water breaks like a river falling out of heaven,

as natural as heavy dew.

 

At daybreak, forgive the body that betrays you.

Rush to the bathroom and let a warm river fall. Breathe.

A sigh of relief. A sign of life. Hold your heavy hands steady.

Open a window and let the scent of jasmines smother you back to life.

 

The woman and Papi return.

Mami breathes a sigh of relief.

Their white and black and white and brown and black hands

smother themselves around Mami’s waist

to help her into the car. She breathes.

Two hours later, a sign of life emerges, they will name me Jasminne.

Now. It’s time.

 

Make a grand entrance into the world.


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Jasminne Mendez JASMINNE MENDEZ is an award winning author, performance poet and educator. She received her B.A. in English Literature and her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. Mendez has had poetry and memoir published both nationally and internationally and her first multi-genre memoir Island of Dreams was published by Floricanto Press was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. Recently, her personal essay "El Corte" received honorable mention in the Barry Lopez Creative Non-Fiction Prize in CutThroat, A Journal of the Arts and was published in their Best of CutThroat edition March 2016. She has shared the stage as a performance poet with world renowned authors Taylor Mali, Sandra Cisneros, Dagoberto Gilb, and Aamalia Ortiz. She is a 2016 VONA Alumni and a Macondo Fellow and she is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the Rainier Writer's Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.

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