The Magic in These Cans
by Maria Luisa Arroyo

Three years old, she lines up beer cans like blocks.
Her photo eyes — one red, one brown – peer over the tin border.
Mami y papi laugh so hard her pierced ears hurt.
She already knows that when she doesn’t fuss,
sits quietly in that short, powder-blue dress
that lets her legs stick to the cold metal chair,
they will forget her. And then she will feel safe.
Her sidelong glance wonders at the magic of these cans
that rattle like tinny maracas when she drops a few tabs in
and shake shakes shakes that magic that makes
mami y papi hug and kiss and talk and sing. Here,
but not at home. Where, even though
she already knows how to keep still.
Where, even though she knows how to swallow
words that usually bubble up like champagne
in children’s mouths, papi yells
and mami cries and papi spanks her
when she colors outside the lines or spills
her milk or uses too much toilet paper
or wets the bed. Her fingers gripping the table
edged in white ache to take
one of these magic cans home.

SOURCE: “The Magic in These Cans” appears in Maria Luisa Arroyo’s poetry collection Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras (Bilingual Review/Press, 2008).

PHOTOGRAPH: Maria Luisa Arroyo at age three.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Photos such as this one serve as a springboard into memory and imagination. Part of my process in writing this poem was to learn which voice would serve the poem best. At first, I wrote it in the first person, but it seemed too self-conscious. Then I wrote it in the second person, but then the narrator was called into question and drew attention away from instead of closer to the photo. In writing from the third person, I was still able to emulate the tone and observations of a child’s concrete descriptions and experiences without devolving into sentimentality.

MLA as PL Sept 2014

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A 2004 Massachusetts Poetry Fellow and the inaugural Poet Laureate of Springfield in 2014, María Luisa Arroyo’s poems are or will be published in many literary journals including The Más Tequila Review, CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, and WomenArts Quarterly Journal. Educated at Colby (BA), Tufts (MA) and Harvard (ABD) in German language and literature, Arroyo is a multilingual Puerto Rican poet who enjoys facilitating poetry workshops based on art, memory, objects of meaning, all of which serve to interrupt the realities of personal and historical erasure.