Poem: We Laughed and Laughed
As a girl, I shared a game with my abuela played it every time she visited or I visited her probably even into my early teens. She would grab my hands, palms together making what she called a "hand sandwich." Then I would laugh, even when it was no longer funny as she pretended to eat it, gobble, gobble. We laughed and laughed. She would say "look at how tall you are compared to me; You're as pretty as can be." I would see something I liked She would say, "I'll buy it for you, no matter the price." "No, no, abuela, it's ok, I was just saying it was nice." I learned to choose my words as to not take advantage of her generosity. We laughed and laughed. She tried to teach me to knit with her broken English and the "pearl" that was a "pear." "I have to make a pee-pee," she'd say and doing the cha-cha, she showed me how to sway. She loved Uno, yes she did, even when she snored through her bid. We laughed and laughed. She tied a knot and prayed we'd find that thing we'd lost Guava paste in a circular can complete with crackers and cheese She talked and talked till our ears were blue We laughed and laughed. The day came when she became sick They say the chemicals from screen printing hit her, even if not quick The cancer came and she began to wither away. My abuela, I realized, would not be here to stay. She saw snakes and thought her nurse stole from her. I chose to speak only in Spanish, those short months but a blur. My last visit we talked about God and the Bible. We laughed and laughed. She's gone now yet here to stay Her orchid refusing to decay. She lives on in our laughs and joy Her tenacity for life left to enjoy. I miss her and wish she was here Even though I glimpse her through my tears Dancing with worship in her tongue Imagine I did not, it was Ecuador she did come. Now twelve years from her burial tears not so frequent but found me on the pier Orchids in my bouquet, my dad stepped in and almost tears we shared I was beautiful, and she was there My dad felt her too Laughter not there but in the air. Her words and life left for me She says, "it's ok, carry my legacy." Dear Cristinita, I know you as this I did not call, but I know you heard me in them all Those women who loved you so, "Mi reina, mi amor" I'm so proud of you and hear you speak Bien clarita, they don't understand. It's ok, mi amor, show them how you stand. Stand tall even though you're not. You are you, be only that. You share my blood and resemble me In stature, dance, and your joy to be. I told you not to marry a mama's boy You did and you didn't, he is a joy. Don't let life pull you down, lighten up and wipe that frown. Life's too precious to worry too much Brighten others' days with your touch. Share your love and connect Be that glue that won't infect won't break or tear with wear Remembering that family will always be there. Don't take them for granted Even when you feel you're implanted. Remember from where you've come Let your faith speak for itself and keep in prayer with the Word near. Let your inhibitions go, and if need be, dance on the table, wine in hand. Continue to speak our language and love with open arms Embrace and love your husband, don't fall into arguing like I did. Love your children with all your heart Help them be proud of who they are. Be tenacious and stubborn when it counts. Don't give up even when a challenge mounts. People may not notice the color of your skin or understand all the worlds you've lived in. You don't need to always explain People will know and understand in time. Some will be harder to untrain. But it's ok, I've left you my craft Above all, just remember to laugh, and laugh.
I felt inspired to write this poem about my abuela, my paternal grandma, in March of 2012. It is modeled after "Knock Knock" by Daniel Beaty. Though it’s been 17 years since she passed, her legacy will always remain. When my husband and I married, we both changed our last names to Martinez-Williams so that our children would remember all that is a part of their multi-ethnic and cultural heritage. Our eldest daughter’s middle name is Mercedes, after my abuela; and I’ve chosen to pass on her native tongue, Spanish, by speaking it exclusively to my daughters. To all for whom she was dear, her laughter, and her love, will forever be near.
Christina Martinez-Williams coaches teachers in DC part-time while staying home with her two young daughters the rest of the time. She also runs an organization called Syngenuity Circles that connects women across differences using photos as conversation starters. Christina lives in south Fort Washington with her husband and daughters.