AFTER ORLANDO

In memory of Sabas Espinosa 

It could have been my primo Sabas with a palindrome
for a first name to parallel the last name I still bear.
Sabitas, newly met by el jibarito with sad eyes and a
lisp still lingering like an albatross, the pecas across
the ridge of his nose like lady bug markings for luck
on one of those Montrose nights or that crazy day
at Escuelita in the Mission, because you were so
proud to be seen with me, your first cousin, a wan
androgynous yearling who almost always took the
frost-haired, Emo hippie girls in black Elvis Costello
glasses you assisted in the Westheimer salons to bed,
before you insisted on cutting my hair and then asked
me to play dress up for a photo shoot the last cougar
had organized to make sure I had a contact sheet and
you had more practice with the razor sharp scissors.
It could have been you if you had lived to see the days
beyond AZT scarcity and lives no longer laid waste
by the devastating effects of HIV. It might have been
you, and my eyes cloud over when I remember how
you spoke in whispers shaded by awe about your one
visit to Florida, about your disco dreams and the high
end estética you would open so I could come through
to curate art shows every three months, haircuts and
shrimp omelets for me and whichever compañera was
bold enough to brave the humidity included for free-99.
It would have been you, querido y extrañado primo mío,
there in Orlando with that melancholy caribeño on the
dance floor like the time in Austin when you saw a boy so
beautiful it made you cry because no one would ever look
at you that way and I bought us schnapps until you told me
it was no use and said I would never understand because
I was like that efebo who appeared and disappeared under
the strobe light. Walking out to Red River Street with my
arm around your shoulder, I told you how ashamed I felt
when the chickenhawks stared, and anyway, I added, if
your mother, my Tía Fela, had not broken my dad’s heart,
and he hadn’t paid her back by marrying her younger sister,
your Tía Julia, who people said I took after, you and I would
have been brothers and as my older brother is was your
job to be strong for both of us because the schnapps were
like fire in my panza and I wanted to find the woman from
Houston you’d driven in with. Today, I remember you, and
the gouache paintings you never framed for your someday
solo exhibit. Today, when dozens are buried after a horrible
night as hostages, I wish you were still here because it’s my
turn to cry, and I really don’t know how to stop these tears.


Abel Salas

Based in L.A., poet and journalist Abel Salas publishes and edits Brooklyn & Boyle, a monthly community arts paper. His poems have appeared in Zyzzyva, Huizache, Cipactli and Beltway Poetry Quarterly, as well Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press, 2016) and Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising From the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles (Tia Chucha Press, 2016). As a journalist, he has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, LA Weekly, Latina Magazine and The Austin Chronicle.

 

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