“Say sorry to Mita,” my great-grandmother Mita says to me
and using poorly pronounced English words
because she never bothered to learn the language
after wagging tongues and jealous hearts relegated her to the Brooklyn projects 33 years ago

“Say sorry, Mita,” she says, but this time in Spanish
and even though her back is to me
I know she is serious because I can hear the smile on her face
and it makes me so nervous that I don’t notice I’ve wrapped the dish towel around my wrist until my hand becomes cold and purple

“Say sorry Mita, ju leetle sinverguenza, pendeja for estupidez!
Her sharp words slice through the pineapples on the tropical wallpaper
of her tiny dark kitchen
scattering drops of sweet juice on my cheek
and on one eyelash that dangles in front of my pupil
too afraid to fall off

“Say sorry, Mita” she says penultimately
Her voice as calm as Ismael Rivera’s singing “El Incomprendido” (the misunderstood)
that’s playing faintly on the tiny transistor radio that sits under the window to the world of noisy Wortman Avenue

I don’t respond
so she stops moving through her kitchen that smells of plantains and pork and of magic and love,
stops fluttering through the tiny space like an island butterfly flutters gracefully through dense bouquets of milkweed,
stops meticulously wrapping perfect pasteles without spilling one priceless drop of sauce
so that I can no longer glean her culinary secrets — gifts from my ancestors — borne from Mayaguez, 
and turns to me
smiling her smile that is as terrifying as it is a warm embrace that swaths me with tingles and awe,
her smile that burns the skin more than splatters of bacon grease
but makes the piña and Flor de Maga on the wallpaper lean in her direction,
her smile that stops the flicker of the kitchen light
but makes the cracks and peeling paint on the ceiling dance a sweet merengue,
her smile that is the fragile bridge on the roof between our two buildings that I am compelled to run across every day
afraid that I might step too hard on one of her jagged teeth
and into the abyss of her judgement
but eager to reach her because
it is Mita

“But, Mita, I —“

With fiery eyes locked onto mine
Stains of golden saffron and olive guts on her apron
And that familiar, stern yet tender smile on her brown skinned face
Mita extends her arm swiftly and unexpectedly as if the Goddess Nike of Apartment 6B
And flattens a roach on the tropical wallpaper
Without ever looking away

mi amor.”

And I do.
But I’m not.

Photo by alpay tonga on Unsplash

Kim Alvarez-Cazzetto

Kim Alvarez-Cazzetto is a proud Latina originally from Brooklyn, New York. She has received degrees in Creative Writing, English Literature, and Secondary Education from Hofstra University, as well as Educational Administration from the City University of New York at Hunter College.

After twenty years as an English Language Arts teacher, Kim was inspired by loss to embrace all that makes her heart beat beginning with poetry. In addition to poetry, she is now writing non-fiction, acting for film and tv, and reveling in every gorgeous moment of life.

Connect with Kim on Instagram at @kimcazzetto or kimalvarezcazzetto.com.