piri thomas

April 21, 2012

i’ve been meaning to write to you since i learned that you had your homecoming. when i read of your passing i was overwhelmed with sadness. and i wanted to write but i couldn’t. it was as if my pen needed to mourn. so i turned to my bookshelf and reached for the autographed copy of “down these mean streets.” i opened the book and skimmed through it. read a few lines and recalled that first time.

your book was the first time i read a book cover to cover in one sitting. there was something so magnetic about that book. i couldn’t put it down. i didn’t want to be interrupted. i felt hypnotized.

by this age (i was 15), i had read a few books. i was always reading. it all started with judy blume, then the babysitter’s club, then things started getting a little more mature. i read “where the red fern grows,” and “flowers for algernon” and “catcher in the rye” and then classics came in to play (pun intended) with shakespeare’s “macbeth,” et. al. And in between all of these, my grandmother would have me reading the bible to her in Spanish.

i can tell you what i liked and didn’t like about all of those books… but when i was 15 it was your book that made me want to do more than just read, i wanted to write. see piri, your book was home. literally, you where writing about my home.i found what el barrio feels like, tastes like, sounds like in each of your pages. i could relate to so many parts of it even though your book was written more than twenty years before it reached my hand. it made me both happy and sad. i was happy because i could read a book that talked to the realities of our lives but sad because that reality was still very similar to the same el barrio, when your book reached my hands.

i loved your book. even the weight of it was perfect in my hands. with every page, i turned the corners of my streets. every chapter in your book was a new-york-city block, building projects that were never projected to amount to much. there are so many beautiful stories in our documentary filmed ‘hood.

when i had the chance to meet you and hear you read in 2000, i was “star struck.”

your swag was lyrical.
to the evolution of my poetic soul.
i knew my story must be shared
because i had nothing to be ashamed of.

yes, these streets are mean, but our stories made them sweet.

you survived. i survived. we survived.
the stats were against us. but the strength of a pen
is powerful. makes you feel like you’re on the roof top of taino towers
overlooking the willis avenue bridge.

today, i light a candle to your light.
thank you for shining so bright on this earth.
you will always be un rey del barrio.

will & testament

January 12, 2012

on may 3, 1993
abuela had her homecoming.
at the time of her death,
eight of her eleven children
were alive.

they headed
to her one bedroom
apartment on the 4th floor
of 1295 amsterdam ave.

her silver spoon collection
had airline logos. so did
some of her plates.

she had seventeen jars
filled with buttons.
she fastened love
on coats, and hats, and gloves
that kept us warm.

each of her daughters
kept one of her batas.
my mother kept a red wool
bandana she wore around
her head all-winter.

one of my uncles
just wanted the cassette tapes
where she recorded herself
singing church music.

they found ten dollar bills
wrapped in napkins in all sorts of places:
in pockets, in books, in vases.
almost a thousand dollars…
it was used to fly her body
to Puerto Rico.

my mother kept a hairbrush
(hairs included). the siblings split
up photo albums. her rocking chair
was the most coveted item…
her “favorite” son got to keep that.

trinkets. figurines. plants.
pots. pans. mugs. furniture.
they all wanted something
tangible to hold on to…

when our parents die
there are no assets to discuss.
no lawyer who will ask
to sign the dotted line.

our inheritance is debt.
the heirlooms
are untangibles:

memories. lessons. Love.

i’ve forgotten the sound
of my grandmother’s voice.
‘cept i remember the raspiness
of it like an old friend.

i remember her words.
no matter how harsh their truth,
her advice was always gentle.
i cannot forget her faith,
it was unshakeable.

if it took a while to see better days,
my grandmother created them
through laughter.

she had a noncupative
will & testament:

her will was that we remain a close family.
her testament was the way she lived her life:
humble. honest. faithFULL.

may i always honor her will and may my life be an extension of her testament.



April 9, 2011

at the dock
we waited

one long horn sounds…

tears filled our eyes.

it’s the sound that lets us know

and you are.

you are their home.
your presence
is home.

i realized it when she ran to you
hugged you. holding on to you.
not wanting to let go. she cried.
she couldn’t help it. in your homecoming
she was also home.

you looked at them
noticed how much they’ve grown:
how she’s inched closer to the skies,
how his facial hair is softly showing,
how the little one has so much to say.

and then… with the tenderness of a gentleman
you kissed your wife.  she, all the while waiting patiently.

that’s how she’s been since you’ve been gone
waiting… patiently.
holding the family together. missing every minute of you.

her strength deserves a uniform flanked with ranks
that admirals have yet to receive.
i watched her during your time away.
she fought wars here. launched her own missiles at days
that without you, seemed eternal.
she earns a medal of honor
for strength and courage
under fire without a crew.

your homecoming…is theirs also.

~Sarahí Yajaira, 2011 ©

writer’s note: welcome home walker-herrera family. thank you for your service and sacrifice.