Two Poems by Claudia Rojas

LAS VIDAS

I’ve known soledad in the middle of noise,
days in which a heartbeat was a tease
but my Latinoamérica gets at the back
of my throat. I can’t get the lives out:

the old man who went to the mountain,
brought a rope to hang himself,
it wasn’t locura, it was a man
who couldn’t bear his tristeza

the adolescent girl who stood
on a chair and tied a noose
around her neck because nothing
was done about her violación

the boy who dreamed of becoming
a man of substance, stuck in the structure
of pandillas who pinned him
against a dirt road and threatened hell—

The bravest thing I’ve done
is call the police when the neighbors
escalated from throwing pots
to throwing curses thick in odio.

I don’t feel ready for this world
when mi gente / are your people / are people
who are dying. We dig graveyards,
water weeds instead of seedlings.

                                               

AMERICA WITH CANDY

America taught me in a second grade
classroom about the monarch
butterfly—its need to move its wings,

move across distances by instinct
and in groups, and not because its mother
wanted to flee the loss.

I learn that on Halloween, sugar
doesn’t cost a thing and in a convenience
store, find aisles of candy and a small stock

of costumes. I say, This is the one I want,
I haul Mom over: This is the princess
with a pumpkin for a carriage and glass slippers,

her magic hung inside the plastic bag,
and so I dress up as a Cinderella,
white gloves, light petticoat, cheap fabric

that make me feel like royalty.
At night, I hold an orange bucket in the shape
of a pumpkin to collect candy, follow

the crowd of princesses and superheroes,
watch mothers push baby carriages,
watch children run. I listen to the kids

ahead of us ask, How much did you get?
through laughter and screams. I say
to Mom, They went to that building,

 look at their candy. Come on!
I haul her over. Tonight, sugar
doesn’t cost a thing.

 Those Halloweens, I tasted
methods of magic. I am
a child of the distance,

the transition between butter-
fly and moth. Those dark nights,
I became attracted to art-

ificial light, attracted to the sugar
of youth. Those nights, I gathered candy
the way children collect laughter.


Claudia Rojas is a poet whose work has appeared in The Acentos Review, Poetry Is Dead, Argot Magazine, Litbreak Magazine, The Northern Virginia Review, and The Virginia Normal, among others. She received her BA in English from George Mason University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland. Claudia was awarded a Two Sylvias Press scholarship in 2017 and a Brooklyn Poets fellowship in 2018, and recently completed a youth programs fellowship with Split This Rock. She has collaborated with spoken word and performance writers within the Washington, D.C., community. An immigrant from El Salvador, Rojas uses her unique personal experience as a motive for community activism—she volunteers regularly and has been involved with both the National TPS Alliance and CARECEN.