From the Archive: “Alba for Donatila,” by Virgil Suarez

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“Alba for Donatila,” by Virgil Suarez, appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of MQR.

In her clapboard house with hard-packed dirt floors.
In this place of ghostly waking, my grandmother
    rises from dark slumber, already dressed, her hair
    combed over each ear, held by minnow silver

hair pins, her eyes already accustomed to light.
    She moves about the kitchen quietly, but efficiently,
lifts a pan here, lights the small gas burner, readies
    the coffee pot, travels up and down the hallway

straightening up the house, a load of laundry.
    The sunlight flecking in through the slit curtains,
these slivers of early brilliance. I catch up with her
    in the kitchen where she bends and kisses my head,

wipes the sleep-crusties from the corners of my eyes
    so I can see better, para que mires mejor, she says.
I ask her why it is that I can never beat her to waking,
    and she smiles because she knows I’ve been trying.

There are things to be done in a house before everyone
    awakes, and she wants to do it undisturbed. She loves
to open the kitchen door, breathe gardenia-scented air,
    feed old rice to the chickens and guinea fowl that live
wild on her property. She draws the well water,
    soaks her hands in it as if to cool them, ready them
for so much work. She teaches me how to brew
    coffee through a sock, this upside down billowed

funnel with the steady stream of coffee-water
    flowing through it, its sound hitting the tin cup
underneath. I sit on a cowhide chair and dangle
    my feet from the edges. The cracks on the floor

are stories, I think, of rivers, of how many times
    my grandmother has risen, so many mornings like
this one, and the next, when she knows, like I do,
    that the world is full of possibility, a day’s good work

ahead. In this place of dusty floors, cracked boards,
    my grandmother’s coffee rises heavenward like spirits.

Image: Sanchez, Emilio. “Rincón de Cuba.” Mid 20th century. Lithograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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