Teeth

Edited by Julia Rios

January 2019

Listen to this story, narrated by Carlos Hernández:

I.

No matter what they tell you, mami,
what comes for you in the middle of the night
does not leave you live and languid
and stretching your neck again in offer.

The love bite promising sparkly immortality
is storytime for stateside cousins,
adolescent blanquitas whose notions
are charming but clueless.

For us, bedtime tales also have teeth —
but bone-crushing blunts
along with the sharps.
There is grinding involved
and the long rasp
of flat on flat.

At the end of our stories,
we don’t become the undead
just the left-for-dead.

Arte salva vidas, says the brooch
I wear on my lapel.
Art saves lives. Or maybe
art is the buoy
to hold us above rough waters.
I believe this.

But I also know the chupacabras,
vampires, bloodsuckers, monsters of catastrophe
that are our days and nights,
hold no regard for art
or people.

They throw no floatation device,
offer only paper
to mop up the flood.

Their teeth
are cut to the shape
of our lives,
of our terrors.

I want to remember the dead.
I want to remember the living.
I want to rally, like la gente always rallies —
loud, demanding and in rhyme:

No somos uno,
no somos cien,
somos miles,
cuentenos bien.


II.

Some inheritances
can be measured by bite.

I remember
that neck of land,
my mother’s country,
shaken by its throat.

During the civil wars
they used to find bodies
as others would berries —
a monster’s red mouthful
hidden among leaves.

Today, the monsters move in packs,
gang up on their prey.

But know this —
chupacabras aren’t native
to Central America.
And if they’ve become familiar legend,
credit goes to U.S. manufacture
and import deals.

Look, here are the people.
Here are the tender aged.
Here are the deportation orphans.

They fled from mara chupacabra
in the Northern Triangle,
to our borders and found
ICE chupacabra,
border patrol chupacabra,
zero tolerance chupacabra.

We need a new collective noun
for this conspiracy of bloodsuckers.

I count years, I count threads
of white hair in black.
I’ve learned a new language,
learned it so well you might be tempted
to think I’ve forgotten words
in the mother tongue.

But where does the tongue reside
if not behind teeth?

I bare them
when I grimace,
when I cry,
when I promise:

De norte a sur,
de este a oeste,
esta lucha sigue
cueste lo que cueste.


III.

“Careful, boys.
There’s a reason Suffolk County
is nicknamed
suffering folks county.”

The jobber’s words ring with the cadence
of Michoacán, Guerrero, Puebla,
Oaxaca or Chiapas.

“You’ve heard of the chupacabras?”

His workers,
all immigrants like him,
nod.

In Suffolk County, New York
they’ve seen the bloodsuckers
(young, pale, hairless) spoiling
for a deadly Beaner hunt.
In Boston’s Suffolk County
they’ve noticed the monsters are
older, but just as vicious —
pissing on their prey
before the beat down.

And the workers know
there’s a corral for immigrants
in every Suffolk County in the nation.
Cages, kennels. coops
and pens meant for them.

“They think we are animals,”
the workers say, “They think
we are their livestock.”

And, yes, here it is,
a label under all the other labels:
Chivos expiatorios, it says.
Scapegoats.

On the early bus, our eyes meet.
We stare too long
shellshocked by our survival.
During the vigil, we hold our candles
side by side while we pray
this rosary of steadfast
defiance:

Aquí estamos,
y no nos vamos.
Y no nos echan
porque peleamos.


IV.

I light a candle and recall
the archangel’s prayer.

St. Michael, here’s your cue.
This is the lethal enemy,
this is the dragon of hate
you were meant to stomp.

Evil doesn’t sport horns
or a forked tail these days.
You will know it by its teeth —
canines, incisors, carnassials —
meant for ripping out the heart.

You will recognize it
by how it destroys asylum,
denies sanctuary,
divides families.

Beat your wings,
beloved archangel.
Unsheath a blade.
Deliver us
from this evil.

Let us pray:

La lucha migrante,
siempre por delante.

Familias unidas,
no divididas.

Trump, sin nada,
se va a la chingada.


V.

No one can shout
without showing teeth.

Shout for independence —
Grito de Dolores,
Grito de Capotillo,
Grito de Yara,
Grito de Lares.

Shout for freedom —
Shut down Berks Residential,
Shut down Broward Transitional,
Shut down Tornillo Temporary,
Shut down Eloy, Karnes, Varick,
York and Dilley

At Maricopa,
we shout:

Uno
¡ilegal ninguno! Dos
¡tenemos voz!
Tres ¡marchando nos ves!

And later:

Ya cayó,
ya cayó,
Arpaio ya cayó

when the bloodsucking
sheriff of that county
finally goes down.

That monster has
hunted in Arizona
for two decades.

Anglo deputies
and townspeople
who cheered his tent prison
and parade of shackled immigrants,
wait for the shouting
to die down
before checking
his balloon effigy.

They worry about what it means
that this thin-skinned,
vinyl semblance
has deflated.

That it is bitten all over,
and punctured clear
through.

They worry
that we are angry.

They worry
that we will want
to topple other
over-inflated figures.

They worry
that we will open
our mouths
again

and show them
we have teeth
too.

¿Se puede?
Sí, se puede.

© 2019 Sabrina Vourvoulias

About the author

Sabrina Vourvoulias

Sabrina Vourvoulias is an award-winning Latina journalist whose work has appeared at PRI’s The World, The Guardian US, Philly.com and Philadelphia Magazine, among others. After years of adhering to AP style, and juggling the conventions of English- and Spanish-language journalism, she turned to speculative fiction. Her short fiction has appeared at Uncanny Magazine, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, GUD Magazine, Crossed Genres, and upcoming in Apex Magazine, as well as in numerous anthologies. She is also the author of Ink, a near-future, immigration-centered dystopia which draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict, and of the Latinx experience in the United States. It was named to Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012, and was reissued by Rosarium Publishing in September 2018.

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