I stroke the wisps of hair on your head
and caress your soft and spoiled skin
as you suckle mi seno in our bed
to the soundtrack of crickets outside.
I think about how safe you are
thanks to a genetic lottery you won
a double helix laced with freedom
grown in my star-spangled matriz.
Hundreds of miles away,
at the edge of two countries
a swollen breast leaks like
el rio coursing between them.
A baby’s meal is interrupted
milk dribbles down her chin
as a pezón is pulled from her mouth and
she disappears into a stranger’s arms.
Her mother’s arms reach into empty air
before being forced behind her back
for the natural reaction to having her hija
literally torn from her body
the loving landscape she has known
and grown in for the past five months
soft curves that quench her thirst
and arms that cradle her con cariño.
My tears run as I hear
her hopeless howl ringing
in my ears as you slowly
drift off to sleep, soñando.
“Boys don’t cry because boys are tough.”
He wasn’t even two when my son first heard those words
thankfully spoken to someone else and in English
a language that was still foreign to his ears back then
but I remember thinking those words were a virus I didn’t want
my son to catch, not so early and not from someone so close.
I prayed he wasn’t listening, that it had gone over his head
as the tiger in my belly snapped to attention, ears up
rising on all fours, ready to roar and protect its cub
from the toxicity of swallowing feelings, keeping them in,
learning so young that emotional expression is only for girls.
But then I remember I’m surrounded by others who
accept this gendered lesson, who have passed it on
for generations, its harm unquestioned. I remember
my child is not its target, as much as I weep for her son
and the tears he will swallow for years to come.
And so the tiger sits on its haunches, bristling
growling its disapproval so low that no one can hear
as I hope that my son’s attention span is too short
to retain or remember the lesson taught
to another who can’t avoid learning it.
Eloísa Pérez-Lozano writes poems and essays about Mexican-American identity, motherhood, and women’s issues. She graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in psychology and an M.S. in journalism and mass communications. A 2016 Sundress Publications Best of the Net nominee, her work has been featured in The Texas Observer, Houston Chronicle, and Poets Reading the News, among others. She lives with her family in Houston, Texas.