Colombian Girl

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Yuli

You wanted to trade flags, Colombian girl,
when you were curious about Costa Rican
blood. You wondered, “How
big is Heredia? How far from San Jose?” You
were not bothered when I said
                         the roads are perennial
the people hold starved wallets and drink
only when it rains.
                         Your tongue would be out
if you were with them, sharing a toast
among tilted heads. You’d press your lips
against unwashed cheeks of babes
before teaching them how
            to talk.
                           You would feed them
like you fed Diego cake in Crosgrove’s
class, when you offered me a sliver, and asked
about the flag sewn onto my backpack—
sewn for five months, and you were
the first to ask about it, first to extend
a hand to the half-black mutt
and his weird friend, first
to offer us joyrides on your Yamaha
R6—to drift around potholes on Firestone
Boulevard—before the other kids asked for our
names.          Before the other kids even thought
to give us water
                         so we wouldn’t stand in the rain
                         for so long. 
You were the first to invite me 
                                        to speak when I conversed 
only with open lockers and empty bleachers,     
sputtering vowels with my tongue numbed  
from constant rest, and it took me several 
minutes to say a single word.    

I wanted to know more, Colombian girl,
in that instant you fixed my voice,
when I felt brave enough to raise
my flag until the Coat of Arms blotted the sun.
In that instant, I wanted to raise yours,
I wanted to ask, “How big is Pereira?”
And I don’t know why I waited nine
years until I thought to ask about Colombian
blood, but not before it was hosed off
the sideswiped shrapnel of your Yamaha R6,
its engine silent as your lungs,
torn by the gravel of the 405.

Marcus grew up in South Gate, CA, and graduated from CSU Long Beach in 2012 with a BA in English. While currently working on an MFA in poetry from the same university, he also tutors and runs composition workshops at Los Angeles Southwest College.