Ana Maria Caballero

Cauliflower á la Linnaeus 


Ana Maria Caballero was born in Miami but grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. She studies poetry at FIU, where she was runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Prize. In 2014 her collection "Entre domingo y domingo" won Colombia's José Manuel Arango National Poetry Prize. Finishing Line Press published "Mid-life," her first chapbook, in 2016. Her nonfiction manuscript, “A Petit Mal,” won the 2020 Beverly International Prize and will be published in 2022. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals and lives online at

I am active on social media as:Twitter: @theDSnotebookInstagram: @anamariacaballeroFacebook: @anamariacaballerobotero

There must be a right way to chop cauliflower,
a method that doesn’t spew a million tiny florets
all over the kitchen counter like so many clots
of beige blood bursting from a zero-gravity
wound, you see, I have this problem whereby I
can’t stand mess anymore—which is a problem
because Emerson says it’s a problem, this need
to categorize but I can’t help the desperation
I feel (which must look like rage to my children)
when I scrape burnt turmeric off of the stove before
I sitting down to eat—I know what you’re thinking—
why not heat up tortillas, but I have this other
problem, which is, I crave tikka masala a few
times per week, and that’s a problem because Goethe
says it’s a problem, this need of my mind to live
full at all cost, so I mince ginger and onion though
the skins and rinds drive me nuts, even crazier I’ll
over-sprinkle cumin and coriander until they spray
outside of the pan (because come on live a little)
but then immediately I must wipe it up, and so I
wonder if I’m the evil character from a Telemundo
soap opera who cannot just chill and grill up tortillas
but must make a mess of other people’s lives—
"other people’s lives” here a metaphor for tikka masala
(but you got that, of course)—and the mess in my
kitchen isn’t so bad as the rush in my brain to tidy it
up, not as bad as how my opposing problems
collide: my desire for explosive mixtures of spices
bang (!) against my need for impeccable counters—
you see now why I turn and return to Linnaeus,
who proved it’s ok to sort every crumb
while concocting a completely unsortable life.


My grandmother and toddler daughter like to doze off together to the sound of TV
after lunch.

Look at them now, napping on the tarmac grey couch. 

Nina in her yellow Journey shirt and whimsy-printed panties, face down, occupying
space like dropped cutlery.

Estelita guards her posture. You’d hardly suspect she snores (though she does).
Elbows curled about her, positioned in the corner like a minor museum artifact—the
kind none would bother to re-catalogue. 

I watch them from the kitchen counter while I sip soup and answer emails with a
wrung spine. Yes. Okay. But first.

It’s a simple scene—the one I’ve drawn for you. If it wasn’t for the movie playing on
TV, I would’ve never turned it into this poem.

La isla de las mujeres (The Island of the Women).

A 1953 black and white Mexican film Estelita found on Univisión. The movie’s unreal
world is governed by women: men are forced to pound clothes clean, soothe
bellowing babies, pulverize spice with mortars. Naturally, they—the men—revolt.

Three out of four generations of our women occupy the realm of my kitchen.

Estelita, ninety something (of her years no one is certain), left an alcoholic husband in
Colombia to raise six children alone in South Florida. My mother, nearly seventy,
cares for my father, whose mind was swallowed by a drunken slip. And I, forty,
winching two companies from the gulf of my brother’s avarice.

I cannot recall Nina as a baby, I tell you. Cannot.

I get up to turn the TV off, but I don’t. Instead, I assume my place between the
resting bodies and watch the men revolt.


The Waiting 

Twenty-six weeks ago, you entered my belly as an invisible coin.
Now I bump into walls with your bulk,
spill soup on you,
prop my elbows across your arched loins.
Nina, our space is this—
this one evening as minute in a moonlit room.
I invite you to take over as you do,
exhaust me as you do.
Fourteen more weeks,
to crowd my organs flat,
to know absolute privacy,
to witness the secret of my swollen eye,
to collect my voice with the web of your hands.
tú, yo, tuyo
Only once will I allow you to see this, Nina—
this one collapse by the cage of your crib.
Is my shaking waking you?
Don’t think it common:
it is just the waiting that does this.
Not for you—
For me.
I wait for me.
For the mother in me to take care of me.
To birth me and bathe me and put me to sleep,
in your room—where the moon primes my womb,
so I may rise to receive you
reliable as a worn wooden spoon.


© The Acentos Review 2021