David de Leon

Two Poems


David is a Puerto Rican writer, academic, musician, and theater artist originally from New Jersey. His poetry has appeared in magazines like Fence, Diagram, Rattle, Bat City Review, The Cortland Review, and 2River View, and prose in Strange Horizons. David has received aid from Tin House and Fine Arts Work Center. He is a PhD candidate in English at Yale university, and lives in Queens. http://davidmdeleon.com


Is the water forgetting or is it our only memory?

I don’t know.


My country came up from the sea.

To the Europeans it came up from the sea.


Before this it was not country.

Its long name was beneath nations.


They plied it with ships like snakes.

They plied it with planes like snakes.


They plied it with names.

And it was theirs.


Except this word, which is the land.

An old and jagged word.


Not the first, but first of the last.

The last of the continent of the sea, which is or is not memory.


The cats live on this word blithely aware.

They lap at it with rough tongues.


As we live for a time beneath the house of the god of storms.


Of the Lion

When my grandfather Herman de León (Papo) came to New York he decided to be American.

He would be a Yankees fan. He would speak Spanish with an American accent.

He gave his name as “Deleon.”

“Deleon” rhymes with “to pee on.”


My father, who speaks no Spanish, changed it to deLeón.

This doesn’t rhyme with anything.

He wasn’t picky about the space.


My birth certificate says “de León”

My passport says “DELEON”


Herman grew up in El Barrio (East Harlem).

He had been a marine in the Korean war but never saw action.

He told us war stories and barrio stories that were equally implausible.

He wasn’t a liar.

Like me, he was an honest exaggerator.


Papo had a double bypass surgery in his 50s.

His favorite thing to do was to take his shirt off and show people his scars.


Papo always said he would retire to the island.

He would get a house with a porch and sit there in his hat and listen to the baseball game on a portable radio.

He would play dominoes and Alicia would play spades.

He would put up a flag that said “Yankee Go Home.”


Herman died in Florida.


Herman moved to Florida because Alicia’s condition was getting worse. She was always complaining about the cold.

When they moved to Florida she still complained about the cold.


Herman’s diabetes got worse too.

Last time I visited him he’d lost feeling in his leg.

He had fastened up his socks with safety pins.

My cousin pointed out that the safety pin was going through his skin and he was bleeding.


Later they amputated the leg.


Later he couldn’t take care of Alicia anymore. They went to separate nursing homes.

My father would visit him. All he would talk about was Alicia (“my princess”).

On one of his last visits my father put Herman in the car and drove him to see Alicia.

They met, they cried (“my princess”).

I don’t know if she remembered him.


The last holiday dinner my family had together I remember us all picking on each other.

My father told us how strict Papo used to be.

He confessed how often he disobeyed him without him knowing.

He would sneak out constantly.

Herman and Alicia laughed.

Herman told us how when my father turned 18 they told him they were moving.

My father had a week to pack up and find a new place to live.

My father laughed.


When Herman died my father and I went down to Florida. My aunt (Titi Debbie) was there already.

We didn’t know what to do.

Herman had no family or friends in Florida.

Also we were broke.


The man at the funeral home explained all of our options, each more expensive.

We kept saying yeah, but.

We talked him down. We did the bare minimum. No viewing. No embalming.

Herman would be cremated without ceremony.

Debbie would pick up the ashes.


My father had to tell family back on the island, including Papo’s sister.

My father said they knew before he could say anything.

He listened to them cry.


When the funeral director found out Papo was a veteran he said that he was granted a free plot and a volunteer 21-gun salute.

But the logistics were too difficult. And we were only in town a few days.

Instead my father picked out an urn with the marines logo on it.


The only time I almost broke down was seeing that urn.

Not anything about it. It was a fine urn. The marines logo was a bit gauche.

It was the fact of it.

The finality.

This was to be the extent of my grandfather.


I kept it together.


The only time my father almost broke down was on the way back to the car.

He said to no one, “I never got to say goodbye.”


I said, we can still go back and have a viewing. We can afford it.

He looked at me. His eyes were red.

He shook his head as if to say, you don’t get it.

He never got to say goodbye.

He’ll never get to say goodbye.


Debbie picked up the ashes. Then Debbie lost them.

© The Acentos Review 2019