Karina Billini


Brooklyn bred playwright and poet, Karina Billini allows the fast-paced urban playground of New York City to be her muse in creating new worlds on paper. A Bachelor’s in playwriting from Marymount Manhattan College, Billini has had her plays produced in Kingsborough Community College, Roy Arias Studios, and the Player’s Theatre in New York City. She has had her poetry published in the Marymount Review, The Burningword Magazine, and  other literary magazines. She is currently in the process of planning and hosting the first menstrual-themed poetry slam for the 2013 Society of Menstrual Research Convention in June.


Roadmaps for Mona Lisa’s Smile

Es privada, Mami says as she wraps her hands around the tattered leather briefcase that holds her important papers. As a little girl, I used to think Papa skinned a pig at his farm in D.R. to give her, his daughter—la doctora futura!—a homemade haven in which to carry her roadmaps to the human anatomy . Woman now, I know better. It’s Papi’s. The last artifact of a man she stopped practicing medicine for to dissect his words instead. She has saved the ancient briefcase from basement flooding in our Jersey townhouse and the closet black holes of Brooklyn apartments— 1-L, A-6, 2-K. As though it were made from his own skin and even in his unforgiving absence, she still confides within him.  

It’s private like the tight-lipped grin that carves into her wrinkled face as I ask her, what’s in it? But a Dominican Mona Lisa never tells.  She takes my question and buries it within her sunken eyes— just as she does with nosy girlfriends who come into the beat-up frame of her kitchen kingdom, flinch at its grease-stained walls, and asks—How  do you smile so much? It’s a secret. So she lets the Kool 100 cig play ping -pong across her lips; stifled snickers slip out her nostrils with secondhand smoke.  We breathe in and exhale laughs. It’s prrriiivate. Do you know what prrrivvaate is? Ayyy some things are not meant to be read, mija! She grips her leathered treasure chest tighter as she urges me to flesh out ideas she’s scribbled in her datebook—lines of poetry that stops her days from fusing into each other so they can really chase muse vida. Aqui en la pobreza de la poeta estan las cosas mas ricas, she exclaims— finding seeds of Broadway hits and timeless novels in the 9th and 28th of October. She urges me to write them because she thinks her English and spirit’s too broken, her fingers too old to make magic outside a saucepan and teapot.

I give her one condition. For her to let her “important papers” tell me the privacy of her kitchen kingdom—where she has build castles out of the debris of a failed marriage and the powerful pillars of poverty. Where, even on the throne of a wooden stool, she still writes prayers on coffee-stained napkins—silently for she wants no one to know she’s asking God for a little more money, a little more strength through my brother’s battle with Crohn’s, and for a simple hour to herself. Let her “important papers” tell me the privacy of her 4 A.M. baths. When her exhaustion is dissolved into gray soap suds, caked under her breasts so lightly, she hopefully checks for celestial hands.

Maybe I’ve looked inside already.  Royalty once told me that mujeres fuertes create exquisite women. And after a first period and great love, I’ve waited for her to knight me with her briefcase and show me the roadmaps of her Mona Lisa smiles. And inside, I’ve found them all yellowed with time and her forgiveness. Legal papers of a foreclosed home in Fort Lee. Papa’s death certificate. Letters addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Billini.  Father’s day and mother’s day cards from me to her. A leaf from every crappy apartment she made home.  Kinito’s colonoscopy results. Papi’s medical license.  Written-on napkins. Birth certificates for her six poets.

Mami covers her face. No one has looked at her smile for this long.

Fool’s Gold

Mami never taught me how to get out of the bed of a man I liked too much. So, here I am.

She should’ve warned me how easy I’d take your bed sheets as second skin, joyfully picking up your flakes of flesh because even pieces have to make whole eventually. Right? God, how good it feels! She should’ve warned me that I’d be your night patrol, sit at the edge of your lips—waiting for your sleep talk to tell me if I’m a lover or your woman. I’m still waiting.

Today, you grab body parts by handfuls. You put red victory flags on my thighs in the spirit of a toddler’s tantrum, exclaiming—mine mine mine. And I can’t take it. I can’t take the sound of your ceiling fan buzzing. It buzzes like the way Mami slurps dark coffee as she shaves the edges of blunt advice— Have some pride, mija. I can’t shake how Mami pronounces orgullo—how when the word lifts off her tongue, it sounds too much like fool’s gold.

I throw my clothes back on. I throw my clothes back on, snatching them from under you— letting them go off like mousetraps at each vertebrae of your spine. I throw my clothes back on. I throw them over my gilded armor, with morning sex still between my legs, with you naked—stunned and stupid. I throw my clothes back on like I’m putting out a fire, the fabric crackling and hissing—Fuck you. It’s over. It’s over. This is just smoke. This is a woman’s cry of wolf, howling from the pit of my stomach—

Tell me to stay. Before I slip another leg into denim, tell me to stay. Tell me you’d take my presence over my nudity. Tell me to stay. Before I raise this bra to my breasts, tell me to stay. Call me out on my bluff. Flip me over, see the Joker’s card, and crown me your queen. Tell me to stay.

You got nothing.

As I march down the streets of Broadway and my armor dilutes down to costume jewelry, you will watch me out your bedroom window—and let my name sit like a porcupine in your lungs, shooting out its quills at the threat of you feeling me out loud. You will pull your bed sheets off, polish your armor with it, and pocket away the thought of me in my polka-dot panties. You will pick up that guitar, pour my words into the sound hole, and let them down in frequency.

When I reach the train station, you will forget me. I know this.

Open the door. It’s me.

Love, Lucy

Lisa tells me you still got a belly the size of that old metal pot I would throw corn, papas, and sazon into and brew it till a bronze goo to pour into a yellow plastic bowl. You smacked, slurped, and sipped the soup of 3 hours I spent leaning over a hot stove, tipping over with a heavy heart and pouring ay amors. I never had a bowl of my own. I thought you living in Puerto Rico would make you flaco with all those pears and mangos hanging over your head, teasing you because they knew a fat boy when they see one and cono! You were a fat one! Pick the fruit! Pick the fruit! But you love the passion fruit, right Ray? I thought you’d be skinny like your brother, Mike, and the neighborhood kids would join in and make bets of how many ribs they can see through your t-shirt. They got to nine with Mike. He’s still the super of our old building. He made a dog house for his  pit bulls out in the courtyard with our old furniture—the maple living room set you cashed out your first paycheck because it will make us real Americanos. We would smell the scent of fresh wood, sit on our plastic-covered couch, watch I Love Lucy and take notes.  Bueno, Lisa tells me you still drink your Presidente beers, the ones you poured all over our fabricated American dream, the maple coffee table, the silk curtains, the china cabinet. Sometimes all over my red-dyed pelo that formed puddles of what looked like sangre. Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference.  All those tears for Puerto Rico. You were a brute and I still kissed your angry face and called you Mi Ricardo, ayyy mi Ricardo. Y que bruta fue yo that I still called you Ricardo as you wrapped my red hair in your hand with no expectations to let go.

I dyed it black when you left, Ray.

and then dyed it back to red.