Marina Carreira

Four Poems

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Marina Carreira is a Luso-American writer from the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University and teaches at Essex County College and Kean University. Marina is curator of "Brick City Speaks", a monthly reading series at Hell's Kitchen Lounge in Newark, NJ. Her poems are featured or forthcoming in Naugatuck River Review and Paterson Literary Review.

Save the Bathwater

                           Human nature is like water.

                           It takes the shape of its container.

                                                   –Wallace Stevens


In America, people don’t bathe

in each other’s leftover water, but when

he was a boy the trough was emptied

after the last pig feeding, after his younger

brothers had their turn. His naked body  

would shiver something awful standing

in it. Three buckets of used water heated

by after-dinner fire— the rinse.

Avô’s wasted no water ever since. 


My skin cells, hair, and navel lint

floating around him didn’t matter.

This residue was a reminder

that I always woke up to bread,

that he sweat all day in the face

of a steam presser. With the same certainty

he knew birds flew further south,

trains arrived through Newark Penn Station

 with their usual hoot.

A little money was saved.


He sets a cup of water

on the night stand, considers

his shoddy leg, his wife’s cough:

the things water won’t wash off.








Even in the dark, I’m ashamed of my lemon breasts,

my peach-fuzzed midsection.  I want to go back

home to my father.  To my bed with the threadbare

blanket, the hand-carved cross over the headboard.

I want a God-fearing man, hands roughed by fields.


Augusto is a pretty boy with a new blue bicycle. 

He rides into the next town, buys all the things

my mother assures me will make for a good life.

But the patch of blood on the bed sheets promises

different, promises thorns no bread or gold can dull.



In America, I’m a maid at the Ramada , I

rent an apartment on Market Street. Broken English

and bad fruit. Pigeons as pets. My two children

in a one-bedroom. A Technicolor TV with antennas

sky-high. Double-locked doors. Barred windows.


An ironbound city, the unfamiliar cacophony: honks

of trailer horns, the bloody spur of factory smoke,

the brandied laughter of construction workers.  I try

to sing the lullaby I’d hum to my brothers in the dark

over the news anchor’s Más lluvia para mañana!




Tonight, my granddaughter sits in my kitchen

and considers the importance of bloodlines, waits

for the words to pop like champagne grapes.

Blood from my veins into her veins  

until we are both blue with life.  Outside, the song


gulls sing as they look for food separates the wind

from the hymn of pine needles.  She writes a poem

to remember me, to remember it all— sweat and tears,

Portuguese ancestry, and of course, blood, to run roots

through my future great-granddaughter’s bones.



Bodega Blues

                         You can tell a lot about a fella's character                                                                                             

                         by whether he picks out all of one color                                                                                                                    

                         or just grabs a handful. 

                                                  – Ronald Reagan





At age eight, sixty-one cents gets me

sixty-one Swedish fish. All the soft red

comfort I need after a day of the alphabet


in two languages and a lunch lady who deems

me “stocky enough” for one serving.  Half the red

gummies never see my grandmother's door


as I imagine them swimming in my stomach

like jarred fireflies. Sometimes I pull them

as far as they’ll stretch just to see if they shriek.


Other times, I swallow them whole to spare

their suffering, simultaneously punishing  myself

for my cruelty, my gelatinous gluttony. 


I never share, and Avô knows better than to ask

for one.  My medicine I say to his smirk as we turn

the corner, leaving Mr. Hidalgo to his crates of


penny candy,

bruised carrots, 

menthol cigarettes.





Mr. Hidalgo never questions why I stay

with my grandparents on the weekend. When Avó

is bleaching floors or smoking chouriça, I make


a run before dinner, before I know he’s ready 

to turn the hard plastic OPEN to CLOSED.

How much, nena he asks, as I spill whatever


leftover coins I’ve saved from school lunch.

Just enough, as I move pennies across

the scuffed grey counter.  He smiles slowly


as tea steam and tells me You’ve got the saddest

smile in the world. He bags my candy,

and I think how lucky the store cat’s got it:


sleeping on bread all day, ambivalent,

unstirred by broken glass, trickle down

economics, a forecasted long winter.



Haibun for Avó’s Body as an Old Yellow House


Hands— hardwood floors, knuckled, cracked, red, reeking: White Rose bleach, lemon 

Pledge. Purple spiders along the walls of her legs. The painting of Our Lady of Fatima 

hanging on her chest, breasts like potpourri petal baskets. Her belly— the hand-sewn 

pillow my head would rest on on lazy Saturday afternoons. With the shades at half-mast, 

her eyes— windows reflecting the dim living room lamp. The oven—her mouth, warm with 

tripe stew. The fleshy hallway between her thighs, now cold and dry. But the warm, 

honeyed scent of my mother’s blood haunts it.


Still, the heart-orchid blooms

and pulses

to the left of ribs.