Roberto Santiago


Roberto F. Santiago received an MSW from UC Berkeley and MFA from Rutgers University. His work has appeared in ApogeeAnomalyNinth Letter, and Foglifter. Roberto was awarded the Alfred C. Carey Prize and has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, CantoMundo, Community of Writers, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Lambda Literary Foundation. His debut collection, Angel Park (2015), appeared on the LA Times list of 23 Essential New Books by Latino Poets and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. His second collection, LIKE SUGAR, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press. Roberto lives in San Francisco, where he works as a social worker and hosts SuciaAF, a queer Latinx dance party.

IG - @therfsantiago

Right of Way


When I was eleven, a blue&white cruiser hopped the curb onto the Grand Concourse.
There were no sirens. It was a getaway. 

When I was eleven, I was the victim of a hit&run. An omission of
guilt. The consequences of being the brown son of a brown mom in the South Bronx. 

When I was eleven, those officers acted like a man on Maury
after the manila envelope bastardized a child.  

Fled like a teen father is taught, or a quitter is known, or something lesser: an inanimate,
small pain ordinary like the inevitability of. 

My bike was shiny and blue and fast, too.
Standing at that crosswalk I waited for the red to green.

Pushed off to get home for dinner.
I remember the impact, the speed, the welling of my eyes. 

There was more silence than there was anything,
Until I noticed the left handlebar welded into my upper thigh.          

I had the right of way.
I had just gotten that bike.
I didn't ride much after that.
Not for a couple of years.
I was convinced I forgot. But I didn’t.
My uncle taught me off training wheels in front of our building.
I remember it and him.
My Uncle died last year.
But he had been dead for many years prior. 

One time, in his bedroom, he held a gold bullet.
Small, but heavy in his left hand.
He painted the name of a woman that never loved him back on it
with a bottle of white nail polish she left behind.
That night he called for his mother and I in the other room
and she and I entered his smoke cloud of a room.
He showed us the bullet and its vowels still wet
from cursive. We watched him load her name                       into the pistol.
The same one he kept under his pillow.
The same one he holstered at his hip when he was a detective.
He raised the name to his temple.      Smiled.            I heard             the name         whiz through
him like a case of cheap beer.                      He lived.             Sort of.

Sometimes I sit
in my tub and stare
at that honch of loose meat and bone.
I cannot find my bike scar,
but I know it is as there
as anything that ever was.      
Deep beneath the iodine. Deep as sin
whenever a cop whizzes by me.
Or one does something shitty on the news.
Or whenever I am being told what to do by a man in dark blue pants.




all my life i’ve been made to feel
as if there was something wrong
with me    
  something broken
unfinished / i was /taught to hold my anger
in my two hands / call it prayer              
pray it into penance / a secret
something i had to be ashamed of
men taught me: not to cry
                         crying is for women
                                             women are less than
                                             woman is made for man                                       
                                                   to lie with a man as woman meant I was less than
women taught me: faith / to have it
                              faith in no-good men          
                              faith en la familia
                              faith i’d get out of / wherever the fuck  i was /  one day  soon
                              faith in a higher power / patient enough / for us / to get it right 
                                    before our final days        
faith taught me: to keep secrets
                                    secrets taught me to lie to people
                                                                               people i love
                                                                               people i love / leave
                                                             too soon / people i love / never knew the truth
growing up &being taught you’re broken is corrosive
it burns / deep /
eating away / rust-red / it starts
at the wrists / where pulse becomes fist
balled up / like kleenex / sometimes crying is
the only way / to let out the poison / sometimes violence is
growing up / i had to /quickly /
growing up / i had to / raise others
onto pedestals / high / higher / & so high
their rights negated my own
&my wrongs carried loftier sentences
&worse conditions in schools / parks / hospitals / housing
`til they deem our homes fit for their consumption        
keeping my rage / a secret / made me think i was dirty
i pushed it down / hid from myself / from my power 
like women / & queer people of color / have been taught
for thinking about rights / &love / &how it feels
to love someone down to nothing
i don’t remember much / about how i wound up / in anger management / but
the counselor told me:   i ran after a bigot boy in gymshorts       
                                    carrying brandishing a hockey stick
                                    i explained shouted i couldn't take it any more  
                                    i launched the puck across the field and smashed through
                                    his shitty smirk face     
i remember       his taunts         
                        his laugh                                                                                                                                                        
                                    his head bouncing off the grass    
i don’t remember raising the stick i don’t, but i wish i did           
anger management blamed me / for my circumstances
tattooed me weak / dirty / broken
absolved him of his wickedness/ punished me
for my anger / but it never left /
i kept it / because that shit is mine

© The Acentos Review 2020