I haven't been hungry in months. I was digging
the hardened soil behind my apartment,
determined to make a garden. While I pulled roots
and defined a border with rocks, you stood
at the edge of my plot, clutching your story
in your fist like a ragged hat.
I was a neghbor who kept to herself,
but you told me about a recurring nightmare
in which you go home to San Juan
and find your family name erased
from the phone book; and no matter how many days
you walk through the city, you can't find
the street where you lived as a child.
While I went on digging, you spoke of the job
you didn't have, the days you passed from hand to hand--
tickets to a concert taking place elsewhere.
Finally you told me again how little you ate,
meticulously listing the foods
that had grown tasteless in your mouth:
chicken, mofongo, even the bitter grapefruit.
Two days later you jammed a .22 into your mouth,
determined, at last, to taste. But I could not listen
to the talk that followed your death,
without thinking about the stealthy garden
that was beginning to grow in your absence.
I thought of the tomatoes' red perfection and the taste
of dirt I could not wash from the carrots.
I saw the small boys who pilfered my cucumbers
and the best of the watermelons;
I heard their laughter as they spit out the seeds.
I remembered the day you spoke to me
as the soil lodged beneath my fingernails.
I scrubbed and scrubbed my hands for months,
but in dreams, I turned the earth again.
In dreams your words returned with the dirt
and the shape of the hoe in my hand.
In dreams you are still walking,
searching for the street of your childhood.
Sometimes you come to the edge of my garden,
looking as if your hunger has finally returned,
and I know that no matter how much food I grow,
it will never be enough.