The Boiler

Diannely Antigua

PORTRAIT OF EL JEFE
after Robin Coste Lewis

You were supposed to be only a photograph
on a wall. You were supposed to stay

in the frame until someone called your name, El Jefe,
until someone wrote the date

en La Era de Trujillo, summoned you
from a textbook or grave, chiseled out the bullets in your chest.

You are not art.
You reigned for 31 years, your face

in every living room above the mantle,
or watching families eat dinner, their faces

in bowls of rice. They didn’t meet your eyes
as they chewed, throats

already bruised from the inside out.
To say history is to name the flavor

of rust, the sound of perejil
on a Haitian tongue, the border

between teeth and tip.
I wasn’t born.

I was somewhere in my mother,
her 7-year-old body, my egg-face

hidden in the inner folds of skin. I was somewhere
in her hand, when she stitched together

a hole in the white tablecloth,
my grandmother’s back turned to your face.

I was somewhere in a finger prick,
when my mother rested the needle

on your wooden frame, thread
landing in air. I was her mouth, when she sucked

the blood, a tang of oatmeal and iron.
History was that she liked the taste, savor of a fat

hand. History was my grandmother,
when she saw the needle left behind. History

was the slap on my mother’s thigh. I was not
her tears when she heard you were killed.

I was not the bandaged
finger she used to wipe her eyes. I was not

the ground that refused your blood,
soil swallowing ipecac to vomit you out.


Diannely Antigua is a Dominican American poet and educator, born and raised in Massachusetts. She is currently an MFA candidate at New York University, a Squaw Valley Community of Writers fellow, and Associate Poetry Editor for BOAAT. Her book Ugly Music, forthcoming from YesYes Books, was chosen for the 2017 Pamet River Prize. Winner of the Bodega Poetry Contest, her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her poems can be found in Day One, Vinyl, Split Lip Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her heart is in Brooklyn.