Ode to the Little "r"

Aracelis Girmay

Little propeller
working between
the two fields of my a’s,
making my name
a small boat
that leaves the port
of old San Juan
or Ponce,
with my grandfather,
Miguel, on a boat,
or in an airplane,
with a hundred or so
others, leaving the island
for work, cities,
in winters that would break
their bones, make old,
old men out of all of them,
factory workers, domino
players, little islands themselves
who would eat & be eaten by Chicago,
New York, the wars
they fought without
being able to vote for
the president. Little propeller
of their names: Francisco,
Reymundo, Arelis, Margarita,
Hernán, Roberto, Reina.
Little propeller of our names
delivering the cargo of blood
to the streets of Holyoke,
Brooklyn, New London,
Ojai, where the teacher says,
“Say your name?” sweetly,
& the beautiful propeller
working between
the two fields of my a’s
& the teacher saying, “Oh!
You mean, ‘Are-Raw-Sell-Lease.’”
Or “Robe-Bert-Toe”
or “Marred-Guh-Reetuh, like
the drink!” & the “r”
sounding like a balloon
deflating in the room, sad
& sagging. I am hurt.
It is as if I handed her
all my familiar trees & flowers,
every drawing of the family map
& boats & airplanes & cuatros
& coquis, & she used her English
to make an axe & tried to chop
them down. But, “r,” little propeller 
of my name, small & beautiful monster
changing shapes, you win. You fly
around the room, little bee, upsetting
the teacher & making all of Class-310A laugh,
you fly over the yard, in our mouths,
as our bodies make airplanes over the grass,
you, little propeller, are taking over the city,
you are the sound of cars racing, the sound
of bicycle spokes fitted with playing cards
to make it sound like we are going fast,
this is our ode to you, little “r,” little
machine of our names, simple
as a heart, just working, always,
there when we go to the grocery,
there in the songs
we sing in our sleep.