Raina J. León, PhD

Raina J. León, PhD is Afro-Boricua and from Philadelphia. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Canticle of Idols, Boogeyman Dawn, and sombra: dis(locate) and the chapbooks, profeta without refuge and Areyto to Atabey: Essays on the Mother(ing) Self. Her poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and scholarly work has been published in well over 100 journals and anthologies. She also is a founding editor of The Acentos Review. She educates our present and future agitators/educators as a full professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California, only the third Black person (all Black women) and the first Afro-Latina to achieve that rank there.


after my first, they said,
track marks
as in
he came so fast he left
track marks. not skid.

within a few weeks
i stopped bleeding
a healed highway
smooth flesh in rain
skid or addict lane?

after my second, they said
a small tear
stitch or silver nitrate

and i chose the chemical
it didn’t burn
a newborn a kind a balm

weeks again
a highway again
this time pitted and raw
i know exactly where the tear was
no one will exam me
a body is always contagion
the midwife gives me
a recommendation for a doctor
who will pat my hand
there there
there’s no pain now, right?

and also not exam the damned spot

the first time
it is a physical therapist
amazed at ambulatory dysfunction
you have a wound
very slight
you need more silver nitrate to heal the skin
that’s why you have such pain

and then three more weeks to be seen
an appointment almost canceled
i beg to tears over a tear
and when i arrive, my medical records
are perused
there there
she looks hesitantly and sees
a wound
at touch bleeds a river
on a Q-tip
you still have a tear
the wound isn’t healing
we can try this again
but if it doesn’t work
we will have to revise it

which means cut a skin sliver
wider and deep
while i dream my death
and sew me tight
like before
a first time

when i tell my husband,
he mourns
the loss of my body
in sex

when i left the doctor,
nice to meet you
thanks for burning me
see you soon

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------


she throws her whole body into the mud
newly formed by summer rains
she digs with her bare hands
throwing the wet black
onto the porch from tall blue pots
staining sticky piles

mud in her mouth and she chews it

no en la boca
she doesn’t listen
so i say to myself
gotta be minerals in there

she brushes her hair away, leaving
grimy streaks across her head, eyelids, cheeks
i know my mother kept me pristine
starched and pressed in perfect bows and braids
when she sees my daughter
she is horrified and silent

i let her play and play and play
hold her hand to bounce and slide
down the stairs
and stand behind her as she climbs back up
now lacquered in green blades
eager to grow a field on her skin

dirty baby
such a dirty baby

my father says, i’ll let you say it.
what he means is that he would never call her
sucia, which is more than dirty
soiled and sinful
lusty promiscuous
and i think how in not naming
there is a fear of naming
a baby should not be dirty
a woman should not be lusty
to be either is to be soiled
and sinful

my daughter is one

and i want her dirty
full in her body with loud saunter
roll around in the mud safe
chew the grime
and when bathing
splash hot sediment
suspended in the water
yes, hot and bothered in the sun
be a green field

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------

to the doctor i say i might be perimenopausal and am prescribed an inhaler

the first stains were rusty tracks on cotton white. i hid my dying and went on with days. my
mother did the laundry and knew and did not say. there was no celebration circle or moon party;
i got a blue covered book from the library that i would have to return. we did not talk about what
made a woman flesh.

after my son’s birth, i was all blood and wound healing, globule eggs i birthed, how they would
split in a spray a tissue. a bed, a scene for my maiden murder. this is how a woman becomes a
mother, i thought, the massacre of all those other selves visceral in stain. i threw away the sheets
i could not wash clean.

i read that after my womb sutured itself i might enjoy up to a year bloodless while feeding him
my milk, but no. a month and i was a flood, for the first time of my life painless, a slick
shedding. i walked tall and happy. just days of happen that led to not.

and with my daughter, the same. twice. pain not a part of the becoming as an invitation to
another becoming. and then

stop. blood. milk.

six months of invitation to sweet rivers, lover dive and discover. an entangled free delight. there
has been no red to color.

                                                    i remember how when i wanted a child i had sweat nights.

                                                                                             i ached for lust and received
                                                              more desire for supernatural television than a body.

                                                           i confess
                    the gods shook me barren, a surgical till my only hope for life.                  

                                  there is a ghost i named
                       who called me in silence and mucus 

now i am bloodless.

massacre complete. i see crone in mirrors.

           am i ugly, darling, in this wake for the corpse of my girlhood?

or free.

yes, i hold all the tongues of past and possibility.

breathe deep. a breath thick with clots. 

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