Nydia Rojas

I was born in Puerto Rico. At the age of twenty-two I came to the U.S. to work at a summer camp, a job that was supposed to last only until the end of the summer. Few more jobs after that one, a husband and my twelve-year old son give reasons to my family to believe I am here to stay. They still tease me and ask me to keep them updated as to when that summer job is coming to an end.

I have been writing poetry all my life, or at least, since seventh grade when I wrote several poems that were well received by my Spanish teacher and my classmates. My work has been published in several magazines, among them, Wisconsin Academy Review, International Poetry Review, Calyx, Bayou Review and Flyway. Most recently my work has appeared in Voces: A journal of Chicana/Latina Studies and in the anthology Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest.


"Now draw the Puerto Rican flag,"
the social studies teacher orders.
My hand rushes to the blank paper,
while the words square
and triangle
become a stop sign, sending off
warnings, freezing my hand
in mid air.

The window lets in light
that becomes dark and yellow
stripes over the paper resting
on my desk.
Across the fence encircling the school
the roosters look at two slices
of life, depending on the direction
of their eyes, as they walk,
their heads up.

My hand finishes the rectangle,
the stripes and in the center
of the square I draw a lonely star.
"It's wrong!" the harsh voice
comes down.
The red ink deforms
my drawing.
My flag becomes a huge triangle.

I look at the lonely star
abandoned in a corner.
In the corner, like I'll be,
the teacher warns,
next time I confuse squares
and triangles on the flags.

I look at the deformed flag.
"I understand," I think
while I hear the red pen
furiously drawing triangles.
"Triangle and one star.
They go together."

Someone disturbs the roosters
across the fence.
I still don't understand
how they can walk straight,
know their way,
when their eyes are always looking
in opposite directions.

International Poetry Review, Fall 1999

© Nydia Rojas

* * * * * * * * *

The Reasons

If we count from one to twelve
we will have been suspended in mid air
for as long as the first airplane flown
by the Wright brothers in 1903.
I didn't know this when
defying all rules and reasons
I boarded the airplane that flew
to a page of the family history
I was supposed to ignore.

My father said no to the airplane trip
knowing his power to stop
the journey couldn't compare
to the engines roaring above the waves
defying gravity,
defying laws.

His experiences have taught him two facts.
One: when a soul wants to jump
and dance on the pinnacle of waves
no is just one more surfboard leading the way,
pushing ahead to the next hurdle.
Two: most people see in black and white
only occasionally in gray.

The airplane took off.
I left behind the negative
said with such emphasis
as to startle the afternoon birds
but not a young soul
wanting to smell the afternoon breeze
from inside a floating cumulus.

He said no to the airplane
counting silently his reason
as he used to count apples,
peaches or the non-existent whiteness
of his skin;
as he used to count insults
in a land bursting with dreams
he could only reach
from behind his dark eyes.

The airplane took off.
Below, the sea kept calling,
urging me to the other shore;
every passing wave getting me closer
to the reality hidden behind
my father's emphatic no.

International Poetry Review, Fall 1999

© Nydia Rojas

Another poem by Nydia Rojas