I’d always been told strawberries couldn’t grow
in Puerto Rico. There wasn’t the climate for it.
Up here, in this finca, past the carcass
of Peñuela’s petroleum past, where even
the hummingbirds are dizzy with height,
small strawberry studs slip off like beads
from a necklace on my tongue. The farmer picks
them gently from their fuzzy casing—warm
and tender from swallowing the world’s
beatings—as he shows us his budding coffee crop.
Crecemos el café bajo sombra.
I think of all the work we do in the shadows.
Rearing coffee under the sun is hurried
and stifles taste. Its flavor should be layered,
like the rock that makes this mountain,
like this mountain of an island.
All plants are carbon-husked patience.
But coffee is a slow birth, a bean of push
and pain that can take as long as four years to ripen.
Intercropped with bananas, papayas and pyrethrum
to lure away pests, allow for just and solidary
growth, an abundant existence—this steep hill
of harvest is everything we’re slowly trying to become.
The farmer says after the hurricane, they lost
the majority of their coffee shrubs, and seeds
were swept away with everything else.
Mass growers are striking deals and offering
local farmers seeds, to grow and sell back to them.
We have to grow our own to be our own,
he smiles, splits open a coffee pod,
drops the pulpy body
in my hand and tells me to try it.
I’d always been told freedom would never come
for Puerto Rico. There wasn’t the climate for it.
I ask the farmer about the strawberries. Son silvestres,
he responds, and points to their beautiful excess.
Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Puerto Rican poet-performer, writer, and ARTivist. She holds a BA and an MA in English from the University of Puerto Rico, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark. She is the inaugural recipient of the Sandra Cisneros Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a co-organizer of the #PoetsForPuertoRico movement. Ana is also a Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation fellow, an Under The Volcano fellow, a Las Dos Brujas Writing Workshop alumna, and an inaugural Moko Writers’ Workshop alumna. For more on her work, visit http://anaportnoybrimmer.com/.
Xiaofu Wang, born in Wuhan, China, works and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA from China Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing (2013) and earned her MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art in the LeRoy E Hoffberger School of Painting (2017). Xiaofu is currently a 2018-19 fellow for the fully-funded fellowship Shandaken Paint School in New York City. She has shown her work in New York, Baltimore, Colorado, and Beijing. In 2018, Xiaofu’s work was featured in ArtMaze Magazine and Magazine Parcours. She was awarded residencies at Elsewhere Studio Residency and Art Farm Nebraska.