Growing Up Coolie: Memories of my Chino-Cubano Diaspora

Mami’s Urn

Her fluffy lamb with a mechanical implant sings “Jesus Loves You.”
I bought it at the Family Christian Store hours before her death.
One final gift from a son to his mother.
Her mechanical implant did not sing “Jesus Loves You.”
Perhaps it did perhaps it does and I cannot will not hear.
She cannot be wound up for more beautiful music.
Perhaps she can in another realm and I cannot will not hear.

Her glossy bone China tea cups from Anthropologie.
Another gift from a son fully aware its time was limited on her warm credenza.
Her mini crystal Christmas tree with tiny swirly ornaments I keep there all year.
The tiny periwinkle bottle of Holy Water Jeanette brought her trip to St. Patrick’s.
A wooden carving of an angel on her knees.


I cannot will not hear her pray again.
Her tiny ceramic Mary and Joseph cradling an even tinier Baby Jesus.
She cannot will not cradle me anymore.
Perhaps she can and I cannot will not feel it.
The tick-tock of her implant cannot comfort us anymore.
Perhaps it can and I cannot will not hear it.
She cannot hug the three of us anymore. That I think I know for sure.

A Mother’s Day whittling of a mother comforting her son.
Her crystal Christmas bells that fit inside one another like Matroyshka nesting dolls.
She will not decorate a tree again.
Perhaps she can I cannot will not see it.
A soft Precious Moments mechanical boy plays “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”
A gift from a mother to a son hospitalized with a sinister kidney stone.
Just before embarking on her Caribbean cruise.

Her ceramic angel with a mechanical implant sings “Silent Night.”
Her mechanical implant did not sing “Silent Night”
Perhaps it did and I could not would not hear.
She cannot be wound up for more “Silent Night.”
Perhaps she can and I do not will not hear.

A tiny eggshell, bone, off-white, ivory prayer card I hastily printed at Staples.
La Oración de San Luiz Beltran printed on one side.
The dates of her birth and death without a hyphen.
Her life was not a hyphen.
My mother died, I told the cashier.
I spit those words at anyone who would listen in those first weeks.
To the tailor who altered my suit.
To Jeanette’s pastor performing the service.
To the flower shop lady who had so joyfully arranged our wedding bouquets.
To the creepy crematory troll.
To my students.
To my bosses.
To my Facebook Friends.
To my real friends.
To my colleagues.
To her landlord.
To her mailman.
To her bank card.
To the guy on the phone at Medicare.
To her doctor.
I said it yesterday to a lady on the phone.
I wrote it in an email on Wednesday.
A year will pass in 5 days and I cannot say it and mean it.
Saying it a lot does not make it so.

The wishbone from the first Cuban Chinese Thanksgiving turkey I made alone.
It leans against the particles of her dust that remain in a small ceramic rose.
Would she want a poultry wishbone to lean against her?
“Deja de ser tan dramatico y bota esa mierda pal carajo,” she would scream.
Throw that shit out. I am not in there.

Do I would I hear her if she screamed to me again?
Please scream at me again, Mami.
Give me a smack on the head because I just said “shit.”

God, what I would give.

She was a tiny warrior Santera Cubana, Hija de Oya, with a giant machete and a valve too mangled to sustain her powers.

She lives on my shelf.

Writing, Non Fiction

Alex Manuel Pérez-Barry
West New York, NJ, MFA Writing