& as you bow your heads to pray

By Jesús Papoleto Meléndez Jesus Papoleto Melendez
& as you bow your heads to pray /      pray
a silent prayer
around a chicken who lies motionless
before your hungry eyes /     dead
dead as your dreams /      as your hopes
            / dead as that silent prayer
               that dies more & more each day /
                     that no ears will ever share
               that that dead chicken      / which you
               in your shame dare to call a turkey
                     will never hear
not that god /    lost in the heavens
eating real turkey
who to you now pray for blessings
        will never hear
/ i wish you a happy thanksgiving.

& as you bow your heads to pray /      pray
a silent prayer
for the little boy who dances in the snow /
barefooted
he loves to greet new falling snow
& has no shoes
& hopes that santa on christmas eve
will slide down the chimney
             of his tenement slum
& in his stockings which he has hung
by the fire escape
             / o so carefully
                as not to tear them any more
will find them filled with little hopes 
& tiny dreams
& beneath that narrow leaf       / which he
in his shame dares call a tree
               / a christmas tree
santa will leave toys
                   of wooden soldiers 
                    & plastic dolls
filled with love for him and his (
                               & does not know
                               that santa nods on roofs
                               & climbs on fire escapes
                               & snatches pocket-books
                  / & leaves no wooden soldiers
                     or plastic dolls
                     filled with love for him & his
                     beneath his narrow leaf)
/ i wish him a merry christmas.

& as you bow your heads to pray /      pray
please pray a silent prayer
for the poor old woman who sits by the stove /
to keep warm
as she looks out her window /
                   watching the falling snow
                   & for the numbers' man /
she waits       / waits silently
for steam to rush through rusty pipes /
for santa to stop his nodding
for you to stop your prayer /      open your eyes
& boooooooo away the mouse
that nibbles on your chicken (
                     there are too many prayers
                     that need be prayed
                     for all/     all to be done
                     at just one meal)
& waits /       she silendy waits
for god to hear your prayers
                     / after dinner /
/ i wish her a happy new year.

Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, "& as you bow your heads to pray" from Hey Yo! Yo Soy!: 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry A Bilingual Edition. Copyright © 2012 by Jesus Papoleto Melendez.  Reprinted by permission of 2Leaf Press.

Source: Hey Yo! Yo Soy!: 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry A Bilingual Edition (2Leaf Press, 2012)

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Poet Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

 Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

Biography

Raised in New York City’s east Harlem, poet and playwright Jesús Papoleto Melendez is one of the founding poets of the Nuyorican poetry movement. His short-lined, quick-turning poems engage city life through a mosaic of metaphor and song. In a 2013 New York Times article, David Gonzales observes, “The poems of Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez have a bopping rhythm, where words cascade down the page and—when he recites them—swirl around . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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