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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Juanita

I’d been wary with Rose at first, remembering

Juanita. Oh, Juanita of the long black hair

hanging to her waist; my best friend,

third grade through tenth, until

her father took her home to stay.

“Just like my mother took away my job,” I said,

     when I ran into her one Saturday in town.

“It’s not the same,” she said. “My parents aren’t keeping me

     from working.”

I knew

she was watching neighbors’ babies so they

could work the fields; sometimes, she was in the fields

herself, the fields I’d helped in

every summer I could escape

               my mother’s grasp.

“I just meant,” I said, “the way parents try

     to control their kids.” I could not believe

     I was struggling for words with her.

“Yeah, I know. I know what you meant.”

She still wouldn’t look at me.

Then she waved wildly to someone

     I could not see, and in a spate of Spanish,

     a swirl of skirts,

               she ran away from me.

“You must have known that friendship couldn’t last,”

     my mother said. “Look around you. Do you see

     any white women who are friends

     with the Mexicans around here?”

“She’s not Mexican,” I said

     between my teeth.

My mother shook her head. “I worry

     about you, Linda. You’re

     such a romantic.”

“Is that why you let us play

     together so long? You knew

     it would end on its own?”

I knew I sounded nasty, and I did not care.

Her mouth tightened. “I always liked Juanita.

     I liked her mother, too. You probably don’t remember this, but

     when you and Juanita were first friends, in

     kindergarten, I guess, I tried to make friends with her.”

“You did?”

“I did. When she picked Juanita up,

     I invited her in for coffee. She wouldn’t come. I asked again

     and she said no. And after that,

     it was always someone else, a cousin or father, who drove her to or fro,

or else her mother would drop her at the end of the block,

or pull out of our driveway

before I even knew

               she was there.”

I saw again my friend arriving on our doorstep,

     alone, and my mother’s

hurry to make it to the doorway in time

     to wave over our first or second-grade heads,

     at the car already halfway

     out of the driveway. Sometimes, there were mutters

over those heads as she

shut the door, but only half

of what I only half-heard,

               I understood.

Once, she got to the porch

     before the car was gone, and

practically chased it down the drive. I saw her

     lean in at the open window and then step back

     and give a little wave, her skirt

     blowing against her narrow calves. I turned away

suddenly in a hurry

     to get to my room.

“Once,” she said, “when you were going over there

     to pick strawberries, I put on my blue jeans and a big straw hat,

     and drove you over. I wanted to help. But

     I wasn’t welcome. That was clear.

After that, I gave up.”

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