Poems: Marina Carreira

While Six Planets Retrograde, I Consider Mandalas & Amerika

 After Delia Quigley’s “Fear” from her Divine Mandalas

I’m too American and not American enough, I think, to know what a mandala is, how it could be useful. My immigrant family taught me that if something has no real use, it isn’t really real. And if mandalas are just symbols for the Universe, how can they pay a water bill, put meat on our plates, keep children from orphanages of aluminum and steel? What can a dreamer who was told that dreams are circus clowns do with a searching for self-unity? How do I find myself in the midst of chaos, looking for answers to the questions on everyone’s mind: will fascism reign another 4 years? Will we be deep faked to death, will Mother Earth expire in a nuclear holocaust, will we trans humanity? Can a mandala help at all?

How do I explain the practicality of art to my grandmother, who didn’t come to Amerika to raise no artist; didn’t leave mother and siblings behind in a village buttoned by boulders and olive fields to work at the Ramada by the airport and the coin factory, to freeze meat in plastic Pathmark bags and buy aprons and bedding at ABC, to walk me to and from catechism and learn Good Morny and bye bye to the mailman and teacher aids, to cook cozido and boil hotdogs for me to talk about mandalas, much less my pride in first generationism, to shout off the rooftops of a page that no human is illegal, to attend panels on LusoAmerican voices in literature or the lack thereof, write my poems in bilingual and remind my children that she went hungry for the better part of her childhood and lived analfabeta for the rest of her life?

How do I explain the energy of mandalas in a prayer to my dead grandfather, who didn’t come to Amerika to raise no socialist, for there was nothing he believed in more than the American Dream and the almighty dollar, who scraped and saved time, money and bathwater to tailor suits for up-and-coming second generation studs ready to take the supermarket industry by storm, hung Reagan calendars on humming refrigerators in hopes his looks and money and Hollywood machismo would trickle down to his son, who went from owning a mechanic’s shop to wearing a MAGA hat and pretending his niece wasn’t always radical, always wild, always the kind of woman who scare men like him, the kind of woman who knows the root of all evil is money, the kind of who would set the 1% on fire if it meant that every migrant would find home?

How do I convince my father of the power mandalas hold, my father who didn’t come to Amerika to raise no feminist, didn’t leave his father’s fields and tractor and shadow of his brothers’ white-collars, his soccer buddies and binge drinking hitch-hiking youth to work construction in grimy Tri-state cities under Local 472, a proud union man who paid for both his daughters’ colleges without ever owing a credit card company, to tell me all people are equal and should live their truth unless those truths hurt people like him, that the most important thing is to work and keep house, to raise a daughter who knew better than to marry a man like him, who knew better than to marry a man, who knew better and married a woman.

How do I tell my mother that a mandala I saw in Morristown reminded me of being her child, my mother who didn’t come to Amerika to raise no queer, didn’t drop out of East Side High at 15 because white folks taught her to fear books and black girls, to work at Pitas Bakery and Lucy’s Hair Fashion and dealt with her own mother who told her she didn’t know how to be a mother, enable a husband who didn’t know how to be a husband, teach two children who didn’t know that she didn’t know but always blamed her for not knowing, who drowned her sorrows in telenovelas only to have a girl who wouldn’t follow her footsteps, who teaches her own girl children to love unapologetically, that the most important thing they can do is forgive themselves and each other and know that you don’t have to be good to be good.

And I’m sure there’s a mandala out there for all of them: fierce lines, bold spheres and light waves exploding in possibility. There are divine mandalas abounding in electric blue, menstrual red, the thick yellow of August dusk that can center me while Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and little Pluto retrograde and show Avó and Avô, Mae e Pai, that although I am not the woman they came to Amerika for, I am the woman who stays in Amerika to make sure that people like them will never be told to go back to where they came from, to speak English, to keep their head down. Because the most beautiful mandala is not the one teeming with a geometry everyone recognizes, but that places you inside a dialect for resistance and redemption, that reminds you an image is its own tongue.


Autobiography of a Fufa

The first time I kissed a girl was after leftover dobrada We were children

and I didn’t worry whether or not she could taste the stomach lining still hot

at the back of my tongue All I could think about was how curly her hair got

when she sweat, my left foot cramping toes curled so hard at the thought

of Avó walking in on us like a tidal wave ripping into mid-August


The second time I kissed a girl was in a dream I had in fourth grade about Joana

her lips small but full cool as river water She wore a blue dress with daisies on it

and we only tapped real quick because I was nervous and knew she didn’t know how

to feel Seventeen pretty and pregnant by someone else’s husband She didn’t know

if it was a boy or girl just that her father would force an abortion


The third time I kissed a girl I was 23 on my back on a bunny slope skis to the sky

and I wanted her to fall in love with me the way Tina and Bette did in The L Word

We’d watch on her bed her flat stomach up and down with breath My lungs full every time

we touched and I almost drowned when she said we are on two different pages

and I ugly-cried for hours drinking gin in my ex-boyfriend’s basement


The fourth time I kissed a girl was in the middle of a crowd during the Portugal Day feast

I told her to cut her hair she said we should move in together For two years we made out

and up on Brooklyn rooftops and Long Branch boardwalks until too many days came

and went of Mãe not looking at me Pai mourning the person I wasn’t yet We kissed

for the last time before I moved into Tania’s attic high on Xanax pug by my side


The fifth sixth and seventh times I kissed girls whose names I can’t remember Just the bar

was loud My temples throbbed more than my hands on their waists Their mouths wind tunnels heart silly putty and once I got so hammered I walked Hot Goth Girl to the subway after

we ate Jamaican patties then sat at the corner of Hudson and Grove not knowing my way home

By that time the eggs were cold the toast was gone my mother refused to make more coffee


The eighth time I kissed a girl I was waiting for salvation in the form of jazz and fado

It was hot hard raining We drank too much port and I learned tanto tanto from the museum of her body— that love is art and work and not a choice like the oxford comma She remains

every Whitney song from The Bodyguard We married in secret and everything is except this love: aubade and war cry seagulls singing fire towards the shore of for now for here forever



You figuratively toe an invisible line in the metaphorical sand


say D’aqui não passo I won’t do X say Y believe Z

I do it too Shut my eyes while my mouth’s wide open blare IMO’s

to convince you that even if you can’t see it I always mean it

And not a day goes by that we are not oil and water piano and pedestrian

potato potato In this exciting new battlefield of memes and quarrels

I discover telephone lines deliver the most fucked-up messages

that your mouth can spit fire and put it out at the same time

There is nothing worse than drawing lines particularly when

we are so desperate to cross them I’ll keep this in mind from now on

the way andorinhas muscle-memory miles between Lisbon and Porto

Maybe my silence can build a footbridge from my bad nature to your good sense

Maybe it can say everything I want to but never do


The Quiet

Sometimes I can’t stop you

from leaving. Some conversations

require silence as punctuation,

demand solitude right after.


For the best. So that the best

can eventually resurface

on our fingertips like wildfire,

spread all the good that’s left


over each other’s shoulders,

backs, thighs: unfillable wells.

Sometimes, in this quiet,

I am both in and out.


Sometimes the quiet between

no longer and not yet

opens me up like evening primrose,

and I trace your footsteps


down the stairs and front door,

over the weedy sidewalk to where

your car is humming with hesitation.

Sometimes I take the quiet


to listen. Listen to the moon’s

lax moan, the crack of kitchen light,

the cricket’s tired mutiny

against every child’s cry.


The oven’s uprising. The backdraft

that follows. The certain leap from

the steady cliff. The phone’s frugal

fado. The apologies of doors.


Savage Beauty

after Lee McQueen


In the interstitial room of morning

we wake more animal than anything


holes and lids, fur and folds

pinned tucked and ruched to form


the perfect functioning beast

at the desk in the cubicle behind the wall


against the window at the top of the highest

building we unjump from


By night we feral back, ferry horned

hearts into ribbed nests waiting


to witness the most magnificent

thing in the world flutter from


the eye socket of the full moon

We need such savage beauty:


monarchs and murmurations,

swallows creasing against orchids


carnations twirling cigarettes,

swarms of snapdragons


with swiss army knives

marigolds and magnolias


nippling the breasts

of unseen gods


bloody roses and

blood-red rosaries


I was raised to pray for beautiful things

Feathered, daggered and dangerous


replacements for mothers

on days where we leave


the house not in our body

but in a bag of mewling kittens


like the one my grandfather buried

before the mother cat could tell


Marina Carreira is a queer Luso-American writer and artist from Newark, NJ who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University, NJ. Marina’s chapbook, “I Sing to That Bird Knowing It Won’t Sing Back” was published May 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Her first full-length poetry collection, “Save the Bathwater”, is out now and published by Get Fresh Books. Her work is featured in Paterson Literary Review, The Acentos Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Hinchas de Poesia, Luna Luna, among others. Marina has showcased her art in group exhibitions and festivals at the Ironbound Cultural Center’s Shiman Gallery, Hahne & Co., Gallery 211, and Living Incubator Performance Space {LIPS} in the Gateway Project Spaces in Newark, NJ. She is founding member of “Brick City Collective”, a Newark-based multicultural, multimedia group working for social change through the arts.


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