Poet: Grace Fondow, 18
Grace is a senior at Oak Park-River Forest High School. This is her first year participating in Louder Than a Bomb.
There's a picture in my grandma's kitchen
of a three-year-old me gripping
the slippery pit of a mango to my chubby face.
The fruit sitting so wide inside my stretched
fingers, it threatens to swallow me whole.
Mama says mangos have been my favorite
since I was just the curve in her stomach.
She first craved them in Ecuador
when she was four weeks late.
Sometimes, she calls me her little mango tree.
Never knew why, but maybe it's because the man who left her
planted a tiny seed in the pit of her stomach,
told her he would be there to help it grow,
but moved on to new soil before roots broke earth.
When she returned home to the States,
relatives questioned why her baby girl's skin
was a streak of South American sun,
admiring her like exotic fruit.
Mama didn't answer when they asked
about my father.
Couldn't think about how he hid
behind the shadow of the equator,
juggling women like fruit
between his sun-stained palms,
planting shallow promises.
She only spoke of his love letters once,
how his cursive Spanish could make you believe anything.
My one card from him laid open in front of me,
crowded with a stranger's promises
of how I was somehow important to himâ€”
“Graciela, mi nenita hermosa, te amo mas que el mundo”
I closed it, figured maybe I should learn from my mother.
Today she is an avid gardener,
nurturing basil and tomatoes with gentle fingers.
I always wished for a mango tree in the back yard,
but Mama only plants seeds she can take care of
and mangos wouldn't make it through the winter.
She cares for me like her garden,
wraps me in endless layers when snow hits the earth
afraid my delicate Ecuadorian blood can't handle the cold.
Treats me as the one plant she's worried she can't raise right.
When commitment first came and left from my life,
Mama's soft fingers raked through the roots
of my thick hair, remembering cursive love letters,
she said some men aren't strong enough
to tend to a garden wild with beauty.
So the other day when my boyfriend questioned
why I sometimes untangle from the branches
of his embrace, pace my feet nervously,
scared they could plant too close to his,
I blamed insight for my caution:
If man wasn't here for beginning,
and left in the middle,
will he be here in the end?