You scorn the humble beginnings that gave you sustenance and shelter
Like you scorn the scum that mars your tub after weeks of neglect
But let me remind you that the disdain running through your veins
Owes its existence to those same humble beginnings
That sold their soul to give you breath

“Ingrate” by Azul Serena

Two Halves

The fire that burns with a fury when I reach my limits
Is the same one that burns within you, Mom
And the peace that rules with caution as I approach my limits
Is the same one that stoically flows within you, Dad
I’ve known this all my life but I often forget that
Just like you have needed one another to coexist for forty years
I need both within me to exist and live my day to day

“Two Halves” by Azul Serena

The Translator

The cashier noticed her before I did.  She was wearing an easter dress and a pink rosette around her temple where her hair was pulled taught by a meticulously styled ponytail.  She was peering hesitantly at the cashier, wanting to be noticed without appearing disrespectful.  I knew that look, that hesitation, that assertiveness.  It wasn’t her first time taking charge.

“May I help you?”  The young cashier’s lack of condescension helped the girl relax a bit.

“How much money are these?”  She held up a pair of pink heels.  The cashier scanned the barcode and told her the price. “$34.99”

The girl smiled tenuously and walked back to her mother who was standing by a pillar trying to appear casual as she waited anxiously for the verdict.  The little girl whispered something and the mother shook her head as she returned the shoe to the display counter.  It exceeded her budget.

The encounter left a reminiscent smile on my face.  I remembered that not long ago I, too, was a 5 year old child leading a dual life: that of a child and a translator.  At home my parents ruled with a swiftness that left no doubt of their competence and authority.  Outside of home, those same unwavering parents walked with hesitant steps as they struggled to navigate their new country.  They were proud of their native language and forbade speaking the foreign tongue inside their home.  Yet, they were well aware that our family’s survival depended on that same foreign tongue – the one I was learning in school.  

That’s where my role as a translator was born.  I became the bridge between two worlds; at once novice and teacher.  I quickly learned to read and speak English, unaware that my parents’ demand for academic superiority was a pretense hiding basic necessity.  My parents did not have the luxury to learn and savor the new language, or the patience to understand the nuances of the new culture.  What they did have was an eldest daughter whose sole responsibility as a dutiful daughter was to make them proud.  Historically, my family’s lineage of daughters brought our family pride by fulfilling gender specific roles; but in this country, my bilingualism was the root of their pride.  Thus, at the tender age of 5 I embarked on a journey to become their translator.

Although my role as a translator has evolved over the years, what remains of those formative years is an acute awareness of the meaning of words and the emotions they convey and conceal in translation.  In my world, Spanish is soft, safe, emotive, and carnal; while English is rigid, authoritarian, detached, and exotic.  The two languages coexist within me in a symbiotic dependency.  Without one, I lose the other.  Without either, I lose myself.

As I watched the little girl – the young translator – carry the shoe back to her mother, I couldn’t help but think that maybe one day she, too, will see herself in another and be reminded that her story was forged by necessity.

“The Translator” by Azul Serena

Invisible Women

Invisible women
Wives of men, Mothers of sons.
You ceased to exist the day your body was sold through the holy sanctity of matrimony
Stripped of your father’s name and prettily cloaked by your husband’s name.
Do not be fooled.
Your new identity comes at a price too horrific to name: Erasure.
You are no longer Eve, daughter of Man, autonomous person;
You are now His Wife and Their Mother, invisible woman.
Nameless, faceless
Worthy of mention after you’ve birthed a son to carry the family name.
Worthy of shame after you birth daughters, poor souls condemned to expunction.
Who are you? Where have you been, seen, heard, felt?
Tragically no one but you will ever know.

This piece was written as a response to my many observations of the gender politics that riddle family gatherings. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the men in my family have the habit of introducing first their sons by name, followed by their unwed daughters by name, briefly mentioning their married daughters as “My daughter, so-and-so’s wife,” and introducing their wife last as “My Wife.” They don’t mention her name and rarely ever turn to look her in the eyes when they make the introduction. If she’s lucky her husband will make a half-hearted wave in her direction; but that’s a veritable rarity. With this behavior he enforces a hierarchy that clearly renders women invisible, worse than a second-class citizen.

“Invisible Women” by Azul Serena

Of Life and Hair Loss

These days he spent a few extra moments in front of the mirror, lamenting his loss with each tilt of his head. He didn’t tell his wife this, but he kept count of how many hairs he’d lost overnight; she’d never believe him. It appeared that last night’s casualties amounted to four: three from his temples and one from the crown of his head. At least these days the recession had tapered off to no more than five hairs per night. He sighed deeply as he gently caressed his hair before opening the door and stepping onto the cold tile floor that led to their bedroom.

He was only 24 years old when the hair loss began. At first he didn’t pay it much heed. It was unthinkable that his luscious tresses – the same ones that women envied – would succumb to this mundane tragedy. By the end of that year he could no longer ignore the truth that stared back at him every morning when he raised his head from his pillow: he was balding.

Initially the fear was nothing more than undiluted vanity. He liked running his fingers through his hair while he talked to pretty women. And he certainly liked the sensation of the rushing wind ruffling his hair as he biked across the city. Losing his hair was equivalent to losing his power of seduction. Preposterous.

Now it was a matter of practicality. A balding head implied years of wisdom and an unquestionable resignation to Life’s many whims. He had neither. He had energy to expend and goals to contrive. He had bravado. But he certainly did not feel complacency. How then was he expected to live with this unwanted burden? (Or lack thereof considering the lightened weight of his head.)

It was tragic to realize that he had set the value of life on looks and vanity. Nevermind that he had a roof over his head, a loving family, and a solid college education. Looks and vanity were his downfall – he was the true son of the fallen angel. He was human. Thankfully, as a true human he also had undying hope. He knew beyond doubt that his hair would never grow back, but that didn’t stop him from hoping otherwise. Maybe this hair loss had its benefits after all.

“Of Life and Hair Loss” by Azul Serena

My Father’s Smile

I don’t understand what you mean when you say I have a disarming smile
But I assume it means that I have my father’s smile
The one that makes you laugh when all you want to do is pout
Smile when all you want to do is frown
Pause when all you want to do is keep on walking
And dream when the nightmares refuse to stay at bay.
I may not know what a disarming smile looks like
But I sure hope it looks like my father’s smile.

“My Father’s Smile” by Azul Serena


I collapse on my bed like a dead weight. Bones heavy from carrying the weight my shoulders cannot bear. Eyes so heavy they rather go dark for the rest of eternity than fight the losing battle to stay awake. I moan and groan while I stretch and twist in an effort to soothe my throbbing muscles. Is this why I embraced countless sleepless nights buried in books and blinded by computer screens? So that I could drag myself home from the office each night, tired, exhausted, spent?

And then I think of them.

My parents.

They have heavier weights to bear, denser bodies that lie heavier than mine, muscles that have long forgot they were once lithely supple. They carry burdens that I will never be able to lift and have sacrificed more hours of sleep than I will ever be able count. All so that I, and the grandchildren they desperately await, won’t collapse under the weight they have silently carried across borders, cultures, and languages. It’s a reminder that I should carry my weight with pride, knowledgeable in the comfort that my children’s children will bear a lighter burden than my own. Because that’s what my parents will every morning when they hoist the weight of the rising sun and slumbering moon.

“Exhaustion” by Azul Serena


Prior to Ruben, cooking was an act of survival. It was methodical; like clockwork. We planned meals on Saturday, shopped on Sunday, and prepared every meal with nothing more than a spare thought that was sooner lost in steam than in memory. The spices and scents only signified rawness and readiness. The servings and plates only marked another day lived.

Then Ruben came. And with him came the realization that cooking is an act of intimacy and vulnerability. Cooking was no longer only an act of survival; it was an act of creation. Every pinch of salt, every grain of rice, every garlic clove, every skillet, spoon, and stir, had a purpose and a meaning. They spoke of my lessons as a young girl who was entrusted with the secrets of the women in my family. The recipes and stories had the same origins but our hands – my ancestors’ and mine – gave them our unique interpretations.

The recipes I learned didn’t use measuring cups and spoons, they used intuition and inspiration. The size of my palm determined the size of the pinch of salt that was sprinkled into the pot. My eyes, nose, and tongue determined the colors, heat, and spices of every dish and beverage I made. The warmth of my palms always kneaded the dough with just a tad too much heat. You cook it before it reaches the fire my mother always said.

Although I learned my lessons in the kitchen with the adeptness of a curious 12 year old girl who later perfected them as a young woman, it wasn’t until Ruben sat at our table that I realized the power I held every time I interpreted one of the many unwritten recipes.

What made that first dinner with Ruben so significant was the fact that I, and not my mother, had prepared the meal. I wove the intricate ancestral meals into a fine tapestry of dishes and flavors. I had chosen how to represent my daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers. Because of this, I felt exposed and vulnerable. Without uttering a word I had shown him who I was and what my legacy would be. I had shown him how I perceive the world in terms of flavors, textures, and scents. I had given him a piece of myself that even I would never experience because I had known myself longer than I could recall.

In return for my unabashed vulnerability Ruben gave me the most important lesson in the kitchen: Cooking is not an act of survival. Cooking is an act of creation and intimacy. It is openness and guilelessness. It is everything that we try to hide but can’t because our intuition reigns supreme when our cooking is not limited by measurements and numbers. Cooking is an act of love.

“Cooking” by Azul Serena

The Asterisk

“I promise that I will always protect and defend you from any and all aggressors.”* – Father to Daughter

*Unless of course that aggressor happens to be male and I agree that he should use aggression to set you straight. But you don’t need to know this right now because the only time you’ll need to know this is when you need to be set straight. Fortunately for you, I’ve raised the perfect submissive daughter so your aggressor will never have to become your aggressor. Thus the promise remains.

It’s funny how promises work. They’re always offered as a perfect olive branch to any and all problems no matter the size or the gravity of the problem. Unfortunately, no one ever really stops to analyze the undertones of a promise because they’re usually too vulnerable to accept anything other than a flimsy promise.

I learned early in my life that a promise’s worth is dependent solely on the value that the granter of the promise is willing to extend upon that promise. For this reason, I promised myself – funny how these things work – that I would never, ever make any promises to anyone. Why? Because the way I saw it, if I had the time to shroud my actions in a promise then surely I could use that time to simply act on my promise; and if I didn’t want to do something I’d simply say no and avoid the trouble of breaking my promise at a later time. Quite frankly the whole process saves everyone time, embarrassment, and pain.

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