An Owner’s Manual
About Mercedes Lucero
Mercedes Lucero is a writer whose prose, poetry, and book reviews have appeared in Curbside Splendor, Paper Darts, Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal, The Pinch, Heavy Feather Review, and Whitefish Review among others. She is a recent Glimmer Train "Short Fiction Award" Finalist and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently the Fiction Editor of Beecher's and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. Read more of her work at www.mercedeslucero.com.
When a white boy in fourth grade tells you on the playground that you woulda been his slave, put the memory in your chest. Let it sit there for years. Let it tremble. Keep it with the others.
You never hear the group of kids in the back row whisper “nigger” when you recite a poem on stage in high school, but classmates tell you later. The group of kids is suspended. Keep that one in your chest too.
You are Latina and black. The government thinks you are a multiple choice question. Learn to move through borders. When the black kids at school tell you that you act white, go home and memorize rap songs. When the teacher asks in class how you can have a name like that and not speak Spanish, go home and call your grandmother. Ask her why she never taught your mother Spanish.
“Because,” she tells you, “I was the only one in class who didn’t know English and the kids used to pick on me. I cried every night.”
Learn Spanish. Practice licking the words up with your tongue. Roll the accents around in your mouth and hope they will give you some kind of identity.
The years in Chicago will be hard on your spirit. Learn to fill your body with poetics.
Open your ribcage to make room for Gil Scott-Heron. Spread Whitman on your lips. Brooks, Jay-Z, Angelou, and Hughes in each chamber of your heart. Flood the streets of Chicago with the poetics from your body.
Protest with hundreds of others at plazas and street corners after each shooting of an unarmed black person. Press the signs you make against restaurant windows as you march down Michigan Avenue. Know that hunger looks different depending on which side of the glass you’re standing.
Move to Kansas for grad school. Walk the halls of your university and let your body remember its history. Founded in 1866 in the heart of America, it is the same school that once segregated black students from all aspects of university life. Carry this with you to your classrooms. Your body learns to absorb these weighted, silent histories. There isn’t a pore on your body that doesn’t vibrate when you touch it. Translate these vibrations into poetry.
Interlock your fingers with hers. Let your bodies spill into each others’ in the darkness. Proclaim that you are hers. Watch as she checks the time so she can remember the moment. 2 am. Check the date. June 12, 2016. As if a history can be pinpointed like that.
The next morning you will learn that the worst mass shooting in modern American history was unfolding during the same time at a gay nightclub on Latin night. Try to think of something to say when she whispers, “That could have been us.”
Stand along the sidewalk days later with a candle burning as a preacher reads the names and ages of each of the 49 victims. You share a first name with one of these victims. That you will never be able to articulate the guilt and sorrow of these moments will almost undo you.
Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Run up to the top of the hill when she wants to see fireworks on the Fourth of July.
It won’t be high enough, so run to the bell tower, the site dedicated to the 277 students who fought and died in WWII. Their names are listed on the plaque you pass as you sneak in. Carry them with you as you climb 120 ft. up a winding iron staircase. Past 6 tiers of 53 copper bells. Touch them. Feel their heaviness as you reach the top.
At the top of the bell tower, notice where you stand. You are in Kansas, the middle of the country, watching 360 degrees of fireworks on a day that gave birth to a nation built on internalizations so deep, even your own blood is unfamiliar.
Think of the time she asked you if love could be a form of active resistance. Reach out for her hand. Offer a touch so delicate it is as if to say, I am here and here are you. The skin will absorb anything if you let it.
When the last firework goes off and the sky turns black, don’t begin the journey home. Take a moment to catch your breath. Know it’s okay to be tired.