Virgil Suarez Tallahassee (LD)
The Cotton Ball Queen
In 1970, Havana, Cuba, my mother
took it upon herself to inject
B12 on the butt cheeks of as many
neighbors as brought her doses
and paid for her service. My mother
wanted to be a nurse but was not
a nurse, but the house filled with women
waiting for their shots and I, at eight,
watched them lower one side of their
pants or shorts or pull up a dress
to expose their flesh to the needle.
The needle disappeared into the flesh.
My mother swabbed their skin
with a cotton ball drenched in alcohol
after each shot and threw it in a bucket
by the kitchen door. When she was
not looking I reached for a handful
and went outside to look at how
the blood darkened. I wrapped my
toy soldiers in the used cotton.
They were wounded. Cuba
was sending military personnel
to Viet Nam. My mother shot up
more people, “patients,” as she called
them. When my father came home
there was no trace of anyone ever
been over. My mother expected
me to keep her secrets. On the mud
fort I had built in the patio all my
soldiers lay wounded, bloodied
and dying. At night I dreamt
of the house filling with mother’s
pillow cases full of cotton balls.
In the United States, my mother
worked in a factory, sewing zippers
at 10 cents a piece. 25 years.
She never looked up from her machine.
Her fingers became arthritic . . .
Every time I cut myself shaving, I reach
for a cotton ball to soak up the blood.
Blood is a cardinal taking flight
against the darkening of the sky.