Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 3 • Fall 2002 • Featured Writer • Poetry

Do the Math

Meliza Bañales

The equation goes something like this:
one white mother plus one brown father divided by two different worlds
equals a daughter.
Give or take a decimal the American dream turns out to be
two half-white children, two full-brown children, one small house in South
Central LA, four jobs
divided by two high-school-educated parents.

The quality of life is high, though the means is low.

The numbers vary from memory to memory.
      Like three-- three times a week I clean houses in rich neighborhoods to
make my way
folding sheets is difficult
every house is owned by one rich, white lady
with two dozen sheets times four beds which equals ten ways to fold the sheets
so that they're      perfect.
Learning to fold sheets at least four different ways
means I can clean three to six houses a week
which equals rent, tortillas and lettuce for the month.

      Moving into one-- one night a week I go-go dance in a cage in a Hollywood
nightclub, ten dollars an hour, plus tips.
I'm only eighteen back then, and already I know the equation for lust:
             one bare-ass in face gets a twenty plus
             one crotch-drop earns a fifty plus
             one tongue licking cage bars while slowly gyrating hips
equals I am the first in my family to go to college.

      Then there's Five. Five times a day I prayed to God
through my seven-year-old body that my father would lose his Spanish accent.
I was convinced that if he did, he could get a better job and
we wouldn't be poor anymore. I was convinced
he just wasn't trying hard enough to say
signals instead of "singles" or video instead of "bideo"
Five times a day I sent my other prayers, my secret prayers
that I was thankful for looking to most white in a family of coffee-colored
how I prayed that my brown blood wouldn't seep out of
my white skin
so that I could get an education, learn English, make my parents proud
of half-white, half-brown accomplishment.
Five times a day times seven days a week plus two small hands clenched together
in fear and ignorance
equals a lifetime of trying to make halves a whole.

It's all in the numbers. These numbers that haunt my dreams
make my past into single digits that have no common denominator.

Just once, I'd like to write an equation for all the things I can never write

        For the three times my father took off work from three different jobs
        to see me in the school play,
        For the first and last time my sister told her abusive ex-husband that
        she did not need him anymore and meant it,
        For the hundreds of times I saw my parents laugh
        until the tears rolled down their cheeks
        even in a neighborhood of drugs and gangs,
        For that one moment, I did see my father cry
        when I, the first in our family, received my college degree

I'm writing a formula for all the numbers that have fallen on me--
fifteen sunrises in three different states, eight-million breaths in one kiss,
one-hundred-eighty-five poems in eight years--

I am writing an equation,
using the universal language of numbers to describe ten-thousand ways
that something can mean everything--

it's just all in how you do
the math.

Meliza Bañales is a spoken-word artist and the author of and I've been fighting ever since (Chula Press, 2002) and Girl with the Glass Throat (Chula Press, 2001). She has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Transfer, Las Girlfriends, and Revolutionary Voices, the latter of which was nominated for a Lambda Book Award in 2001. She's been called "the girl with the sense of humor of a jackknife." The first Latina ever to win a Bay Area Grand Slam Championship, she's been on three national poetry slam teams and has also competed as an individual at the nationals. She is the winner of the Burning Bush Press People Before Profits Poetry Prize 2002.

Go To: Issue 3 or Lodestar Quarterly home page