Poetry: Retrato in Names by féi hernandez
“Retrato in Names” is prose with energy and music and eager rush. Through the intimacy of nicknames, féi hernandez investigates the trajectory of a family wrestling with its own definition and meaning, of a daughter and a sister and a Frizzy Haired Wild Woman called Nana.
Retrato in Names
Inspired by Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Grandma calls me My Little Son with the way she digs her red nails into my tiny plump hand, but utters Grandson, yet what she actually means to say is Daughter I Never Had That I Love So Much because Mari, whom she calls My Little Daughter, was always more so Tomboy. And Patty, the Eldest Daughter, also known as Too Sickly, had a sensitive scalp. Grandma couldn’t pull her hair for braids, so she used my hair to turn me into the girl I couldn’t be. Curiosito, she would whisper in my ear, weirdo.
Grandpa calls me My King when he decides to speak to me, but what he actually means to call me is I Know You’re a Princess and I Still Love You. I know this because he shares his grapefruit with me which is also called Amor Eterno according to my Grandma who I sometimes call Abuelita, Little Grandma. Grandpa who I sometimes call Abuelo is never called Little Grandpa because it makes him feel less like my father or less of a man.
Mami calls me My Little Dog and gives me a necklace with an expensive stone when I start dressing like a girl. Mami, who I sometimes call Mom, will text me throughout the day: My Son how are you today? On days she remembers she’ll say My Child. Stray, Mami will sometimes call me, and bring me to her chest, hug me and fill the voids of men that leave me stranded. You know that I love you so much right? she says with tears in her eyes and goes back to clicking plastic keys on a keyboard, and someone will shout her name, Boss.
Madrina calls me My Boy because she lost her firstborn and I replaced him. I sometimes call her My Second Mom or Madrina or Jerk because she’s all those things, but never to her face. Tia Patty is the name I use when I knock on her rusted door from her soon to be foreclosed house. Life Did Her So Wrong I Empathize With You Tia always pops more pills than she should because the pain is insurmountable…or the high is too good. Even though she calls me My Sky or My Treasure, I still can only sometimes call her I Know You’re Hurting But That’s Not An Excuse To Hurt Others.
Padrino, who I can only ever call Tio Martin, or Dad I Never Had in birthday cards, calls me Fabis, a name that died of a stroke. He remembers calling me My Little Boy a year ago, but now that I dress like a girl he says Silence. Sometimes I know he wants to call me This Lifestyle Isn’t Right, but he won’t, instead he’ll call me by my name, Strange or I Don’t Understand You. Regardless, I’ll be the first he whips a plate of rice, beans, avocado, and nopal salad for when I walk into his house on fire. He’s the only person I have ever called Father even when I don’t show up to his midnight birthday cake candle-blow-out.
Suseth, I sometimes call Susie, or Sue, or Angry Ass Bitch because she’s stank ever since college, even though when we were younger I called her Me. She calls me Annoying or Brother or Sister but mostly she doesn’t call me. I mostly call her Sister, but in a tone you use when you want to say more but don’t, the way you put glass cups in a cardboard box for storage. Sometimes she’ll surprise me with kindness and transparency and I’ll call her Open Heart Surgery Survivor or Your Softness Inspires Me or Thank You For the Tortillas You Just Hand Made for Me or Your Salsa is the Best Sis! Although we forget our first names to each other, our last name is Halcyon or Safe Haven and that will never change. Suseth is also the first to let language rock our family when I was being swallowed alone. They, Them, Their, is the pronouns My Sister needs us to address them as!
I never call Natalia by her first name. That name is reserved for Dictator when she slaps words at her daughter. To me, Naty is My Baby, or My Favorite, or Nana or Nani. She is also My Dearest Sister, or The Baddest Bitch I Know. Although her household thinks her name is Maid, Holder of the World, Rebellious Daughter, to me her name is actually Gift because order would cease to exist in the world if she changed her name to Never Came Back or I’m Tired Of All Of Yalls Shit. Nana could also be called God’s Light or Untempered, Pure Love because everyone around her ceases to worship or respect truth. Nana calls me Billy, a nickname I took on in high school to be anything but Undocumented, Faggot, Weirdo. She calls me DAMN YOU FINE or Dummmmmm, or Your Hoops Are Poppin Bitch, but she usually addresses me as Always Home Away From House. Nani, on desperate days, calls me Refuge, calls me Thank You For Holding Me, For Taking Care of Me. Nana, my Frizzy Haired Wild Woman or Kindest Warrior or Teacher teaches me about love over the phone.
féi hernandez (b.1993 Chihuahua, Mexico) is an Inglewood raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist and writer. féi’s writing has been featured in NPR’s Code Switch, Immigrant Review, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity (Columbia University Press, 2019), Good Mood, LiveWire Issue 7, Hayden's Ferry Issue 64, and forthcoming BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT and POETRY Magazine. Their debut full-length poetry collection hood criatura will be published through Sundress Publications in the Summer/Fall of 2020. For booking or more information follow féi hernandez on Instagram: @fei.hernandez or feihernandez.com