Julia Alvarez

Winner of the Lyric Poetry Award in 2015

On Sundays

On Sundays we would get to choose
whom we belonged to, the choice disguised
as destination: either cathedral mass
with Mami or the beach with Papi,
a simple choice, were it not we knew
how on a whim he'd change his mind
en route, as we whined he'd tricked us,
leaving us waiting in the airless Chevy,
just a minute, the backseat burning
in the tropic heat of what would soon
be midday, while he made his rounds
at the hospital, or turned down a wash-
board road that hurt our bottoms to fill
the trunk with river stones that took hours
to pick—just the right size, the right shape,
for the fishpond he was building, which
required a stop at the almacén, just around
the corner, for cement—errands he omitted
mentioning when he promised white sands,
pounding surf, coco water dripping down
our chins and swimsuits—as if to teach us
that no place would ever be the place
we meant to get to, what we hungered for,
the way the sea was hungry, its ragged mouths
opening for boats, toys, kids—spitting them back
as driftwood, shell shards, tiny skeletons;
or coming after us, as we raced up the beach,
never knowing what it wanted from us,
which might be why I chose it every time;
why now in my troubled turnings, when I
make no sense or headway, I see
how I trained for this, how each time
I knew from the last time
those beaches were unlikely, knew
what I was missing, how after mass,
Mami would drive to Capri's,
with its candycane-striped awning, its blast
of cold air like winter not yet known
first hand, the cartons of imported ices,
ice cream under sliding glass doors, deliberations
back and forth, or peppermint, or plain
vanilla, topped with chocolate sauce,
or sprinkled with confetti colors, honing
the skill of choosing predictable outcomes.
Instead I practiced patience in the face of
disappointments, sharp reversals, for
the rare, rewarded hope, when he took
that final curve almost into the sky—
and it lay before us: vast and blue, roaring
in the distance, spired with whitecaps, belled
with buoys, and in the rearview mirror,
his face, like mine, awash with waves
of joy, as I leaned forward,
as if to whisper in his ear, I'm yours,
the way it sometimes happens: we arrive
where we were promised, belong to
what we longed for in ourselves, each other.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Julia Alvarez.  Reprinted by permission of Stuart Bernstein Representation for Artists, New York, NY.  All rights reserved.

line

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers on Julia Alvarez

The language of a poem is what draws me in. I admit that I am a sucker for a poem that exhibits beauty and luminosity. I need the startling weft of words moving under and over each other in a poem. But language alone cannot carry a poem for me. Sure, I lap up the language—gobble it up—but just as I admit that I have a weakness for beauty, I also have a weakness for understanding—or at least, for a poet's empathy with the reader. I want to know that the poet, while writing for him- or herself, also writes for me. Includes me. Has affection for me.  Knows that I'm there, giving a chance to the poem, even if I don't know where I am going—even if I don't want to know where I am going. "On Sundays" is a poem that literally takes me on a journey with the speaker, past landscape and memory and confusion into revelation. Along the way, the poet layers lyric subjectivity with imagery that is at once new, but somehow, familiar to someplace previously unknown inside me. And inside this poem—under and over the words—there is wisdom: "We arrive where we were promised..." The poet did not disappoint me, as I followed the journey. I needed that wisdom, to know that I wasn't following in vain.

Quite simply, I dug this poem. I dug it real, real strong.

Go Back to Annual Awards Winners' Listing