CELIA LISSET ALVAREZ
Author Feature - June 2021
Celia Lisset Alvarez was born in Madrid, Spain, while her Cuban parents were waiting for their visas to come to the US after having lived 10 years under Castro’s communist regime. Educated entirely in the US, Alvarez received an MFA in fiction and an MA in English from the University of Miami in 1995, where she also met her husband, fellow Cane and poet Rafael Miguel Montes. She worked for many years as adjunct English faculty at St. Thomas University, Miami-Dade College, and Florida International University. Tired of only finding part-time employment, she accepted a full-time position teaching English at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, an all-girls Catholic prep school, in 2014. She left Lourdes in 2018 to take care of her children. In 2006, she published her first chapbook of poetry, Shapeshifting, winner of the 2005 Spire Press Poetry Award. It was quickly followed by another chapbook, The Stones (Finishing Line Press) later in 2006. She did not publish her first full-length collection, Multiverses (Finishing Line Press) until 2021. In the intervening years, she published many poems in journals and anthologies such as How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens (Upper Rubber Boot Books 2015), Obsession: Sestinas for the 21st Century (Dartmouth UP 2014), and the Iodine Poetry Journal. Multiverses is a speculative memoir in verse narrating five years of the poet’s life during which she suffered several hard losses, including the death of her newborn son at just 26 days old. The book uses the theory of multiple universes as a device to weave the memoir with a series of speculative alternatives to the same tragic events: two miscarriages, the death of a beloved grand-uncle, her son’s death, and finally her father’s. Alvarez is now the editor of the journal Prospectus: A Literary Offering, and lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband, daughters Lucy and Sara, her mother, and their dog, Maggie.
In the NICU,
they try to reassure me
with stories of babies
born at 23 weeks
who have survived
just like you and I,
no mark of this struggle
of wires and buttons,
dials and digital heartbeats.
Born at 27 weeks, Arturo
is more fetus than baby.
I gasp the first time I see them,
my twins, Arturo and Sara.
In the violet light of the incubator,
I struggle to make out the color
of their hair or their eyes.
The only way I can tell them apart
is that Sara’s hat has a jaunty bow.
Try to remain positive, they say.
They let me change their diapers.
Arturo’s eyes slit slightly open,
flash of black, amphibious.
I give him the tip of my finger
and his hand curls around it,
like a kitten’s paw. He is intubated,
the tape covering his lower face
like a mask. His chest is covered
by sensors. Even the preemie diaper
reaches to his armpits.
All that I can see,
because they cannot cover it
in order to have a place from which…
to draw blood, is his left foot,
a bulbous big toe standing straight
up in the air, just like mine.
Just like mine. This is my son.
Even when the crash cart comes in,
even when I can no longer tell
which doctor can save him,
I believe that things will turn around.
When the beep of his heartbeat
goes silent, I clutch my husband and
watch my son turn purple, beginning
with his toe. This is my son,
I say to myself, when I
can finally hold him, free
from tubes and tape. I think
of the multiverse theory,
wondering what version of me
can hold him alive and breathing.
what version of me
can take him home,
can watch him grow.
Sara’s hair is golden,
her eyes a streaming blue river.
She squeals with laughter
as my mother makes her
airplane sounds with her spoon.
I think of that version of me
where there are two toddlers,
skin so white you can see
their map of veins. I trace
Sara’s blue highways to her
big toe, bulbous, alert, ready
to spring into action.
My father holds his grandson
for the first time.
Afraid of hospitals,
he did not witness
the terror of the machines
that one must watch,
as if the watching
could somehow control
No, he wasn’t there
when the tube went down his
grandson’s throat, when I
was taught to feed him
through his nose with a syringe.
The boy that he holds now is
small, but perfect, and though
his eyes are blue my brown-eyed father
sees himself in those clear eyes,
sees himself live on now
into a fuzzy future
where flying cars and computers
whizz his grandson to his job
as a lawyer or a doctor
quite frankly anything other
than what his only child became,
a poet he could not understand…
In his arms he finds release.
Now living or dying is the same.
Should he live, he’ll live to see the day
Arturito—as he will of course be called,
the Spanish diminutive that plagued
my 97-year-old uncle to his grave—
he’ll live to see the day Arturito
throws his first baseball. Or,
should he die, there will be baseball
anyway. Perhaps tennis.
He is free to do as he pleases.
They look into each other’s eyes. There
is an instant bond that leaps far
over my head into the world they
happily belong to, the inaccessible
world of men another version of me
was perhaps able to puncture, my father
and I jumping to the beat of the dog races,
the clack of dominoes on the table,
the shots of the jai alai ball on the wall.
I catch my father giving Lucy
a bite of his ham sandwich.
Papi! I scream, how many times
must I tell you we are vegan
and plan to raise the girls to be as well?
It’s just a little piece, he says,
and I go on a rant: it’s a matter of respect,
you don’t respect our choices
just like you don’t respect our privacy.
(He’s been peeking through the curtain
on the French door that separates
our side of the house from theirs,
trying to get a glimpse of the girls
when they are with us.)…
Meanwhile Lucy chews and smiles
at her Pop-Pop as I whisk her away,
furious, too furious really, this one
piece of ham carrying the weight
of my whole upbringing, of an
entire lifetime of peeking through
my curtains and questioning my choices.
Just before I get to the door,
I put Lucy down and easily rip
off the curtain, a flimsy, dirty thing
I had once helped my mom put up
myself with two simple rods
and four small screws.
There, I think,
now there’ll be no more peeking,
no more pretending that there’s
some kind of boundary to our
I put Lucy in the crib next to Sara
and cry miserably on the bed
just like I did that night when I
was fifteen and they wouldn’t
let me go out with Jorge Guerrero.
I marvel at the time tunnel I’ve
created, the Charybdis that has
swallowed me, the open maw
of the NICU doors.
You try to swim against the current,
exhaust yourself, and die.
Lucy’s large enough to scramble
out of the crib. I find her face and hands
pressed against the door, my father
on the other side, blowing kisses
at each other while Lucy cries,
Pop-Pop. Pop-Pop. Pop-Pop.