Yellow flowers for Imelda

We were both adopted. Imelda was disappeared during a US-backed military raid on her village. I was conceived during a time when pregnant, unmarried women were often shamed into relinquishment.

Returning after twelve years of absence, Imelda sits at the stern of the boat. The microphone boom from the 60 Minutes crew hovers above us.
Imelda adjusts her long, brown hair, considers her hands, her nails, the gold heart at each center. She tells me she doesn’t know what to say.
We look toward the water, the mud-green islands heavy with herons. The engine of the fishing boat trips then stirs.

“Was Imelda a big eater?” I ask Imelda’s birth parents.

Victoria touches the beads of her barrette and smoothes the fold of her skirt.

“There wasn’t a lot to eat,” Chepe begins, “but she loved fish and crab.”

“That’s gross! Crab’s disgusting. Was I fat?” Imelda wants to know.

Chepe and Victoria laugh, taking their daughter in; their little girl Imelda who was six years old.
Now she’s a young woman named Gina who speaks English and lives in Youngstown, Ohio.

“Your stomach was fat with parasites,” Chepe teases, softening the edges of their rural, wartime poverty.

“Did me and Blanquita fight?”
Imelda wonders about her older sister who survived the attack.


“What games did I play?”

“You loved to play in the water,” Victoria tells her daughter.

“You used to grab my hand and say, ‘Come on, Papi, we have to hide.’”

“I remember the planes,” says Imelda, “I remember when Vilma was hit, but I don’t remember anything after the explosion.”

The boat moves deeper into the mangrove forest. The land is hidden. We watch the cashew trees; their expanding branches, the red fist of their fruit.
I wait for words to carry back and forth.

Chepe shouts above the engine and the guide cuts the motor. We step into the Lempa river and walk toward the shore.
The Manhattan reporter looks around and whispers,

“There’s nothing here.”

Victoria finds the clue. Holding a chipped, enamel bowl she tells the reporter this is where they had lived. We circle around her. The camera starts to roll.

“This is where we were separated,” Chepe tells Imelda.

“Your uncle carried you to the hospital. We stayed back with Vilma and she died the next morning.”

Among the inter-tidal roots, the ground porous, Chepe hammers the cross into place.

“I knew you weren’t dead,” Imelda looks to her first parents, “I never believed you were dead.”

“We never abandoned you, Imelda. Nos tuvimos que huir.”

“I didn’t want to leave,” Imelda answers, “I didn’t want to go.”

Victoria steps toward the memorial for the daughters she lost. Red paper flowers for Vilma, yellow for Imelda who has returned.
The cicadas are louder now. We stand inside their fever pitch. I wait for words.