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Native American Heritage Month: 'That Was It (The Missing Taino),' a Poem by Rick Kearns

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It is not easy

for me to say

I am a stranger

in this white world

but I am.

I awoke one day

rainbow Boricua white boy

floating in a suburb

feeling the need to explode. 

Looking for the right mirror


none of the

mainstream labels

seemed to fit. 

I found the marrow

of the matter

solely by chance.

My white ancestors


helped build this

glorious monstrosity

giving “us”

more free time and

faster transportation

quicker communication

so we can send words

to more people

we will never meet and

help each other build

more walls more privacy

until we are all

completely alone


They are my people too.

The roots of my tree

also go back to

España, gypsy mother

Roman father of

passionate faith and

dignity and blinding


took Taino African concubines

and begat Puerto Rico

reinforcing the notion

that slavery

begins at home and love,

rage, suppression

and servitude begat

farmers who lived in

music and the heat

of tropical sunny

colonial slavery

with a twist.

They are my family as well.

And I walk

among these cousins

apart and watching

a visitor

in somebody else’s


Not to say

that there were no


were are many many

of great strength



nothing so simple

as all that. 

I often felt

I was inside a cave. 

At home in subways, alleys,


dark forests.

None of this

had a name

until the family secret

was accidentally released. 

I always wanted stories. 

Impossibly curious

12-year-old always

wanting family stories

quizzed my

grandparents, uncles,

cousins and my

beleaguered parents

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until one day

my mother

shot a laser

through the fog.

“Well hijo,” my

beloved mother conceded,

“Yes, hijo, your abuelo’s

family had Taino blood. 

But it’s so far back,

so far away. The Tainos

are extinct mi’jo. Our family

is from Spain.” 

That was it

that made sense

all of a sudden

it had a name

I had a name

Taino. Taino

I would mutter

to myself and

it remained

my secret. I knew

what was in the books. 

The word in the books

was ‘extinct’. Dead of

disease and genocide and

I knew all that

but Taino did not

feel dead to me.

Taino ancestors

explained my love

for the earth in

a way that cannot

be translated

into English or Spanish. 

These epiphanies

came in waves

knocked me out

of linear language

expression and


just below the surface. 

Then the waves came


many years later

I rode in a truck

in a train in a

subway emerged

into the light

out of the cave

into East Harlem

barrio Fifth Avenue

the poorer end of

museum row and

in El Museo del Barrio

Taino celebration

elation to see

dancers and photos

sacred objects

and Taino faces. 

It was uplifting

and confusing causing

outrageous battle

with my linear mind

telling me

look at your Irish frame and your

Celtic name and

look in the mirror

look in the mirror

and I caught

my reflection

in the glass of

a case surrounding

a cemi and I saw

myself smiling. 

This is it


you make sense

this is

my secret no

longer this

is it the missing

piece of my puzzle and I am


and I am


Rick Kearns is a poet, freelance writer and musician of Puerto Rican (Spanish/Taino) and European background based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This poem comes from his collection Rufino's Secret, published by Foothills Publishing in December 2011.