for abuelita


I learned your real name

A week before you died.


Your mother loved the name Gu-heim

With its strong, cheerful lilt that always

Reminded me of bright green walls

And ceramic bowls of white rice

Warm to the touch.


At the foot of the church in Puerto Rico

Your mother begged for two syllables

To give to her precious baby girl but

The priests insisted:

Guheim was no saint’s name.


Instead they settled on Maria—

A name you held secret and close

Like a golden heirloom 

Pressed in the underwire of your bra

Passed on to me before you did. 


I wonder if the priests

Knew what you’d become.

I wonder if they smelled

The goodness on you

The honeysuckle sweetness of self-sacrifice

Or the pots and pans of arroz con pollo

You’d go on to cook

Just in case anyone was hungry.


I’ve never seen you with a rosary in your hands 

But you are the only saint I know,

The only soul deserving of a martyr’s name

But too free-spirited

To ever come when called by it. 


I learned your real name

A week before you died.


In the empty days after you left

I’ve mulled all of your names over

Wishing I learned Spanish sooner

So I could do them justice

Wishing you were still here

So I could address you at all. 


Now, years later,

After all my aunts and cousins wept for you

Next to the basin of holy water in Brooklyn,

At the foot of another church in Puerto Rico

A baby is being baptized—

As I was, and my parents were, and you before them

With toes tiny as black beans

Awash with the scent of goodness 

And meals with unwritten recipes.


The mother begs for a secular name, 

Clutching her breast and giving it her best shot.

The priests will shake their stubborn heads

And insist the baby be called, under God—




Ava Pauline Emilione recently graduated from NYU studying Film & TV and Economics. They founded Ebony Tomatoes Collective, a multi-media digital magazine for black women and non-binary creatives.  They were a staff writer at Washington Square News, NYU’s independent publication. Their writing has been published in The North Star with Shaun King, NYU Gallatin Archive, and The Unplug Collective. They currently live in Brooklyn where they casually birdwatch and hunt for the coziest cafes.