restricted access Flavio da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, 1961
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Flavio da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, 1961

after a photograph by Gordon Parks

When you look at him thereas skinny as nothing,balancing himself with one leg raisedand crooked to cross the otherlike a carnival trick, posing akimbo,without one clean spoton his tattered tee shirt and shorts,you have to wonder howhis parents, José and Nair, kept dreamingsuch lovely-sounding names.Each time, eight times,they come up with Flavio, as they used a holein their crumbling floor for a toilet;Maria, while they suffered Flavio'sjaundiced, asthmatic coughing;Mario, when they witnessedthe thumb-sucking hunger,sores over arms and shinsmultiply like those of Lazarus;Luzia, amid the day's washing,while Nair, her bare feet calloused and bleeding,paused for a momentunder the shade of a jacarandanear the base of their mountain;Albia, as they heated what rice and beansthey could get hold ofatop a makeshift stovecobbled from bricks and tin;Isabel, maybe when they foundtheir children, flesh and blood,siding like warring tribes against one another;Baptista, after José returnsangry and weak from another long dayof peddling kerosene and bleachfor so few cruzeiros;Zacarias, as they navigated the Catacumba,which means "death" in Portuguese,to their rotting favelaamong the rotting faveladospacked like trash into a hillside,or later, when Nair stirreda little kerosene into some stale coffeeto calm Flavio's lungs;and then perhaps, turning for a changefrom their plague of ever-swarming fliesto just across that sparkling lagoon [End Page 238] separating themfrom the palatial ways of the blessed,for another already greatin the belly, waiting, unnamed. [End Page 239]

Claude Wilkinson

Claude Wilkinson is a critic, essayist, poet, and painter. His poetry collections include Reading the Earth, winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, and Joy in the Morning, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Among his other honors are the Whiting Writers' Award and two Pushcart Prize nominations.