Icons Icons to be used for Apiary Magazine's website. Arrows Created for Apiary Magazine's website. confetti Created with Sketch.
  • Search Philadelphia Literature
  • Apiary in Print
    • Apiary 1
    • Apiary 2
    • Apiary 3
    • Apiary 4
    • Apiary 5
    • Apiary 6
    • The Power Issue
    • APIARY 8 Soft Targets
    • APIARY 9: Sanctuary
  • Apiary on the Web
    • APIARY Online Winter 2013
    • Apiary Online Summer 2013
    • Special: Apiary Valentine's Day 2012
    • Apiary Online Winter 2012
    • Apiary Online Summer 2011

Coats Are Not Exchanged For Coats

by Raquel Salas-Rivera

let us take two commodities such as

50 years of work and one debt

accumulated over 50 years.


as proprietor of the first

you decide to take it to caribe hilton banking

where i offer my life to pay this debt.


but they explain that it’s not enough:


just as the debt and the fifty years of work have use values that are qualitatively different, so are the two forms of labor that produce them: that of the investor and that of the colonized. your life is not enough. you will have to pay with the labor of your children and your children’s children.


let’s say you tell them i never had any because
i never wanted to make heirs of those who

barely know the difference

between milk and coquito.


but they explain that even if you don’t have a lineage

your neighbors, the dog that plunders your trash,

doña sophia with her luminous rosary, your abuela

that barely leaves the house to go to the pharmacy,

angelía that still awaits your book,

luis that finally has a job but still has debts to pay,

that guy who mugged you for ten bucks

will inherit.



that you come back with your neighbors,

with your abuela, with the dog

that sometimes searches your trash,

with angelía, with luis, and say

here are my heirs.

do you accept our payment?

will you terminate our debt?


will you erase our names from the system?


but they say where are the rivers?

el río guajataca, el río camuy,

el río cibuco, el río de bayamón,

       el río puerto nuevo, el río grande de loíza,

      el río herrera,      el río mameyes,

      el río sabana,      el río fajardo,

      el río daguao,      el río santiago,

      el río blanco,      el río humacao,

el río seco, el río maunabo,

etc. etc. etc.


they will be your heirs.


this time you decide to get ahead.

like a specter you haunt all of puerto rico.

you grab handfuls of whatever:

gasoline station umbrellas, limestone,

birth certificates, shutdown shops, etc.

etc. etc…


you go back to the bank with your island

so densely ingested that

you cough up burials and streetlights.


you say here i have all that fits

between the caribbean sea and the north atlantic.

here i have: my imaginary.


but they say you owe nothingness,

your account has a negative balance.

in exchange for this debt

we only accept coats,

but this you definitely don’t have

because it’s almost never cold

in puerto rico.


let’s say you go to philadelphia

to look for the coats much needed

by the abuelas, the angelías, the río maunabo, etc.

you work hard, look for a license

with a renewed address, buy three four

five hundred coats, go to the local branch

and say here they are;

i would like to pay that debt.


but without looking up they answer

here in philly we don’t accept coats.


let’s suppose that in the pasteles box

you send the coats to your mother

with a note that reads payment: puerto rican debt,

and mami [after decoding your handwriting] carries

the box to the local branch of the banco popular, caribe hilton banking or loquesea bank, where they give her a look and—before she can say a word—indicate to turn in coats, use line number three.


imagine that it is a long longer almost interminable line,

a line that spans 50 years.  


Read all work by Raquel Salas-Rivera


More Info