Mango No. 61

“La charada” is a kind of numerology in which every number is assigned a specific term or phrase. For example, No. 34 is “monkey, No. 75 is “necktie,” and so on. My grandmother was a bookie, and so she knew the entire chararda by heart because her “clients” placed bets by calling out, “five dollars on black dog,” for example. But no one had ever explained it to me. This poem takes as its cue the confusion, delight–and magic–that la charada played in my childhood.

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Pescado grande was number 14, while pescado chico, was number 12; dinero, money, was number 10. This was la charada, the sacred and obsessive numerology my abuela used to predict lottery numbers or winning trifectas at the dog track. The grocery stores and pawn shops on Flagler street handed out complementary wallet-size cards printed with the entire charada, numbers 1 through 100: number 70 was coco, number 89 was melón and number 61 was mango. Mango was Mrs. Pike, the last americana on the block with the best mango tree in the neighborhood. Mamá would coerce her in granting us picking rights–after all, los americanos don’t eat mango, she’d reason. Mango was fruit wrapped in brown paper bags, hidden like ripening secrets in the kitchen oven. Mango was the perfect house warming gift and a marmalade dessert with thick slices of cream cheese at birthday dinners and Thanksgiving. Mangos, watching like amber cat’s eyes. Mangos, perfectly still in their speckled maroon shells like giant unhatched eggs. Number 48 was cucaracha, number 36 was bodega, but mango was my uncle’s bodega, where everyone spoke only loud Spanish, the precious gold fruit towering in tres-por-un-peso pyramids. Mango was mango shakes made with milk, sugar and a pinch of salt–my grandfather’s treat at the 8th street market after baseball practice. Number 60 was sol, number 18 was palma, but mango was my father and I under the largest shade tree at the edges of Tamiami park. Mango was abuela and I hunched over the counter covered with the Spanish newspaper, devouring the dissected flesh of the fruit slithering like molten gold through our fingers, the nectar cascading from our binging chins, abuela consumed in her rapture and convinced that I absolutely loved mangos. Those messy mangos. Number 79 was cubano–us, and number 93 was revolución, though I always thought it should be 58, the actual year of the revolution–the reason why, I’m told, we live so obsessively and nostalgically eating number 61’s, mangos, here in number 87, América.