Maiming the Island



oppression lives in my last name
a name that identifies
the trunk I branched from
with roots anchored
in Puerto Rico

Morales, from Aibonito
surname of Spanish origin, meaning
‘one who’s lived by a mulberry bush’

and mom’s side, Nieves
from Arecibo
‘Our Lady of the Snows’

la Isla where great-grandma
was forced to flee, with
ten kids on hips and back
because discrimination
said her fair skin ought
not to link with black
she birthed brown babies
abandoned and
chased across the ocean

Papa, my grandfather
loved la Isla
in a shared tin house
nestled in
the middle of the island
but colonialism is tough
a family needs more
than white rice and eggs
he flew to New York
in the fifties
and ran a bodega

Puerto Rico was enslaved
stripped of sugar cane
and coffee crops
where people were massacred
on Palm Sunday
and restricted to vote
for president
today’s debilitation
speaks the same dialect
intentional disabling
restricting resources
maiming the people

over 4,000 Puerto Ricans dead
4,000 human beings, blood
same that flows through me
veins, impassioned vessels
an oceanic causeway
for the ancestor’s voice
that’s bubbled in rage
for basic human rights
as people are sucked
into the mouths of hurricanes
the president plays golf

my people struggle
to keep afloat
half-baked under
Caribbean sun
casas, no roof
no electricity,
no running water
the mountains care more
than the U.S. government
paper towels thrown at us
and FEMA, aborted

heart monitors cease
dialysis machines stop
intubated lungs deflate
life support loses breath
thousands of people die
they even lie about that
a genocide formulation
as their eyes peer our land
gluttonous fingertips
reaching, to swipe our soil
while bodies perish in despair
they ignore the screams
entangled in palm trees
and the straining gurgles
that ebb and flow ashore

politicians are thieves
a ravenous culture
profiting from our deaths
and destructed properties
eyeing opportunities
from our misfortune
narcissists with agendas
look to capitalize
on coquis and
beauteous beaches
indigenous wail
as gushing wounds
are preyed on
and gasping breaths

lack of humanity scares me
this level of disconnect

chains are still clanking
the Jones Act snickers
oppression is real
and has lived too long
but our spirits
won’t allow us to give up
because our family names
remind us of those before us
and the fight they fought
to the fight we fight
with spines split forth
bent and hung over
a shattered land
but ancestors uplift
with valor and strength
to bolster our souls
above the peak
of Cerro de Punta

so, let it be known
we will figure it out
we will revive the soil
and plant new seeds
earth will reciprocate
all that we’ve sown
what’s ours is ours
and so it is.

©Liza Morales


The Abandoned Island



Puerto Ricans

there’s war on my people

sterilization, genocide

for years



abandonment of the island

I hear their cries — it burns

quieted deaths


©2017 Liza Morales

Janet ♡ Carlos


In 1948, he was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, the first of four children, all born at home. My grandparents didn’t have much and lived in poor conditions; eating lots of eggs and rice, in a tin house which does not exist today. Despite the lack of money, they were extremely rich in love. As a young boy, my dad ultimately moved to New York and was raised in Spanish Harlem. 

By the time Mom was born in 1951, her family had already migrated to New York from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She was born in Bellevue Hospital on 1st Avenue and was also raised in Spanish Harlem.

Mom and Dad met in ‘El Barrio’ and he became her boyfriend when she was 13. Eventually, he was drafted into the Navy but the separation only strengthened their love. As soon as he was honorably discharged, she married him at the age of 18 and gave birth to my brother at 19. My parents didn’t want to stay in Spanish Harlem, so they moved to the Bronx and lived in the second floor apartment at my paternal grandparents’ house. A couple of years later, we moved to Gun Hill Road until they were able to save enough money to buy a house of their own, which they eventually did. It is the same home I live in today. 

My parents were awesome providers and made huge sacrifices to ensure we lived comfortably. They had a total of three children. They fed us, clothed us, loved us, schooled us, sheltered us and placed us all in private school (which Mom always claimed, “Education is the best gift we could give you”). Their hugest priority was always us and for that I love them eternally. They loved us unconditionally and their example taught me how to love my children the same way. Even their love for one another was exemplary. They demonstrated love as a verb. 

In 2008, death separated them after 39 years of marriage but it was temporary. Only seven months later, he died and joined her. There was no life without the other. “Until death do us apart” was their mantra and now they rest in peace and eternal love … together, until infinity.

[Photo captured at the Copacabana, NYC, early 80s] 

Pastelillos – my way


“Liza, you wanna pastelillo?” was music to my ears growing up. It was and still is one of my favorite cultural foods. Some people call them empanadas but my family called them pastelillos (meat turnover). With grandparents from Puerto Rico, who eventually migrated to New York, I’ve been privileged to indulge in delicious Puerto Rican cuisine all of my life. Dad was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico and mom was born here in NYC, but she too, was well endowed with her cooking skills.  I remember when she died in 2008, mostly everyone who attended her funeral, mentioned how grateful they were for her cooking. She fed everyone, just as my grandmothers did. It’s traditional in our culture to show our love through food and we believe, there’s always enough for everyone – “¡ Dios da pa todo mundo” .. is what I always heard them say. 

I may not cook as authentically as my ancestors but I definitely cook with love and from what I understand,  that’s one of the most potent ingredients. 

Here, I share my version of pastelillos:

I start off with a package of dough (discos) and a pound of ground turkey. Traditionally, they use ground beef but you can substitute with ground turkey or chicken for a healthier version, as I do. 

I sauté sofrito, fresh garlic,  adobo, onion powder, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Then I mix in the ground turkey with the sofrito over medium flames until fully cooked.

Now, I sprinkle some flour on the counter top , lay and roll out the dough atop of flour, then place some ground meat in the center. 

Cheese is optional. 

Now,  I scramble an egg and dab the edges of the entire circumference, fold over the dough and begin to pinch the edges with a fork. 

Pile them up, until complete and begin to fry. (Baking is also optional)

As they’re frying, I grab a large utensil and begin to repeatedly scoop oil over the pastelillo. The dough will begin to bubble up and turn golden. After a few minutes, flip it over and do the same on the opposite side.

*Remove from oil and wait a few minutes to cool off before eating. The internal steam can burn your skin.



©2016 Liza Morales

Sweetener 27/30


I like my coffee hot, real hot. I prefer it bold and robust and lightly sweetened. Sometimes, I use flavored creamers to sweeten it, other times I use organic raw sugar.
I must say, every time I use sugar, I can’t help but think of my island, Puerto Rico and its rich production of sugar in the 19th century. I can’t help being reminded of the hourless days they toiled under grave conditions, for pennies a day. I can’t help but think of all the slaves that were imported for the greed of gluttons. I can’t help but think of how Puerto Rico’s sugar industry was manipulated, drained of their resources and ultimately dominated by outside capital, the United States.

sugar industry
arable land, plantations
stolen molasses.

©2016 Liza Morales

(Haibun poetry)



unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

on Palm Sunday, nineteen thirty seven

blood-covered Ponce, in a screeching caw

unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

Since when is a peaceful march against the law?

bludgeoning nineteen people to heaven

unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

on Palm Sunday, nineteen thirty seven.

©2016 Liza Morales

(Triolet poetry)


                               [Photo captured by Carlos Torres Morales on March 21, 1937 and published in El Impartial on April 1, 1937]