Three Poems (March 20, 2011. Issue 26. The SLAM & FLASH Issue!)
I'm Not a Real Mexican
Or at least that's what the Spanish-speaking
mother of three told me as I handed
her a scoop of Pistachio and said Thank you,
have a good day instead of Gracias y que te vaya bien.
She tilted her head and asked
Por qué no hablas Español?
Eres Mexicana, no?
I understood her completely, like I understood
my mother when she'd speak to me, discretely,
in that forbidden language. But the tongue
was stuck in my jaw. Yo, yo, yo....
yo no hablo porque estoy muy embarazada.
My intention was to say: Yes, I am Mexican,
but I don't speak Spanish because I don't do it well
and I am very embarrassed because of it.
But the actual translation was: I don't speak
because I am very pregnant.
She looked at my stomach, shook her finger and said
No eres Mexicana.
She took her two cents change and left.
I went home that day and wept
and yelled at my mother for never teaching me
the language in which she spoke
to her brothers and lovers before she left to the States,
floating on the feather or the fist
of an American man.
I went through the incident in my head over and again
and imagined all the things I could've said.
I should've said the truth.
No Ma'am, I don't speak Spanish because
since the day he was born, my American father
of Navajo and faraway Oaxacan roots
only knew assimilation.
He told my Mexican-born mother Don't speak
that language to the kids, they'll never fit in.
And I did! I did fit in
until the real Mexicans
saw me as a pocha, a brown-girl so far from her roots
that her skin had turned pale,
until I couldn't introduce myself to my boyfriends'
real Mexican families,
until I started to work and the real Mexicans laughed
at me because my Spanish was pathetic.
I tried to learn it in school, but could barely get it,
so all I could say to the real Mexicans
was perdóneme, I'm sorry, perdóneme.
But I’m not sorry that I'm not Mexican enough for you,
because when my mother held me in her warm,
fat, forever nestle for nine months,
the love for her culture ran so fast through her veins
that it crossed the finish line with me
into this American world
and still races in my heart everyday.
It did not teach me the language to speak to you,
but it taught me the language to love all things
which are proof that when our Uncle Chuys,
our Tia Yuyis and our Grandma Juanas
crossed the border with dreams in their
thighs, eyes and bones
they did not leave their culture far behind.
The remnants made love
with the struggle and birthed a new
breed on the streets of Whittier Boulevard
and in line at the taco trucks,
in the skin of the second generation children
and their love of the Spanish word for fuck,
and in the sons and daughters running off to college
with dreams brighter than those of their parents,
and in the Spanglish, the language
I respect that you hold on
to your culture so tight Ma'am,
but don't suffocate me with your judgment.
I am as lost as you are,
caught between the barbed-wire fence
of two worlds.
Two girls from class come up to you and ask
If that's how hairy your arms are,
what does your vagina look like?
You're eleven years old
and you've yet to gather the courage
to kill someone.
The twitch of your nose and the kick
in your throat tell you to slam them
with a “fuck you!”
but your confidence is a toddler
under the tires of a pick-up truck,
smashed for miles
beneath the tread of their words.
Who wants to be known throughout
grade school as the brown girl with the
Chewbacca arms and matching genitalia?
All the other girls steal eyes
because of the density of their hair follicles,
because of the twist of their hips
and the curl of their lips
and because they don't raise a fist but only sit
and take the damage,
wear it like a purse to match their shoes,
never asking where or why they bought it,
only knowing that it makes them cute.
They go home and shave with their brothers'
razor blades from forehead to toe
and draw in a facade like their eyebrows:
nice, straight, smooth and thin
so no one will ever know
that they evolved from apes.
have got leg hair so thick and long it sticks
out from your knee highs, and arm hair
that sways fuzzy in the wind
with static electricity, getting caught
in every zipper, velcro strap,
and disgusted stare.
And even though your classmates scream ugly
your momma cries beautiful, natural!
You are the redwood tree
before the plain white paper
You are the breathing animal
before the cold slab of meat
You are the open field of daffodils
before a shopping mall,
untouched by the bulldozer of vanity.
Anthropologists say that as we evolved
into the long-legged, striding biped that
walked long distances, covered in hair
we struggled to stay cool
and protect our brains from overheating.
We had to shed our layers
and become something else.
But evolution these days
is changing your mind, and not your body.
Let your brain overheat with flaming emotion,
and refuse to be what everyone expects
you to be and look like.
Hairless and quiet?
No. Grow, learn, fight, yell
make noise for the hell of it.
Be ugly in the mirror but beautiful in here
and teeming with intelligence.
Let your hair grow from your fingertips and lips
but never let it shade your vision,
so that when the two girls from class
come up to you and ask what that creature
is between your thighs you tell them
I am three million years of woman
screaming freedom that you will never know.
You're eleven years old,
But unlike all those other girls,
you still have the courage to evolve.
it is yard sale weekend, and Momma asks me to gather
things i no longer want. so i open up
my ribcage, twelve bones at a time
and stuff hefty bags full
of artifacts and memories that i've folded
up inside of me like knuckles around my arteries.
at first, there are the small things, like that boy
from the eighth grade and all my unsigned yearbooks,
public spankings and the floral arrangement
i knocked into Great Grandpa Tata's open casket
and the tears i made Nanie cry harder.
those, i stamp as clearance items,
but then, there are the belongings that have made
my chest so full, they've become cardiac muscle,
alternating segments of
keep and let go,
keep and let go,
keep and let go.
in this yard, there are only things
i can take half off of me.
like the constant reminder of my Father
who divides the sun and the moon
into minutes and seconds
on the highways and toll roads
like he divides his Sons and his Daughters
into one weekend out of every other month.
you can take this steering wheel, like he does
trucking from coast to coast of the american dream
if you can pay me with an answer: to what destination
do the working class deliver the load off their backs?
or do they just keep driving below the speed limit
of living, begging for an exit?
like the pink-furled canopy bed that still sleeps
inside my heart the way my Sister did
in it when she was sick.
on those days when she'd pull sadness
over her body like a blanket,
until she no longer shared that bed with me,
but with another girl in a hospital
whose choice of death
was a lisa frank jump rope around her neck.
my Sister's choice was bleach.
a gallon-sized, industrial-strength container of bleach.
i will sell you this memory, you can have it:
at nine-years-old, i watched paramedics
try to bring her back to life, a lady lazarus!
pump her stomach dry to find the only thing
inside her was the remnant of a Sister.
i will sell you her container, you can take it.
it is half empty, because she drank the half that was full.
so when Momma asks me to gather
things i no longer want, i can only pull
these aching veins of memory
from the closet of my chest, hang them
from the trees, dot them along the yard
like the birthmarks on my mother's palms.
the ones that lied and called us lucky,
the ones that said we'd never need
so many yard sales to rid ourselves of so much
hurt and flightless wings, graveyard shifts
and shifting gears, or bleach
to clean the bruises from our battered bones.