Monday, April 28, 2008

Tia y prima

Pan con mayonesa
qué cosa más rica
nos sentamos en el pequeño comedor
soleado y calentito.
En la cocina
al lado de la estufa
mi tia hace buñuelos
mientras tú y yo
rompemos pedazos de pan
y los untamos con mantequilla,
o mermelada de frutillas,
o la mayonesa fresca que acaban de hacer,
tomamos café con leche
con demasiadas cucharadas de azúcar.

- Hijita, ¿qué quisieras que te lo cocine?
-Tía, todo lo que me lo haces es de lo más rico.

Tú, con la cara llena de pecas
las trenzas bien amarradas con una cinta celeste,
y mi tía, la que da los mejores abrazos
la que me lo haría cualquier cosa
sus mejillas rosadas
su cabello peinado con un broche
manos lindas, uñas largas y rojas
un mandil floreado
con los bolsillos llenos de llaves, dulces, pesos, y fósforos.

Mi tía, mi prima,
y el pan
con mayonesa hecha en casa.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Good times
like the one when we all headed to NYC
in a huge-ass limo
at papi’s expense
money he didn’t care about spending
“as long as we’re all together.”
An expensive but so-so dinner
got better when someone dared someone to eat the fish eyes.
Being together is a good excuse
to get loaded and silly
several martinis, shared cigarettes
loud music, laughter
group trips to the ladies room
indescribable feelings
walking the crowded streets
with the family.
Mesmerized by holiday lights, crowds, cold
and stunned by knowing
because you never know
it could be one of the last times.
We all fell in love with each other again
memorized faces and gestures
and held on tight to each other
as we pushed our little party
down the streets of the city.

El vendedor de libros

He mirado los ojos verdes
de un madrileño.
No lo conocía muy bien,
ni él a mí.
Apenas toqué su mano
al entregarle un libro,
y al hacerlo
estuve tan conciente de sútiles corrientes eléctricos.
Devoré su cara con mis ojos
mientras los suyos tocaban canciones
para un momento muy mío.
Me sentía tan transparente
esperando que nadie se diera cuenta
que me moría durante ese minuto
por un hombre extraño.
Quedé mesmerada,
hasta sentí cosquillas en las rodillas.
Memoricé su naríz,
su cabello rizado café,
las líneas de su cara,
el acento.
Su nombre, aún me encanta decirlo.
Disculpen, pero
qué distracción más linda
durante un día aburrido en el trabajo.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Living a ritual,
doing the wash with a friend
folding laundry with mujeres I’m close to
mami, sister, aunt, abuelita
a woman thing
trabajo de mujeres
wash, dry, fold
there is always ropa sucia to tend to
taking care of your loved ones
by washing their
camisas, calzoncillos, calcetines
damp towels, faded sheets,
and organizing it all in to plastic canastas.
what wives and mothers have been doing

You may hear a complaint,
but there’s a secret in laundry –
the scrubbing, rinsing,
hanging up with pins and
hanging out to dry in one long, neat, billowing, flapping, yard-spanning row
or collecting it from the dryer
holding it against you for
delicious warmth –

It’s our way to be together
sharing the events of the day,
contando chismes
advising, criticizing, confiding

Folding the sweet-smelling sábanas
you take one end and I the other
fold in half the long way
then again
coming together to match up
our ends
charlando all the while.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Me llamo Sybil

Just realized my last two posts contradict eachother. (¿Estoy loca?) So, is it garden- or prison-like in my classroom? This is my life as a bilingual ed teacher. District and state mandates are placing so much pressure on my students. All we do is test. They go home drained at the end of the day.

But I still do all I can to liven things up, enrich the day with good literature, poetry, music, and art. I remind them how wonderful it is to be who we are. I close the door, do my thing, do magic.

I suppose I could say "whatever" like many folks around me, "that's just the way it is", and "I don't care anymore."

But I can't. Won't. They're too important to me. Son mis hermanos, mis hijos, mi gente.

Pointing fingers

The kids from DR and Mexico were in for it
they didn’t know how cold it would get
their lips were soon outlined in chapped red
and cracked when they tried to utter sounds and syllables
it was all I could do to make it as painless as possible
giving cariño as needed.

The girls from Honduras and Cuba resented me
as I added and added yet more
to their confusion.
The boys from Peru and PR shut down,
it was all too much.
Get ready! Prepare!
Learn more! Learn fast!
I at least had coffee and painkillers.

The room turned in to a prison
despite vivid posters, artwork,
and motivational slogans.
I was made the deliverer
of wasteful activities
timed and torturous
the rubric-enforcer
and score-keeper.

The papers still say the children of mi gente
are in trouble, apathetic,
destined to fail.
The public is pointing a finger at me?
I point it back.
You will see.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Garden of poets

I mentioned earlier that it's National Poetry Month. We've been reading and writing all sorts of poems in my 4th grade bilingual classroom. The kids really like Langston Hughes' Mother to Son and got a kick out of Reasons Why. They've been looking for more on-line and at the library.

Today, I shared a "dedication" poem pattern, in which my students were to think of one very dear person to/for whom they would write. The pattern encourages the writer to think in the past tense and recall moments shared. For my bilingual students, it was also a great exercise in word order and description. I held individual writing conferences in the back of the room, where I had the students read me their work. To get them to reach for more, I'd say "tell me more about _____" and they would return to their desks, revise, add, delete, all that good stuff.

One boy wrote about his dad in Dominican Republic. When he was done reading it to me, he looked up and I saw his eyes were all teary. Divorce had separated him from his father and country. The poem broke his heart and mine. The detail and story in that poem were something else.

I'm growing writers in my classroom. Beautiful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

En busca de la ensalada perfecta...

I’m thinking of a salad
a big fresh green salad
with shredded leaf lettuce
big slices of red onion
and cut-up cucumbers
crumbled feta cheese chunks
bacon bits and almond slivers
and maybe something sweet like
dried cherries or raisins
some kind of creamy vinaigrette
drizzled on top, no,
lavishly and generously poured on top
with a lovely, large, crunchy-on-the-outside
soft and chewy-on-the-inside
french or italian bread
(does it make a difference?)
to push the salad around and on
to my fork, to soak up the
dressing from the plate.

En casa, siempre había ensalada con la cena. Acostumbrábamos comerla después de la comida. Primero venía la carne con arroz, o los fideos, o algún guiso. Luego, se comía la ensalada, preparada en un Pyrex amarillo, que tenía lechuga, tomates, a veces cebolla picada. Nos pasábamos la alcuza, nos echabamos aceite, vinagre, y sal (así, en ese mismo orden) y cómiamos. Yo tenía la mala costumbre de exagerar con el vinagre, quedándome con los labios blancos. Pero qué rica era esa ensalada tan sencilla.

Ahora, por el acceso que tenemos a variedades de verduras y condimentos, y el deseo de realzar el gusto, la ensalada se ha convertido en algo más complicado, a veces en una obra . ¿Quién hubiera pensado que hay miles de maneras de comer ensalada? Aún pienso que la mejor ensalada es la que hace mami. Claro está, hace falta comerse una ensalada simple, para recordar y regresar a lo básico.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Showing Off...

Driving through Jersey on Sunday, I fell in love with cherry blossoms, dogwoods, and magnolias. Rows and rows of baby pink and white trees fluttered in the breeze, blanket soft. One young tree stood sturdy and solitary in a field, his green-tipped white clusters reaching out, sunning. Another more mature tree blushed as she dropped some of her pink petals on a lawn. Countless other trees, their buds ready to flower, stood poised on country roads, backyards, parks, and on the edges of busy highways. When the wind passed through them, they swayed like they were grooving to a private song.

Trees want you to look and admire. We’re the same – you, me, and the trees.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Esperas que todo salga bien.
Por lo mismo,
lo inesperado ocurre.
Lo esperabas.
No es nada extraño que todo se joda
en el preciso momento en que
todo anda perfecto.
Yá sabes cómo son las cosas.
Limpias tu casa
todo está que brilla.
Se rompe la ventana al abrirla.
Solo querías gozar del aire.
Descubres un billete olvidado en el bolsillo,
caído del cielo.
Te darás el gusto de comprar alguna cosa merecida.
Pero ese billete ahora tiene su ruta,
reparar esa maldita ventana.
Te va fenomenal en el trabajo
mientras crece en ti un secreto peligroso
que te acabará en unos meses.
La persona que más quieres te engaña,
y tu hijo te manda a la mierda.

La vida
un vidrio delicado
que revienta al forzarla.
Apenas la tocas, se raja.
Tu plan,
maravillosa idea que te llevaría lejos
te hace tanta ilusión
se hace humo en unos segundos.
Es una alfombra mal puesta bajo tus pies,

te la jalan cuando no te das cuenta.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

El rey de la Calle Chaco

En la Calle Chaco
Parroquia Cristo Rey
suenan las campanas gloriosas.
Es domingo
soleado, azul, y fresco.
Vestimos con nuestra mejor ropa –
una falda, chompa, zapatitos lustrados
y medias panty blancas,
las que se ensuciarán al incarnos
en la madera.
Bien peinadas, las caritas limpias,
esperamos como señoritas
para caminar al frente.
Cruzamos la calle empedrada
agarradas de las manos
de mi abuelito.

Entramos al templo oscuro,
silencioso y tranquilo
velas encendidas, velos negros,
incienso y polvo.
Le seguimos durante la misa
repitiendo palabras extrañas,
escuchando la historia en otro idioma,
siempre mirando hacia él
para saber cuándo ponernos de pie.
Prestamos atención y nos portamos muy bien
para que le guste
a mi abuelito.

Mi abuelito canta tan lindo, con todo el alma
“Como una sonrisa, eres tú, eres tú…”
Adoramos a este hombre tan lindo, tan sano.
Hasta el sol lo adora, entrando por las ventanas coloradas
alumbrando su cabeza
haciendo que sea aún más bello.

Salimos al sol
una a cada lado de él.
Hemos cumplido con su mejor deseo
y ahora saludamos al padre, a las viejitas, a los vecinos.
Nos presenta a todos como si fuéramos princesas,
cuando de verdad
él es un rey.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Identity Theft

I once overheard a couple of teachers talking about a little girl. Her name, I knew, was Luz (pronounced “loose”) and means “light” – it’s quite a pretty name. However, they were referring to her as Luz (pronounced “was”) and I thought the little girl could not be happy with her name being pronounced that way. And then there was a teacher who complained a boy was not paying attention, even when she called to him. I wanted to say to her, “But you’re not calling him by his name!” I kept quiet, though, because people often don’t want to admit that they are not as culturally sensitive as they should be.

Let’s look at this name thing like this. When I was born, my father kissed my little forehead and named me. He and my mother completed and signed an official form, as new parents do, declaring my complete name – first, middle, and last. A few months later, a priest confirmed this name to relatives, friends, and the community – in a church, with oil and water, and a prayer.

There are official and ceremonial events by which we are named. Most cultures celebrate, in some manner, the naming of a child. Many Americans spend a great deal of time choosing just the right name for their children – it has to sound right, it has to “go with” the last name, it has to be special, or different. We name our children after loved ones, leaders, people we admire.

And once we are named, we are that name. I once read somewhere that one’s name is the sweetest sound to them. Want to make sure someone is paying attention to you? Start by saying their name. Indeed, the first thing we do at a social gathering is tell people our name, and find out theirs. When we bump into someone we haven’t seen in a while, we struggle a bit to remember his or her name, don’t we? We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by saying the wrong name, and certainly don’t want the person to think we have forgotten who they are!

I have never given anyone permission to change my name. And I know for a fact that most people around me feel the same. It’s evident when we correct those who mispronounce our name, or spell it incorrectly. Or when we cringe as someone totally butchers our name.

Out of respect for you, I make a conscious effort to say your name correctly. And only when you and I become more familiar, do I use your nickname. But I don’t change your name because it’s hard to say, I can’t pronounce it, or it’s different. It is good manners, proper social behavior, and just plain right to say your name, your real name, your true name, the name that you want to be known by.

I don’t understand why teachers (or other school staff) change students’ names. Who are we to do that? Who has given the school the right to alter a child’s identity? The community I teach in is made up of predominantly Hispanics, or Latinos, who for the most part, have Spanish names. Sure, for some, these names may pose a level of linguistic difficulty or discomfort. Many professionals resort to altering, adjusting, shortening, or just plain changing children’s names. What’s wrong with Juan and Miguel? And how did Marisol Jimenez become Mary Jim-in-ess?

Although trivial to some, this name thing worries me. I urge everyone to make the effort to know their students and use their real names. Remember that your name is part of your identity. As educators, we should be supporting a student’s identity, rather than taking parts of it away. We may find that, as we pay respect to a child or an adult by saying their name correctly as it was intended to be said, we will have won for ourselves that person’s respect, admiration, and heart. And they will most certainly pay attention.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Animal Control

Thirty or more of us
crawl sluggishly through filth
breathing acidic fumes.
The small ones just lay there.
Our once glossy fur
is matted, flea-ridden.
We’re covered in sores.

I’ve resorted to drinking from the
stagnant puddle that grows under the
silent refrigerator.

Our saviors wear facemasks
and thick gloves.
They use huge nets
and trap-door cages
to free us from this

We run, and screech,
hide, and claw
wanting and fearing what we’ve never known:
fresh air, water, food
a clean spot to sleep on
a needle to end it all.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A teacher will understand

In 45 minutes, I
Check my messages
Respond to an email
(and delete 17 others)
Make copies of today’s math test
Count money for the fundraiser
Fix the zipper on a coat
Call a parent
Call another parent
Correct a bunch of papers
Write a note home
Count out 14 sets of plastic money
And wipe up the mess by the pencil sharpener

Eat a handful of almonds
And chew very fast
Take two or more gulps of my cold coffee
Go to the bathroom
Then speed walk to the other
End of the building
(almost a mile away!)
To pick up my kids
Return to class

And teach.