by Marie Mendez, 11th
There’s a box, they tell me, a box
And I’m sitting here wishing that I had a box: I am
a product of Loving
Nine black dresses banged a gavel;
Decided colors could love each other, could kiss
their own pigment onto the canvas
Of one another.
My father’s favorite jacket is red, loud, angry,
a class clown with a suit and a mortgage: he is my mother’s
prince charming, he takes up the whole room when he talks.
My mom was my blue, the light of the microwave at night, I’d talk for hours
before she could finally get me to sleep.
She loves the ocean.
The salt of that love flows in my veins
mixing with my father’s red.
Their daughters: purple.
Me, my sister; her skin
Darker than mine,
the part of the equation you hadn’t accounted for,
do the math again,
My friends said
“I didn’t do the math homework.”
My friends said:
“What’s an Abulota?”
“Oh, I forgot there was a Mendez after Sparks”
“Lucy, you’re ---ing white”
“Mendez, like Shawn Mendes?”
“Scientifically, people can’t learn a language without an accent after turning 15”
“I’m giving you your brown card, it’s okay, don’t worry.”
“Why is your Spanish accent so much better than everyone else’s? It’s not fair”
And my white mother translating
cognates for me over papi’s
I thought I could build myself a box,
Out of the dancing trumpets I played
As I did the dishes
And rainbow I guess,
The colors I’d never show Abuelita
Out of the green stucco house in the good bad part of town.
We were ordering lunch at a chicken chain, my father
and I, Couldn’t explain it in Spanish
He switched to English, (or English to Spanish, one in the same) the girl
in the paper hat didn’t bat an eye,
Out of looney tunes shows
From my Abuelito’s bed,
the cigar boxes from Havana I have stacked in my room
And the stories they knit for me.
But, When the words of my father’s language dance out of my mouth, they trip, rr’s don't sound like they’re supposed to
And I had to explain to my sister that tacos aren’t our food
But neither are tortas, my dad told me:
“Dad, just tell me, what’d Abuelito say?”
“Nothing, it’s fine”
“He said… your Spanish got worse.”
So, well, I do have a box: I’m just not inside
It’s brown walls:
where they keep guayaba batidas, pastelito’s from porto’s,
lechon asado on noche buena, my dad
never taught me Spanish,
Said he couldn’t teach me
What I needed to know, in a language Mr. Samuel Smith didn’t let him write,
the strings hanging out of the pinata
my Abuelita made me: Cuban
She told me.
She never told me how to open
Oakland | East Bay, CA