I Tell Everyone Who Asks That The Reason My Phone Is Entirely In Spanish Is Because It Helps Me Learn Faster; Closer To The Truth Is That It Helps Me Remember
My father learned Spanish twice—
Once, skipping across banter entrenched in a sunbeam no sunscreen hot enough to thaw baby
vowel sounds as elongated as a stalk of his grandmother’s sugarcane and R’s set on rolling as undulantly
as the hills in La Vega my father learned Spanish from the bursting paints of the walls of the Colonial
District and the Jesuits in Santo Cerro and the second time my father learned Spanish
he skipped across written narrative entrenched in homogenous American
English TV and the aftermath of wanting to belong cold enough to freeze teenage
into stillness my father remembered Spanish
because of the bursting paints he brought to his canvases
memory retreating to a carnival fantasy reminding him of the magic it was
to undulate with the hills of La Vega, R’s that won’t stop rolling
and vowels that won’t stop elongating
and comradery with the banter, the sunbeam,
the sugar cane and the Jesuits in Santo Cerro. I imagine him:
novel in one hand, Spanish-English dictionary in
the other, reconstructing the language
that would never again become quite automatic enough to him
to pass it seamlessly
from his lips to my own.
The day he opened his mouth to speak
on the phone across the ocean again, Dolores said it must have been someone else.
“Sé que Manuel Macarrulla ya no habla el español.”
My father still speaks Spanish like a native speaker,
but you would never guess from his accent that it was
abuela’s sugarcane and the Jesuits in Santo Cerro
that taught him to speak
the first time.
My father learned Spanish twice
and I am trying my best to just remember
the first time.
This poem is stunning. The language is lyrical, urgent, precise, and perfectly aligns with the speaker’s purpose of laying bare the beauty and simultaneous vulnerability of language as a conduit for nationhood and identity. The unique, often daring choices the poet makes in this piece, including the use of foreign language, unconventional spatial organization, and repetition, further elevate and add dimension to the piece. This work serves as a testament to the power of poetry as a means of exploring the moments, places, people, and beliefs that coalesce to form the triumphs and tragedies of the human experience.
Minerva Macarrulla graduated from Brooklyn Friends, in Brooklyn NY in 2019.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR