living on marble street in the ’70s

in a home with no books in spanish or english, papi’s tongue lashes the air 
    mami’s murmurs float & pop like burbujitas   
en español, they swallow their “esses,” leave syllables dangling pa’ ná’
    their rush to speak making words rise like mami’s incense 
        rising & slipping up through the kitchen fan
the rounded countertop radio out of my reach hurls spanish bolts of words
    too quick for me to catch and color with crayons I hide 
        from little brothers who stuff anything into their mouths
at five, i see & listen to sesame street, sound out slowly the muppets’ english
    with no “esses,” no broken words, letters slow enough
        for me to trace on the TV’s fat bubble screen
in preschool with no books in spanish, i learn my abc’s with no “esses,” no 
    broken words, no spanish rs for my first or last names
my american preschool teacher holds my right fist around crayon, shapes
    my first letters only in english, makes me mimic her voice 
        only in english, the only language that counts
            for me to survive

Copyright © 2022 by María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado. This poem was first printed  in Multiplicity Magazine, Issue 4: “At Any Age” (Spring–Summer 2022). Used with the permission of the editors and the author.