Melissa Lozada-Oliva (*)
If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will tell you
My Spanish is an itchy phantom limb: reaching for a word and only finding air
My Spanish is my third birthday party: half of it is memory, and the other half is a photograph on the fridge. It’s all my family has told me.
If you ask me if I am fluent I will tell you that: My Spanish is puzzle left in the rain
Too soggy to make its parts fit so that it can look just like the picture on the box.
I will tell you that: My Spanish is possessive adjectives.
It is proper nouns dressed in pearls and bracelets.
It is are you up yet. It is there is a lot to do today
My Spanish is on my resume as a skill.
My Spanish is on a toothbrush in red-mouth marks
If you ask me I will tell you: My Spanish is hungrier than it was before.
My Spanish reaches for words at the top of a shelf without a stepping stool
is hit in the head with all of the old words that have been hiding up there
My Spanish wonders how bad is it to eat something that’s expired
My Spanish wonders if it has an expiration date
My Spanish asks you why it is always being compared to food spicy, hot, sizzle
my Spanish tells you it is not something to be eaten and then shit out
but does not really believe it.
If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will tell you that:
My Spanish bites on a pencil in the corner of a classroom and does not raise its hand
My Spanish is my older sister’s sore smile at her only beauty pageant
My Spanish is a made-up story about a parent who never came home
My Spanish is a made-up story about a parent who never came home and traveled to beautiful places and sent me postcards from all of them
My Spanish is me, tracing my fingers along with every letter they were able to fit in
My Spanish is the real story of my parent’s divorce
Chaotic, broken and something I have to choose how to remember correctly
My Spanish is wondering when my parents will be American
asking me if I’m white yet
If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will try to tell you the story
of how my parents met in an ESL class
How it was when they trained their mouths to say
I love you in a different language, I hate you with their mouths shut
I will tell you how my father’s accent makes him sound like el Zorro
how my mother tried to tie her tongue to a post with an English language leash
I will tell you that the tongue always ran stubbornly back to the language it had always been in love with
Even when she tried to tame it, it always turned loose
If you ask me if I am in fluent I will tell you:
My Spanish is understanding that there are stories that will always be out of my reach
there are people who will never fit together the way that I want them to
there are letters that will always stay silent
there are some words that will always escape me.
Melissa Lozada-Oliva es una poeta y educadora que vive en Nueva York, ganadora del National Poetry Slam Championship de 2015.