the verbs of our afflictions: two poems

By María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado

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

afligir: to afflict

we never learned how to conjugate
    the verbs of our afflictions

behind the walls of memories
    that we learned over 40 years
    how to seal with concrete & belt buckles
    we abandoned the bodies of our youth
    lost the few photos of public moments

three    four decades pass
    some wounds still bite

we still master the art
    of making our minds fly
    outside of our bodies

we buried the silence
    of our spanish

built fortresses 
    with our english

our childhood home
    which we have not seen
    for years

    will crumble
    at a time

Born in Manatí, PR & raised in Springfield, Mass., María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado earned her undergraduate & graduate degrees in German, her third language. She also earned an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from the Solstice MFA Program. Part of María Luisa’s lifelong learning as a multilingual Boricua poet & intersectional feminist educator is to reclaim her Puerto Rican español by excavating living & buried family stories & oral histories on the island & in the diaspora. Her published collections include Gathering Words: recogiendo palabras (2008); & two chapbooks, Flight (2016), & Destierro Means More than Exile (2018).

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash