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English as a Second Languish


During my grandfather’s sleep, 
a brujo whispers into his ear: 
     “To fasten English to the tongue, 
        rinse your mouth with black coffee 
           poured inside a gold chalice.”            
        Rattle of clay pots
     fishes Grandfather from the dream pond, 
not the faultline’s jostle, nor aftershock. 
Emboldened, he rushes to the white
     man’s market—hungered,
        barefooted—for a cut of beef.  
           Twigs, pebbles, and glass
        tack to his soles like a sandal.
     He arrives to the meat counter.
A carnicero flays strips of shoulder 
from a block of lamb. The butcher’s apron
     smeared with vermilion petals. 
        Here, only the tripas
           whisper the pig farmer’s Spanish.      
        The scent of dried, salted shrimp 
     quivers the lining of his stomach. 
He struggles to muster his immigrant’s 
lexicon of malapropisms: “Execute me, sir…” 
     His voice received as crackles of static…
On this day in 1958, 
Grandfather operates a tractor 
     in the arid desolation of farmland. 
        The oxen of wheels kick up dust 
           participles into the atmosphere. 
        Also: the sun slow roasts his arms. 
     Brown. The color of tender flesh 
kissed by gnats. Dusk. 
A cliff swallow tows 
     a bow of lilacs across the horizon. 
        Hunger—like English, 
           like Mexico—is a honeycomb 
        the bees have abandoned. 
     In an anthology of unsettling dreams, 
the sun is worn on Grandfather’s brazos 
like sleeves. Out there, dusk will carol 
     for him in Spanish: 
        Song of the sparrow, 
           song of the cliff swallow.

John Olivares Espinoza John Olivares Espinoza is a native of California’s Coachella Valley. “The Date Fruit Elegies” (2008) is John’s first full-length poetry collection and his poetry has appeared in “Alta,” “The American Poetry Review,” “New Letters,” and “ZYZZYVA,” among others. Most recently, his English poems with their Spanish translations appear in the European anthology, “In Xóchitl in Cuícatl: Floricanto: Cien años de poesía chicanx/latinx (1920-2020)” (Editorial Polibea, 2021). He lives with his family in San Antonio, Texas.

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