At a buffet, a woman once whispered to my father
this was America he should speak English
as he slipped on a word, traced it with his tongue and teeth.
He has a stutter. He has a stutter.
He used to tell me bedtime stories about his life in Mexico before me,
before I could speak, before I could tell you
what the difference was when he described himself as living in a rainforest
and when I said rainforest and before the person next to you
could tell you what they mean when they say rainforest.
Podría describir para ti la jungla, but I don’t think it would really matter
—wouldn’t you just skip over the parts you didn’t really understand?
How will I be understood if I don’t say it in your language.
This language. Como puedo ser entendido?
Especially if I myself don’t quite understand.
Mi mama knew what to call herself when I didn’t.
A full word, full label—didn’t give herself a hyphen.
She’s an American but they still speak to her slowly.
Her parents were not born here
and she was not conceived in the United States
and you can see it on her face like you can see it on mine.
You can see it on the back of her hands from years in the fields
and the way she says shares instead of chairs
because she never really formed that hard “ch” sound, that chiding,
that “I learned this as a child
and now I’m embarrassed when my mom says ‘shild’ instead of child sound,”
that my mom tries hard to be someone she isn’t when she’s in front
of strangers sound
—speaks slowly to avoid the tripping on her tongue.
I wonder where she got the idea that there were folds in it like an old rug?
I wonder which asshole child of hers became associated with the idea that she
should already speak this new language to us correctly,
should already have thrown away her first language like I was,
should have placed her palabras in italics with context
and only as tags at the end of a sentence to let us know it would be over
should have sounded more like an American.
Not a Mexican. Not a Mexican American.
She told me not to become a hyphen,
for a hyphenated American doesn’t exist, we don’t exist,
we’re given a hyphen to make space between us and America
without it we are neither American or maybe we are, but maybe I’ll lose it—
but what am I when I am neither someone from this tierra or that?
Por que me miras asi?
I am slowly learning que yo puedo hablar como me quieres—
que mi mama tried to squeeze herself so tightly to fit into a crack in the wall,
that when she bought us fast food it was only ever one color—
and you are what you eat.
And for a long time, I thought that only reading writing that didn’t belong
that didn’t mention young women like myself,
that acknowledged mis palabras como una cosa raro,
or didn’t mention me at all was the only way that I should write.
Place myself in a cotton field not so that I could pick it like my family did,
but so that I could wear it.
Let’s talk on the pouring of refined sugar and milk so heavily into
my coffee that
I’ve lost the taste under it,
my peculiar blend of two different homes, a peculiar blend of two languages.
My upbringing on one language that sounds invasive,
like the Mexican petunias that grew in my backyard
passed from family member to family member that weren’t actually invasive
but rather perennial and anyone who’s taken care of flowers
will tell you that perennials can be tamed, like me,
can be cut down and gotten rid of
but the wild Mexican petunia is known as aggressive and no wonder—
the people who call it aggressive are afraid of it growing amongst their
Afraid that one day it will overgrow and kill the roots they planted.
They want to erase it.
What happens when we erase something that grows so naturally?
What happens when I can no longer remember the first words that
slipped from my lips?
What happens when
from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Margarita Cruz: “‘Erasur’ is based off my relationship to the ways in which I feel the hyphen has altered me, has made me pay attention to who I am and who I am not, and the ways in which it clings between both worlds often made me feel as if poetry can narrate the liminal spaces in which people can exist.” ( web)