United States

La Taquería

April 16, 2019

To the Guatemalan boys who work the night shift at the taco shack with the blue roof downtown
and who come to school late or not at all

You slick back your hair every morning
coat it in globs of translucent ooze until it
shines like the sports car you wish you had
Instead, you ride a red bicycle
pedal hard and fast
never signal which way you are turning
swerve so sharply that the road bends for you

By the end of the school day 
your hair has dried like crunchy black shell
I told you once that it looked like a bike helmet
(which you would not wear)
and you called me cabrona, a bitch
But the corners of your mouth told me otherwise

Your fingernails are long and white
and you always smell of the cigars
that the older boys smoke outside in the rain
while you carefully count out quarters and dimes 

When the grocery store clerk
all piercing eyes and prickly throat
asked you cooly where your parents were 
you bit out bajo tierra
showed him your teeth 
and laughed
A sound so hollow it still echoes inside you

Chispudo, you are the best at math
but you only work when the teacher looms over you like a raincloud
her dark shadow spitting hornets and thorns
I want to tell you not to believe what she says
but I am upstairs in a chemistry classroom and I would probably say it wrong anyway

Your head barely reaches the top of my shoulder
but nothing can outstand your smile
If I ask you how you are I will get nothing but sunshine
Tus ojos reluciendo como cucharas plateadas

you tell me of your little brother and sister
the apple and orange trees, a small rabbit and speckled chickens
Your father's Spanish job and your mother's Q'eqchi cooking
You duck your head when you say you probably won't see them for years
I give you my Razor scooter and una chaqueta que me queda pequeña because I feel helpless
I don't know what it is to miss home like that

To the Guatemalan boys who work the night shift at the taco shack with the blue roof downtown 
and who come to school late or not at all

You call each other chapín, and when I asked you what it meant you said orgullo, pride
Guatemaltecos son familia incluso cuando dejan a la otra. 
I learn that the word comes from shoes with brick-thick soles
which look like they were yanked right up from the ground
the closest to stilts as footwear can get
as if they refuse to let go of the earth
Is that not what chapínes do, I wonder 
Determine to grow upward, holding on what they have always known?

So when I order beef tacos under the neon yellow sign in the alleyway
Solo quiero decirles que ustedes son valerosos
Y que paren altos y tengan orgullo, amigos.

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  • rawanelyas

    Absolutely beautiful. Very nostalgic to read - I feel like I know these kids.

    over 1 year ago
  • AJ - Izzy

    Que padre, I love the Spanish you wrote in there! I don't know if it's the same one, but there is a Taqueria near my place and the beef tacos there are to DIE for... :DDD

    over 1 year ago