María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado

Born in Manatí, PR & raised in Springfield, MA, María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, 54, 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).

borrar: to erase

every time a teacher reprimanded us
       for speaking spanish
i saw the clapping white dust
       of board erasers rise

we 30 crammed behind wooden desks
       in classrooms meant for 20

                               breathed this in

we learned to swallow our spanish words
       & spit out english
       like marbles one at a time

we learned how to shape our mouths
around english words
       like we were chewing & rolling
                         the tasteless mashed potatoes
                         they plopped on our cafeteria trays

with each book with english words
that spelled the lives of little boys & little girls
white & blond & happy – not like us -

i learned      how to erase myself
i learned      how to erase my spanish

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------

gemir: to wail

like in puerto rico      I hang the hammock
between two trees      lay la nena down to sleep      assured
that the gravel in the patio      behind the apartments
would echo crunching      steps assured
that she, three      would stay still

one look outside      between sips of café con mi coma’i
I see the hammock sway      too lightly in the breeze

coma’i’s slap burns my face, reminds me to breathe
my screaming, gravel in my throat

¡policía! 470 de la calle chestnut llevaba no está aquí ¿dónde está? estaba dormida estaba
police! 470 chestnut street she wore she’s not here where is she? she was sleeping she was


they say      a father driving a mini-bus filled with 13 daughters
                 sees a chubby little girl walking
                 up the highway ramp      happy
                 her knees bleeding
                 from constantly falling

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------

malcriar: to poorly raise a child

our american teachers did not see
          our clean second-hand clothes
          our itchy bleached socks
          our shoes, our sneakers, our backpacks, all new
          our hair combed neatly
                      boys’ cowlicks set with mamis’ spit
                      girls’ hair tamed into braids

our american teachers saw & heard those kids
          speaking spanish
          speaking with their hands
          squirming in their chairs
          asking too many broken questions
          doing the pee-pee dance
                      ¿pero, missy, cómo se dice tengo que ir al baño en inglés?
          bringing smelly lunches
          greeting each other too loudly en español

our american teachers stomp their feet
          you’re in america now
          speak english


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