When I walk into a bakery in the
Mexican neighborhood of Philly
where the menu is written in my first tongue
I am so visible that I shine
bright white and the forty something cashier
switches to rough English when she checks me out.
If I greet her in Spanish she might tilt her head
and rake her eyes up and down my body
like it is something foreign.
Like we weren’t made from the same wool.
It’s my fault
I knit my pale blanket so closely
around my skin and teeth that
my voice only dances in one language,
and for a rare time I am silent.
I hate the flashy gold American Express cards
that take a couple seconds longer to
process on the credit machine
and almost make me drop that
I try not to look at
the nails that slide
the card through, manicured like
I can see their lawn in the
color pink they choose.
It’s hard to stomach the way they
stare right through me, hydrochloric eyes blinking
until they turn because they see the
number of coins in my hand
and decide that I am not a
member of the
I want to be happy with the
that the fake silver I wear on my ears
makes as it tangles in something
I know that real silver makes a
It seems I am filled with the
fortune of being alive and kicking and trying
to be something more than that penny
that no one bothers to even look at because
the lucky pennies are always shiny.
I don't really care about silver and gold
but I care about the way
silver and gold people
care about me.
or that they don't.
I don't really hate gold American Express cards
or fake silver earrings
but I do hate
that their gold is as fake as my silver
but it buys them
Fragments are all I have left of him.
Faded photographs in porcelain blue boxes shoved under my bed,
a letter in bright blue ink.
He left before I could articulate I needed him,
toddler hands grasping his shirt at the airport.
seven hours and thirty-eight minutes.
I replayed the few memories of him over and over:
A thunderstorm in Puebla, the rain pelting the roof,
the way the lightning,
stabbing at intervals,
arched across the sky.
His laugh, rippling across the living room.
A birthday party, three candles on a sagging cake.
My awe visiting the ruins at Cacaxtla,
how he sat me on his shoulders so I could see,
stacked rock that used to be homes,
desperate etchings on the walls
spelling out a story I had yet to read.
These home movies flickered against my eyelids
before I fell asleep,
before I blew the candles out every year,
before Father’s Day.
Something changed while I was revisiting my most treasured memory:
an afternoon riding the carousel,
waving every time I passed my parents.
I loved the reassurance,
the vertigo of seeing them both at the next turn.
But details began to change.
Was he wearing green or blue?
What flavor of ice cream was in his hand?
Chocolate or strawberry?
I no longer knew if it was my father that resided in my memories,
or a crude copy.
I didn’t understand why he was blurring and shifting.
I was losing the truth of him, bit by bit.
I began to wonder if it was better not to remember.
Now, trying to sleep,
I struggle to silence his bedtime story about Popocatepetl
he’d tell as I looked at the actual volcano through our window.
Now, blowing out my eighteen candles,
I try not to taste the coconut frosting he wiped from my hands on my third birthday.
On Father’s Day I try to erase the gnawing feeling in my chest.
What was I to him?
Mi reina, mi corazón, mi vida.
Remembering him, I began losing him;
trying not to remember him,
I lost him anyway.
Trying not to forget him terrified me as much as forgetting him.
So, I did what I always do when I’m scared: I wrote.
Stanza by stanza,
I stored him where I could never forget him.
Tucked into words,
torn corners of paper,
backs of old homeworks shoved into the smallest pocket of my backpack.
My words became like the photographs I kept of you,
the ones that you are a blur in.
I can see the movement,
How you left after the flash.
i am English
it hurts when I hear Spanish,
not the kind they try to teach you in high school
or shove down your throat in college.
i could never love anyone who speaks Spanish.
love demands that you keep your eyes open when you kiss
and your ears open when they talk.
i used to have friends but then i threw them all away
thinking that it would make me feel better.
they were never beat up by the words that came out
of their own mouths.
they didn’t understand why i cringed when a transfer sat down
and told me that the teacher said i spoke Spanish too.
“i don’t speak Spanish” i would hiss.
i feel it.
every day and in every ligament of my life.
i turned away from him because i’m selfish.
he would learn to hate Spanish soon enough.
my cousins down in mexico try to get me to be like them
but they don’t understand that i killed that part of myself
when i moved to the states and they started asking me
who i was.
“hello bella,” i would say,
“i am alex.”
“hello Spanish,” she would say.
“i am bella.”
i suffocated my rolled r’s and
all of the extra letters I had learned because of bella.
i learned to hate my caramel skin
so i bleached it with words like
“i was born in the U.S”
“columbus is my hero.”
i hurt myself because on applications and
standardized tests the question
please check off what race you are
makes me want to vomit up
all of my hard work.
it took me years to act like English
to talk like English.
to read like English.
to want like English.
to hate like English.
all it cost me was my Spanish.
Alexandra Contreras-Montesano is a senior and a writer at Burlington High School in Burlington, VT. She loves all writing and art, but favors poetry and photography. Her poetry is inspired by her identity and experiences as a Mexican-American living in a state with little diversity. In her spare time Alexandra enjoys horseback riding and reading avidly. She supports social justice issues and often uses her writing as a platform to enact or inspire change in areas that she feels need it. Alexandra thinks of writing as a tool that can be used to fix things that are broken in the world, and she hopes to do a lot of fixing.