Broken Spanish

  • English

Broken Spanish

On the street where I grew up,
everything is old, and a little dirty,
and some things are broken,
like our Spanish and our homes.
Grandfathers, wearing baseball caps and short-sleeved dress shirts,
are as common as streetlights.
While their wives, peeking from tiny kitchen windows,
make rice and chicken, and curse their husbands’ wretchedness.

You can smell the food in the lobby of each building,
in the gritty graffitied stairways, and in the piss-ridden elevators.
At least they still clean the streets.
I used to love to watch as the buildings were washed,
how they could shine after all the black grime
that clung to their faces would stream down
under the steamy water pressure.

The same way the kids and cars would be soaked
in the open fire hydrant in the summer,
When the heat would rise from the pavement,
as it would from large pots of boiling beans;
And the pavement seemed to bend beneath the tires of double-parked cars,
heavy from the weight of neighbors sitting on their hoods.
Drivers passing through would roll up their windows
and some would lock their doors.

Summer was loud and musical, like streaming through radio stations.
Children cursed and car speakers blasted,
the noise floating to fifth floor fire escapes.
The sun would pour through curtains,
bathing tan faces with warmth
and a glow that seemed so natural;
we were all a bit more brown in the summer,
and our food and our swears, a bit more spicy.

When the warm colors of summer peeled away with autumn,
beneath the fall leaves I’d search for red, blue, and green bingo chips.
The best treasures are made of plastic,
like Christmas trees and their glittery ornaments,
white patio chairs, and cups of cherry ices;
and eternally broken intercoms that buzzed then muzzled
the voices of visitors who always found a way in.
That never bothered me;
but it always made me sad when the streetlights would flicker.

I loved how snowflakes would flurry
in the orange lamp post light, settling gently on cars,
and I loved to draw my name in the snow on their windows.
If only for a moment, I loved how things could be a sepia vision,
like a post card or a freshly printed Polaroid.
But it seemed to take no time at all for melting black slush
to pile up in the gutters, onto the sidewalk,
under my shoes, and into my socks.
On the street where I grew up,
everything is old, and really dirty,
and the best things are broken.

 

By Emily Martínez

 

Emily Martínez is a young writer from Hamilton Heights, whose poem “Broken Spanish” received Honorable Mention by the Academy of American Poets College.