Williamsport, PA, 1963
My father was studying Spanish,
had two feverish weeks to learn it.
Soy un plato de comida, he was repeating
like a school boy from his notebook,
walking around the kitchen table,
“I am a plate of food,”
tripping over the chairs.
Someone had made an error,
told the authorities he knew
one more lengua than he did.
My mother was reading her cookbooks,
imagining the vol au vents, the bouillabaisses
she would never serve in America.
“I am a piece of sunlight,” my father was saying,
yo soy un pedazo de sol,
“there is no darkness I cannot eat.”
Our visas were hanging in the balance,
it was life and death, it was
getting it down or being sent back,
and my sister listening to the radio
knew big girls shouldn’t cry.
Once, I found him in the cellar
writing on the white-washed walls,
higo, granada, mango, fruits of his other life
that crossed idioms, hemispheres,
the dry orchards of Sinai, Sonora.
At the dinner table, no one could say a word
for fear of breaking the spell,
razing the strange house he’d been living in.
On the day he left for the big city,
I saw him under the full-leafed maple
reciting Verde, te quiero verde,
as if he’d known it all his life,
as if he felt a green
more green now than any other.
Copyright © Gregory Djanikian
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.