Sylvia Beato

2 Poems



Patio chairs are clothes racks for vines. They snake, decorating dreams of lizards asleep on their green.


You grow long and outrun the boys. It is easy but you know you are not one of them.


Then the mangroves into which you dash one night with a girl you think you might want to be. When you scramble out, one of you is burning.


You have shame to look forward to. She does not look back at all.


Even birds seek exile from the fever of high August.


One way to move on is to tell yourself you can’t remember. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.


Thick grass blades are moist to touch. Crickets sing to a deaf night.


You never asked to be brought here, in this the South no one ever talks about marshland sticky with the touch of the amphibial.



two poems for my mother, one for you


How to wash clothes like a lady


First, turn the water knob. Tibia, no tan caliente. Always hot for whites, claro. Bleach is best, but not too much and never directly on the skin que se te daña la piel. Let it soak for a few minutes, taking care to scrub the fabric well against itself when there is a stain. Rinse with cold water until there are no soap bubbles. Wring it out by pushing the article against a hard surface, like the side of a tub or a sink. Never wring it out with your hands – that’s how a man does it. Don’t hang up your laundry to dry where men can see, like that time you left your bathing suit out when Tío Emilio came to visit. ¿Te acuerdas? How embarrassing; así que use a sunlit, dry space – the garage or the corner of the patio. Are you listening, m’hija?


How to pronounce our first names in English


Allow your tongue to begin in the same place it normally does. Draw out the consonant softly. When you move into the first vowel – that’s different. In our language, it’s high flanked against the roof of the mouth. But in English, it’s tight in the back of the throat and narrow. You push it out quickly and then come down to the next consonant for a strong and straight sound. In our language, it’s a little lighter, closer to the back of the teeth. So you need to trabajar un poquito más – push it to the back of the throat. Así. The last two vowels are pretty much the same. One quick sound pushed together, one smooth transition between the vowels. The last vowel in our language is higher, a little softer, but it’s not a big deal. If they don’t understand you it’s because they’re not trying to, not because you’re saying it wrong. Now let’s practice. You first.


How to walk straight/away


Enderécete, as in to straighten up, as in to undo the slouch the curvature the attempt to;

Enderécete, as in to zip your lips shut and keep hush;

Enderécete, as in when you dance let the man lead, as in don’t dance until you refuse three times and when you accept, let your body feel their gentle pull and follow it because it makes them feel like they won something they deserve,

Enderécete, don’t be rude don’t uncross your legs don’t get upset don’t mention politics don’t yawn with your mouth open don’t pick your nails don’t drink out of bottles don’t look so bored;

Americans – they don’t take anything seriously;

americanos – making jokes out of everything all the time;

No respect        No respect        No respect

                                                                                       "two poems for my mother, one for you"                                                                                          page two


Talk to me like that again and I will take out your teeth.

You are not like them, remember that;

Speak Spanish properly, you know where you come from;

Cut your hair often, but not short like a boy;

Exercise every day, but don't sweat like a boy;

Laugh openly, but not with her like that;


               what is obligatory about this moment?

once I swear it we died in the front seat of your momma’s lexus

hands               breath               hair      

what need & how

i don’t remember any of it now   

                hitting a deer        driving away

i can’t remember how our countries

have lost too much to have what we wanted, maybe,

maybe our mothers wanted us to be what we couldn’t, maybe,

maybe when i opened the car door & floated on the bare sidewalk

                   not even my first name