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By María Luisa Arroyo

para Martín Espada (1993)

Mami called us away from the roach trap line
where novice factory workers, fresh from the island,
and I, fresh from Germany, poked
protruding yellow chunks of roach bait
into black traps with long-stem Q-tips
we dunked in alcohol.

Another safety meeting. My first.
El jefe de la factoría faced us
and heard nothing by the silence
of women hablando y bochincheando
in Tidy-Bowl blue uniforms. "Safety shoes should....
Factory goggles are .... Hairnets must...."

All the Spanish he knew could have fit
into one of those trampas, too little to translate
what Flora, Aida, and Teresa needed to know.
A heavy box fell and crushed a few of Flora's
dedos del pie. Alcohol splashed into Aida's ojos.
The uncovered motor yanked out one of Teresa's trenzas.

I broke rank and stood. "If safety is first, then why
aren't your updates translated into Spanish?"
How all uniforms blue shrank away from me,
from my nasal twang, from that language that sounds as if
I were chewing papas calientes o mucho chicle.

For once, though, my mother was proud of my English.

El jefe told me I could have been promoted
to the shampoo line.

Added: Monday, July 7, 2014  /  Originally published in "Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras" (Bilingual Press 2008). Used with permission.
María Luisa Arroyo
Photo by Joyce Skowyra.

María Luisa Arroyo was  born in Manatí, Puetro Rice and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her educational journey as a first-generation college student included studying German, her third language, at Colby (BA), Tufts (MA), and Harvard (ABD); earning an MFA in poetry; and traveling to twelve countries, including Iran for a summer where she activated her self taught Farsi. A Massachusetts Cultural Council Poetry Fellow and NEPR Arts & Humanities Award recipient, María Luisa has facilitated many workshops on multicultral poetry, ekphrastic witing, and the ghazal. Calyx: A Journey of Art and Literature by Women and Women Arts Quarterly Review are among the many journels in which her poems appear. María Luisa Arroyo's books include Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras (Bilingual Review Press, 2008), and chapbooks Flight (Thousand Hands Press, 2016) and Destierro Means More than Exile (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018).

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