Ingrate

Ingrate,
You scorn the humble beginnings that gave you sustenance and shelter
Like you scorn the scum that mars your tub after weeks of neglect
But let me remind you that the disdain running through your veins
Owes its existence to those same humble beginnings
That sold their soul to give you breath

———
“Ingrate” by Azul Serena

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Two Halves

The fire that burns with a fury when I reach my limits
Is the same one that burns within you, Mom
And the peace that rules with caution as I approach my limits
Is the same one that stoically flows within you, Dad
I’ve known this all my life but I often forget that
Just like you have needed one another to coexist for forty years
I need both within me to exist and live my day to day

———
“Two Halves” by Azul Serena

Pedigree

“Someone with your pedigree…”
Your words hung heavy in the air days after they traveled across the table
I fear you meant them as a compliment, how else could they be so sincere?
They weighed me down like chains tethered to my past
In ways that only lineage roots you to a name and material wealth
They dragged behind my steps like endless lines on a receipt:
The girth of my hips, the cinch of my waist,
The width of my shoulders, the sinews of my legs,
The depth of my eyes, the fullness of my lips,
The strands of my hair, the arch of my brows,
The thoughts in my mind, the degrees on my walls.
Am I thoroughbred enough for you?
Are my markings exactly those for which you search?
Or will I become another ledger neatly folded in your pocket
Perused when hope is thin and need is high?

———
“Pedigree” by Azul Serena

The Translator

The cashier noticed her before I did.  She was wearing an easter dress and a pink rosette around her temple where her hair was pulled taught by a meticulously styled ponytail.  She was peering hesitantly at the cashier, wanting to be noticed without appearing disrespectful.  I knew that look, that hesitation, that assertiveness.  It wasn’t her first time taking charge.

“May I help you?”  The young cashier’s lack of condescension helped the girl relax a bit.

“How much money are these?”  She held up a pair of pink heels.  The cashier scanned the barcode and told her the price. “$34.99”

The girl smiled tenuously and walked back to her mother who was standing by a pillar trying to appear casual as she waited anxiously for the verdict.  The little girl whispered something and the mother shook her head as she returned the shoe to the display counter.  It exceeded her budget.

The encounter left a reminiscent smile on my face.  I remembered that not long ago I, too, was a 5 year old child leading a dual life: that of a child and a translator.  At home my parents ruled with a swiftness that left no doubt of their competence and authority.  Outside of home, those same unwavering parents walked with hesitant steps as they struggled to navigate their new country.  They were proud of their native language and forbade speaking the foreign tongue inside their home.  Yet, they were well aware that our family’s survival depended on that same foreign tongue – the one I was learning in school.  

That’s where my role as a translator was born.  I became the bridge between two worlds; at once novice and teacher.  I quickly learned to read and speak English, unaware that my parents’ demand for academic superiority was a pretense hiding basic necessity.  My parents did not have the luxury to learn and savor the new language, or the patience to understand the nuances of the new culture.  What they did have was an eldest daughter whose sole responsibility as a dutiful daughter was to make them proud.  Historically, my family’s lineage of daughters brought our family pride by fulfilling gender specific roles; but in this country, my bilingualism was the root of their pride.  Thus, at the tender age of 5 I embarked on a journey to become their translator.

Although my role as a translator has evolved over the years, what remains of those formative years is an acute awareness of the meaning of words and the emotions they convey and conceal in translation.  In my world, Spanish is soft, safe, emotive, and carnal; while English is rigid, authoritarian, detached, and exotic.  The two languages coexist within me in a symbiotic dependency.  Without one, I lose the other.  Without either, I lose myself.

As I watched the little girl – the young translator – carry the shoe back to her mother, I couldn’t help but think that maybe one day she, too, will see herself in another and be reminded that her story was forged by necessity.

———
“The Translator” by Azul Serena

Invisible Women

Invisible women
Wives of men, Mothers of sons.
You ceased to exist the day your body was sold through the holy sanctity of matrimony
Stripped of your father’s name and prettily cloaked by your husband’s name.
Do not be fooled.
Your new identity comes at a price too horrific to name: Erasure.
You are no longer Eve, daughter of Man, autonomous person;
You are now His Wife and Their Mother, invisible woman.
Nameless, faceless
Worthy of mention after you’ve birthed a son to carry the family name.
Worthy of shame after you birth daughters, poor souls condemned to expunction.
Who are you? Where have you been, seen, heard, felt?
Tragically no one but you will ever know.


This piece was written as a response to my many observations of the gender politics that riddle family gatherings. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the men in my family have the habit of introducing first their sons by name, followed by their unwed daughters by name, briefly mentioning their married daughters as “My daughter, so-and-so’s wife,” and introducing their wife last as “My Wife.” They don’t mention her name and rarely ever turn to look her in the eyes when they make the introduction. If she’s lucky her husband will make a half-hearted wave in her direction; but that’s a veritable rarity. With this behavior he enforces a hierarchy that clearly renders women invisible, worse than a second-class citizen.

———
“Invisible Women” by Azul Serena

Of Life and Hair Loss

These days he spent a few extra moments in front of the mirror, lamenting his loss with each tilt of his head. He didn’t tell his wife this, but he kept count of how many hairs he’d lost overnight; she’d never believe him. It appeared that last night’s casualties amounted to four: three from his temples and one from the crown of his head. At least these days the recession had tapered off to no more than five hairs per night. He sighed deeply as he gently caressed his hair before opening the door and stepping onto the cold tile floor that led to their bedroom.

He was only 24 years old when the hair loss began. At first he didn’t pay it much heed. It was unthinkable that his luscious tresses – the same ones that women envied – would succumb to this mundane tragedy. By the end of that year he could no longer ignore the truth that stared back at him every morning when he raised his head from his pillow: he was balding.

Initially the fear was nothing more than undiluted vanity. He liked running his fingers through his hair while he talked to pretty women. And he certainly liked the sensation of the rushing wind ruffling his hair as he biked across the city. Losing his hair was equivalent to losing his power of seduction. Preposterous.

Now it was a matter of practicality. A balding head implied years of wisdom and an unquestionable resignation to Life’s many whims. He had neither. He had energy to expend and goals to contrive. He had bravado. But he certainly did not feel complacency. How then was he expected to live with this unwanted burden? (Or lack thereof considering the lightened weight of his head.)

It was tragic to realize that he had set the value of life on looks and vanity. Nevermind that he had a roof over his head, a loving family, and a solid college education. Looks and vanity were his downfall – he was the true son of the fallen angel. He was human. Thankfully, as a true human he also had undying hope. He knew beyond doubt that his hair would never grow back, but that didn’t stop him from hoping otherwise. Maybe this hair loss had its benefits after all.

———
“Of Life and Hair Loss” by Azul Serena

My Father’s Smile

I don’t understand what you mean when you say I have a disarming smile
But I assume it means that I have my father’s smile
The one that makes you laugh when all you want to do is pout
Smile when all you want to do is frown
Pause when all you want to do is keep on walking
And dream when the nightmares refuse to stay at bay.
I may not know what a disarming smile looks like
But I sure hope it looks like my father’s smile.

———
“My Father’s Smile” by Azul Serena