Fear

I lost the fear of jumping in
And gained the fear of looking back

———
“Fear” by Azul Serena

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Ten Years Ago

I don’t feel or look older
But that picture from ten years ago says otherwise
The youthful glow of discoveries and uncertainties
Has been replaced by the graying of wisdom and experience
The sparkle of my eyes is now accompanied by dark circles
Proudly standing at attention like the neat row of ribbons
That once adorned my bedroom wall
Girlhood accomplishments that represented vanquished obstacles
If you look closely you’ll recognize each adventure etched on my face
Like the spindly roads on a map that take you anywhere and nowhere
“Expression marks” you’ll say
“Call them memories” I’ll reply
Ten years from now I’ll remember this day as I search the depths of my eyes
For clues of a past that feels so near yet is uncannily faraway
“Aging” you’ll say
“Call it Life” I’ll reply

———
“Ten Years Ago” 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