Green Hills Literary Lantern

Analfabeta

 

It took a while for Abuela to figure out

That an F on my report card did not stand for Fantástico,

her experience with school being limited to fourth grade,

back in the days of wooden rooms and rulers

that beat knowledge into those bold enough to opt for ignorance.

 

She kept what she could from el colegio en el campo

arithmetic, the alphabet, penmanship that wobbled long before her arthritis

set in, and she would not stand for less than the best from me.

which is why she beat my ass with her chancleta when she finally learned

I’d been lying about my ease with fractions and P.E.

 

You would have thought her a dignitary, the way she walked

into my 6th grade classroom, staccato heels, her good black dress

ironed crisp as a dollar, a bit much for Mrs. Dempsey,

who looked at us down the long slope of her nose and began to tear

me down in tea-time tones that did not mention how she sometimes slipped

 

and called me ’Spic under her breath, how she pounced when I spoke

to my friends in Español. Abuela caught most of the words

Dempsey lobbed her way, but didn’t say a thing, just glared at me

every time she endured the shame of my shortcomings

which seemed as personal as the fine stitch of her heirloom DNA,

 

as if she alone were to blame for the thrust of my chin

and purse of my lips, the crossbones of arms I cradled against my chest

as the words too smart for her own good lingered in the air

like the bells that ruled our days, which is when Abuela rose from her chair

and said the words that set me straight: Neber too esmart, mi niña, neber too esmart!

 

 

Caridad McCormick has been published in The Sun, Tropic Magazine, Generation Ñ Magazine, and is a columnist (“What She Thinks”) for Now Playing Magazine. She is a professor of English at Miami Dade College.