How I Learned to Read
¿Are you mi Mama?
beckoned the birdie in our favorite book.
Cuddled and coddled, I want to brag,
decirte that she read to me the most,
every night. Except if you ask Mama, it was
faith, not education, not knowledge, but the Holy
Ghost which gave her the power to understand the scriptures, when she,
humiliated, confessed to the missionaries she didn’t know how to read.
It never occurred to me until
just now that if her story is true, then she never actually read me anything as a
kid. She must have looked at
letters & saw nothing but another endless
maze of streets & signs, another
nameless map of New York, left to navigate
on pure faith and instinct. She’d interpret
pictures the same way she’d memorize streets the same way she’d read
quiet gringos, smirking as she passed. In 1st grade, I made it my goal to teach her to
read. I took out all our books in front of guests,
spilling a library of shame into the room. I’d correct her English
the same way I’d correct her children’s stories the same way I now write her story
under a language she will never call home. There’s not a word for her
verdad in English, no matter how many times I try
write it down. From a country where poets are
executed & literacy meant little more than signing away
your name next to an X, she taught me to walk without
zapatos, to read without an alphabet shackling my tongue.
After Javier Zamora