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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 108-110

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The Word Pachuco, and: Mango and Tango, and: Boy of Six

The Word Pachuco

I learned the word pachuco
my first week at Tucson High
when Tim Acosta burst
into homeroom, yanked
me by the collar, right
out of my desk, smacked
me against the wall, and growled,
I hear you're gonna beat the shit out of me.
I stammered, never said that, and he flung
me across the desk and stomped out.

A year later my friends and I baptized ourselves
The Chasers. Nobody messed with us,
not Tim Acosta, nobody. Every morning we leaned
against the wall, slightly lifting our chins
as friends passed by. One day six Mexicans jumped
an Anglo. We joined in his defense, Mexicans
against Mexicans. Next day The Chronicle reported:
race war ravages Tucson High.

Mango and Tango

In kindergarten I told nobody
I spoke English with Mom,
español con Papá, but in first grade [End Page 108]
my secret tongue bulged out
and blurted that two words in a song
hurt my ears. My teacher made me
stand and repeat mango and tango
until my face was ruptured and scarlet.
She phoned my parents and said
that two languages would burst my brains,
so I bit my tongue and watched
the Spanish words bleed away.

Boy of Six

Muddy slush, I love you muddy water.
After a rain, the big kids swirl
around me and taunt,
Mexican, Mexican boy.

Then my nightmare
lizard waddles its icicle snout
over the crescent moon.

Speaking English, Mom and I
laugh at the elephants in the zoo.
That afternoon I sit on Papá's lap
and tell him, Ví el ele-, ele-
cannot find the word, elefante,
blurt "elephant," and bolt.
This moment I forget Spanish. [End Page 109]
Muddy slush, muddy water.
I'm afraid to go in the night room
and turn on the lamp.
Mom and dad slam
the door of their bedroom,
I know their plot
to poison me, refuse
to eat the crackers and milk
on the table by my bed.

Renato Rosaldo works as a cultural anthropologist at New York University. He is the author of the poetry collection Prayer to Spider Woman/ Rezo a la mujer arena (Icocult) and a book on ethnography, Culture and Truth. He won the Many Mountains Moving poetry contest for 2005.



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