My Father Calls Me Pequena
My father calls me Pequena and pats my shoulders when I come home from la escuela. He says, “Tell me something that you to learn today,” and I say “Learned, Papa. Something you learned.” He says, “No. Ok. Fine. Learned. What you learned today.” I tell him that Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina. I tell him that turtle shells will bleed like a cut if you crack them. “Por que?” he says and I say, “Papa, it’s because their shells are vivo. They’re real Papa. They’re alive.” When he frowns I take his dry, brown hands and rub his knuckles which are so cracked I can feel the five-year drought through his skin.
My abuelo’s hands were crooked before he died and they were crooked when I was born and I think they must have been crooked even before that. Sometimes, I dreamed abuelo was a Peregrine falcon and every part of him was made perfectly for living. In my dreams he would take me from school to fly above the fields where my papa and my tio work. Even up high you could smell the green tobacco, and the fronds that are bigger than me in real life were like little pieces of key lime pie. They looked so bright you could eat them.
Mama doesn’t ask about school. Her hands are busy with the maize and she sings to the hills because, she told me, there is always someone who wants to hear. At night when we have thunderstorms I sneak into bed with her and Papa and press my back against her belly, flat and warm as a tortilla. “Pequena,” my father says from the other side of the bed, and then he snores soft, soft like the thin cotton bedsheets. Even through the darkness Mama knows how to part my hair, curl her slick fingers down the length of it, until it’s straight and untangled. I’m never awake by the time she finishes, but I can feel here there, working away. It feels like floating on water, so smooth and light.
In the morning she is always up first and from my sleep I can hear Papa say, “Adios, Pequena. Tu es el sol y la luna,” and then I know it is time for me to wake up. I eat box cereal for breakfast even though Mama says, “Aiy!” and she packs homemade tamales for my lunch. Nobody understands the corn husks at school. I stuff them into my pockets at lunchtime before all of them can see. When I walk home after school, I will leave a trail of them to mark my passage. Little corn flags drying up along the sidewalk, all the way home to our trailer. I like to think of them curling in the sunlight and scraping across the concrete with the breeze. From up high, the little pieces would look like people dancing.