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About this poet

John Olivares Espinoza received a BA from the University of California–Riverside and an MFA from Arizona State University. Olivares Espinoza is the author of The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). He lives in San Jose, California.

Spanish As Experienced by a Native Speaker

A George Washington quarter was a cuarta. Two cuartas bought us una soda from a vending machine. We asked abuelito for a cuarta to play the video game console. No, he said, una peseta. No, una cuarta. Una peseta para la máquina. He called the console a machine. Like the machine (máchina) that dropped a cuarta for every six cans Mother put in. La máchina is what Father had us puchar across yardas on the weekends. At work we ate lonche. At school we ate lunch. At home we ate both. Queki was served on birthdays. It was bien gaucho to have your birthday skipped again. Skipiar was done to the unsolvable math problem, which was never attempted again. Half our time was spent on homework, the other half was spent wacheando TV. Wacha signaled you were about to do something impressive, but foolish, like a bike stunt. !Wáchale! is what your friends tell you when you nearly plow into them with your bike. A bike is a baika. Uncle Jesse peddled a baika to the grocery story to buy leche y cornflais. Leche, not tortillas, were heated in the microgüey. Un güey is a dude. Uncle Beto called more than two people “una bola de güeyes.” I secretly listened to the Beastie Boys in Uncle Beto’s troka because I could turn it up full blast.  Uncle Jesse peddles back from Queimar with two new plaid shirts. Dad’s returning from his trip to the dompe, where he left last week’s garbage. Mother’s fixing Spam sángüiches. Abuelito pulls from his pocket a peseta, but hands me a cuarta.

From The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by John Olivares Espinoza. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.

From The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by John Olivares Espinoza. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.

John Olivares Espinoza

John Olivares Espinoza is the author of The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). He lives in San Jose, California.

by this poet

poem

My mother pushes a grocery cart,
I tug at her blue pleated skirt.

She puts her change into my hands,
For the old soul slumped against the wall,
His gray mouth covered by a beard of wind and dirt.

I place the coins into his cupped hands
And he stacks two neat columns of cents

poem

Go on, tell me
My hands look like yours,
Nail clipped, filed, buffed, shined.
They weren’t always so.
My hands were

Forged from
Gardening, working so deep
In the soil, they could have been roots.
Fingers splintered by wooden
Rakes and shovels.

Some gardener—