“The birds must have gotten in again” I tell my husband.
“Or the chipmunks.” was his reply before turning over.
There is no warning rattle at the door. When an artist makes her mark, she opens all the cage doors locked before and after her. For the longest time we felt ashamed of our language and had to code switch when we’d go to the doctors office, at school with certain teachers, in front of the social worker if she ever made the dreaded visit to our roach filled, dirty apartment, especially dreadful if our mothers weren’t home.
She used to tell me it was aspirin and that her mother couldn’t manage to swallow pills so she needed to smash them up. But it looked so much like a cocaine vial; even I at 7 could see that. She insisted so adamantly that I began to have doubts.
My brother had another allergy attack, this time worse than before, his whole face blew up but my mother couldn’t explain what had happened. She spoke Spanish and the doctor spoke English. He seemed annoyed at having to deal with the endless, non English speaking Medicaid patients the hospital was so full of.
“They always have so many damned kids” he said looking down at us. My sister and I didn’t bother translating that.
I lost myself in books because the world around me was falling apart. The loud salsa music would not cease and the cops stopped coming even though every woman in the building was being beaten to a slow death.
I read all the European poets, all the old men that wrote long narratives on proper conduct and attire, long ago kings and queens that had nothing to do with the reality of our life here.
Kids were free to roam even around those dangerous city walls. Drug deals and street harassment were as common as the urban pigeon. We were sort of oblivious to that I guess. We knew when to turn our faces away and when not to make eye contact.
Then I opened Maya and she spoke to me, she spoke our language and had no shame. She spoke our truth and exposed all our words. Here was a writer I could follow; here was a poet I could understand. Never mind I had heard of some kids doing Shakespeare in the Park. We would have to take the train to the city, the equivalent of an international flight for kids like us. Plus Shakespeare was dead and Maya was alive. The year was 1982 and here was a writer that felt no need to code switch, to tailor her voice to her audience. That spoke the truth.
“We can write like this?” I asked my best friend.
“Sssh, the teacher is coming over.” was her reply.
There is no warning rattle at the door. The rattle leapt from the page. Maya told us to get up and show our insides, we don’t have to be part of the status quo; we don’t need to be old white men. She passed us the torch and it was alight.
“Can bird be used as a verb?” I asked my best friend.
“Not in English.” was her reply.
We laughed so hard we cried.
There is no warning rattle at the door. Rather, it was more of a vibration, a powerful vibration that opened the door.
The Speakeasy Challenge: FIRST line in submission: “There is no warning rattle at the door.” Submissions must be 750 words or fewer. Submissions must be fiction or poetry.