They teach me that el cinco de mayo
is the day to fling open windows, to embrace
strangers, to turn wails into shouts of Libertad!
Yeah, well, I was 22 or something. What are you going to do?
Anyway, you all know, don't you, that cinco de mayo really isn't Mexican "independence day," even though that's what my final line suggests? So there's that problem. And then there's the problem of how I say that "my Mexican neighbors" are the ones who teach me this, even though I don't recall ever literally having Mexican neighbors. Maybe figuratively. As in, I grew up in Texas, and so Mexico was my neighbor.
Overall, though, these lines are kind of a good example of something like poetic license. Or youthful pretensions. Something like that.
But Yusef, one of my teachers during my MFA days, liked that I had Spanish words in the poem. He told me I should do that more, that it gave an interesting texture to my poetry.
In fact, I think that's mostly what he remembered about my poems, from month to month and year to year. He would ask me, "Have you written more poems with Spanish in them?"
I did write another poem with Spanish eventually. It was a poem that mocked how little Spanish I actually knew. I took Spanish in junior high and high school. It's not like I was ever fluent.
And then in college I took French, though my professor, can you believe it, was a native speaker of Spanish.
Now I confuse the languages. My niece is married to a young man from Chihuahua, and I like to imagine that I can communicate with him (and his family) in Spanish. Unfortunately, I sprinkle French into my Spanish. As when he was describing a Mexican dish to me that he thought I might like, and I asked, "avec carne?" It was just two words, not even a whole sentence. And I managed to butcher it. (Imagine someone who knows a little German and a little English saying to you, after you've described a delicious dish to them, "Mit meat?") But he answered, without missing a beat. It was only much later that I realized what I had done.
And at the wedding, speaking to his mother (who knows only a smattering of English), I attempted to ask how many children her daughter has. I thought and thought to make sure I got it right, and still I came out with, "Combien de hijos?" (I think that would be like asking "wieviele sons?" to an English speaker, if the person asking the question confused German with English.) I seem to do fine with the nouns in Spanish. It's the other stuff that I can only bring up (under pressure) in French.
And why am I telling you this? Only because it's cinco de mayo. The day to fling open your web browser, to wish Derek a happy birthday.
And, sure--me, too. If you'd like.