Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Jacobo doles out bread at the panadería on the corner of my street. The inside of his mouth reminds me of the surface of scraggle rock—jagged stones spurting from the earth and fighting for space amongst themselves. This arrangement makes him sound like he has marbles in his mouth. So in addition to the fact that he speaks very fast Spanish, each word that leaves his mouth is first subject to sound editing by the zigzag of teeth that block its exit.

When he speaks to me at the store, I squint my eyes and tighten the skin on my face, creating a buffer for words to reach my ears as directly as possible. He repeats phrases two or three times, but never changes his pace or enunciation—for example, “Ji ute ta busano ao mevisas,” which roughly translates to: “Ifa looin summin lemmenah.”

On the rare occasions when I do understand his words, they often paint the picture of a personal experience or acquaintence that I have no capacity to understand in the immediate way he implicitly requests. It reminds me of the way three-year-olds yell out to their mothers in excitement about the picture they’re drawing and ask, “Isn’t it pretty!?” when their mother is downstairs doing laundry.

1 comment:

Gina said...

i love this keenly felt character sketch--we all know that scraggly, squinty feeling of struggling to transmit a message, failed connections, nodding during misunderstanding, exclaiming mostly to ourselves...this probably never happens to you, because you are such a dynamo....but you know when you a reading a book in a language which you are learning, and you are a bit sleepy, and you begin imposing your own dreamy meanings on the words that sit so plain and misunderstood on the page, grinning to themselves, "that's not what i'm really trying to say, but alright..."