4 Poems by Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri

By Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri

Doing High School When You’re a Señorita

“DSC_0520 “ © aamylindholm (https://www.flickr.com/photos/aamylindholm/5916759999/)

When you’re a señorita,
your dreams are cracked open
like granadillas,
wet seeds spilling from
parted lips—
scattered
lost
folding
within the limits your
parents place, because
you’re not like the others
who collect sleepovers like seashells.

(You have a perfectly functioning bed,
your parents say. Why would you
want to sleep somewhere else?)

When you’re a señorita,
complaints are a currency
reserved for the brave. You’re
restricted to Sí señor, Sí señora,
and God-forbid you speak
the way your peers do—
your parents will slap the sass
so fast from your mouth.

(Cuidado, they say, eyes ablaze. Señoritas
don’t complain, don’t disdain.
Keep it up y ya verás.)

When you’re a señorita,
boyfriends are a language
your tongue doesn’t recognize,
even if the boy
three rows down in English class
is someone you wish
you could know better.

(¿Que es eso de novio? they say. Una señorita
doesn’t flaunt her body. She knows
it’ll attract sinvergüenzas.)

When you’re a señorita,
leaving home for college
is a dream that tastes
like summer ripened mangos
like guavas freshly-picked from trees.
But when you tell your parents this,
they cross themselves,
throw their hands in the air,
lament where they went wrong.

(Don’t even think about it, they say.
Señoritas don’t leave home
before they’re married.)

So when you’re a señorita
in high school,
you hide make-up in book bags,
hold hands in the hallway with the boy
who’ll never meet your parents. You
talk loud, laugh louder,
dream even louder still.
You sway your hips as you walk
shoulders squared, chin high,
eyes swallowing shadows.

Your parents aren’t there to stop you,
so you collect your dreams
like spilled seeds,
until the moment
you can scatter them free.

I Don’t Know

I don’t know
what you were thinking,
what made you decide
to marry, to have a child
well past your health.
Did you not know
I would need you,
that teaching me grammar
and history
and literature
would not be enough?
That I would dream of
Quinceañeras,
of father-daughter dances,
of being Papi’s little girl?

But you are none of that to me—
you’re hurricanes and tsunamis,
broken dishes and promises.
You’re the hail in my storm,
pelting me into submission.
You are screams into pillows,
slammed doors and angry tears
tracking down my cheeks.

I don’t know
why your tongue is
frozen against affection,
why it’s unable to unfurl into
te quieros,
why te amo remains absent
from your vocabulary.
Are you as broken as I feel?

I don’t know
the nuances of your story,
though God knows
I’ve asked. So I
sift through the sand
in search of your truths,
try to loosen the I-hate-yous
from my lips.

First Date

love © Francesco Sciuto (https://www.flickr.com/photos/147758644@N06/35816102916/)

Nerves
tap, flap,
dance
merengue
inside
my chest,
prestissimo.

(If I’m still,
my heartbeat echoes
across the universe.)

Hair
flays, flies
into tangled
notes, like
an orchestra
lacking its
conductor.
I try to
tease it back
into a concerto.

(Did you know,
when all pieces play
together, angels sing?)

Then
you arrive,
eyes alight
with secrets,
and
my heart
joins the
symphony,
a steady
drum
of bongos
against
my ears.

(You speak,
but all I hear is the
sweet whisper of wings.)

So I
dream
stars
into this
our first date.

Still Feels Like Home

It’s been too long—
the edges of the
panoramic a
sepia snapshot in
Abuela’s scrapbook.
Fog obscures the Andes
while coffee fields and
steep slopes sleep
beneath a blue haze.
Cool dew settles on my
skin and I breathe

deep

and long

fill my lungs
with mountain air
and wonder:

Was this ever mine?

Morning sun strips the haze,
fills the space
between sleep and
wakefulness. Parrots
fly out from cedars in pairs
while a soft breeze
tickles,
weaves
through the guaduales
near the field where the
boys are already playing fútbol.
Their movements flawless,
muscles gleaming with sweat

and my lips
stretch into a smile.
I tilt my face
greet the sun the way I
once did. Only now,
my Spanish sticks to

lips,

tongue,

the roof of my mouth
like arequipe.
It’s all so unfamiliar

and yet
(and yet!)
this still feels like home.

Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian-American poet, children’s author, and professor at Broward College, where she teaches composition, creative writing, and literature. Her work has appeared recently in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, The YA Review Network, and Atlanta Review.

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  1. Alexandra, these poems are wonderful — they are the real thing. I related to “When You are a Senorita,” but the others were good for all the right reasons. The language, the rhythm, the themes. I didn’t know you were such a poet. I hope you focus on your poetry more. You really have talent.

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