Nothing Was What It Pretended
– Margaret Randall
Words I’d never heard took up residence
in my mouth.
Montaño, even if city signage
refused to put the tilda over the n,
names like De Vargas, Cabeza de Vaca
or Juan Tabó,
shepherds and assassins enshrined on street corners
unquestioned and mispronounced.
Indian words like Acoma, Navajo—now Diné—
or place names like Canyon de Chelly
the conquerors left us with
when they couldn’t speak what they couldn’t hear.
Names imposed: Oñate, Coronado, Santa Fe.
Another’s holy faith bringing death
and leaving division, delighting
those who arrive on private planes.
Common words like tijeras and frijoles,
scissors and beans
began to quiver on my tongue,
stood easily in later years.
I too came from somewhere else,
a childhood far away,
with other sounds in my ears,
other familiars in my mouth.
The new words tested teeth, stretched lips
and exercised my landscape
until language caught meaning in its net
and I knew nothing was what it pretended.