University of Southern Indiana

"The Most Important Word in This Language"

by Analicia Sotelo

is miercoles, verdad?     In English: miercoles     In Spanish: miercoles

what difference        does it make?          it was the first word

I ever learned from my great-grandfather

light on the tongue        better than the day it describes

my shoes crouching behind the door        where the calendar hung on to its days

as if each day were       another clue

the pesos       were dark with each day the coins did not move

dark like moss on the dresser

the thin, printed medals of saints were sometimes

indistinguishable from others        miracles / miercoles / miracles

here’s a riddle: the dress         is not a house but a shore

and the lace of          my great-grandmother’s hair is the water

from the stove pot         embroidered and hung on the wall:

a rosary       her hair/one thick wavelength         a waterfall of white

a rosary       as large as a person      is something to pray for

miercoles, if I had kept       my promise to myself         I would already

understand in two languages         what their lives were like         what our lives

could be like      I think I remember         I think I remember an automat

or a hotel with string-bearing celebrities       I think I remember

Friday with the marigolds        and the orange tree bearing small worlds

loved by ants     but it was miercoles      miercoles

the most beautiful word in our language      is the one that takes us

and leaves us at the end        of every afternoon       with a merienda

while the lace grows stiff at the dining room table        under the plastic

under the condensation under the plastic     que quieres, mija

quiero un miercoles      y otro otro otro

I wrote this poem as an homage to what it felt like to be young, listening to my grandparents and great-aunts and great-grandparents talk to each other in Spanish. I tried to figure out what everything meant by how it felt and this created an amniotic relationship with language. The poem is like a braid to me—or like a rosary, or like a collection of old pesos on a dresser. It’s a series of connected things held by a curiosity of how they came to be and what it all means. 

Analicia Sotelo is the author of Virgin, the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, selected by Ross Gay for Milkweed Editions (2018). She is also the author of the chapbook Nonstop Godhead, selected by Rigoberto González for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her poem “I’m Trying to Write a Poem About a Virgin and It’s Awful” was selected for Best New Poets 2015 by Tracy K. Smith. Poems have also appeared in The New YorkerBoston Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and The Antioch Review. Sotelo is the recipient of the 2016 DISQUIET International Literary Prize, a CantoMundo fellowship, and scholarships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Image Text Ithaca Symposium.

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