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  • Being Other

     

    Sometimes it’s easier being friends with an “other”. Even if you don’t know her that well. Even if you don’t really like her. Because you know she can’t ever step out of being an “other”. Like you.

    At the American Legion where you can join the auxiliary because your father was a veteran. Drinks are cheap there, so you go. The guard at the local prison sits across from you drinking Bud Lite in a can and says, yeah, he just punched the window. Glass and blood all over the place. You know how they are. Them blacks, them Mexicans. Then he sees you. I didn’t mean anything against Hispanics, but you know how it is. I’m a guard. I see things all the time. Know what I mean? You notice he doesn’t apologize about blacks, just Hispanics. Because your skin is white. You feel the spotlight suddenly. No matter how many times you sit at the bar with them, that spotlight appears.

    You look at him, silent. But the spotlight burns. In your face. Your heart. You want to go back to the shadows of everyone else. You don’t want to say it, but your mouth opens all on its own. No, you tell yourself. And then you hear the words, But I’m not Mexican. Immediately the shame. You hate yourself.

    On another night, the bartender, who says is your friend, tells you, This will probably offend you, but…The spotlight turns on. This Mexican that works with my husband doesn’t do shit. He’s so lazy. You look at her and ask, Is he lazy because he is Mexican, or is he just lazy? She looks at me, almost pensive, That’s a good point. Guess he’s just lazy. You tell yourself that’s why you keep coming back.

    Then last week. The bartender hands you the drink she knows you like. She’s your friend. She likes you. Talks to you about her kids, her husband, wants to have lunch. Tells you about the tomato seeds she ordered and that she will give you some plants. Then she leaves to open more cans of Bud Lite for the old men sitting on the other side of the bar. She comes back, lowers her voice, I bet they wouldn’t let you in here if they knew you spoke Spanish, that you’re Cuban. You feel your stomach sour in the heat of the spotlight. You tell yourself to push through it, that if you do this long enough it might change their history. They might fold you into their shadow. But you know that’s not true. It’s been their bar too long.

    Still you know you will keep going, wanting, waiting for an answer to question.

     

     

    * * *

     

    Ephemeral Ponds

     

    In early spring they dig their way up through the thawing dirt, sleek yellow or blue-black bodies pulled by the scent of water to join bird-voiced tree frogs and peepers crawling from beneath the loose barks of trees. In the slough of black mud and water they court and lay their eggs.

    In shallow depressions they live, feeding on branchiopods, on fairy shrimp and water scorpions, in water only so deep it dries by mid-summer. Here even the daunting Giant Water Bug thrives as he carefully carries the eggs the female cements onto his back.

    In these vernal watering holes, communities unfold, a diversity of beings dependent on each other until it all evaporates. And then they wait in suspended animation under leaves or hardened mud, for water to give them life again, or they never awaken if rain never comes.

     

    About The Author

    Olga Abella 2

    Olga Abella

    Olga Abella has been a professor of literature and creative writing at Eastern Illinois University for 30 years. She is also the department advisor for the English major. Whenever she can get away from class preps and teaching, she rides her bicycle. Being on her bike or walking her dogs frees her mind to envision the world as poetry, and inspires her to write. The two essays she has appearing in this issue of aaduna are more prose poems than essays. Writing poems enables her to handle life in a more manageable way, and to put herself in perspective. Her poems have been published in various journals, including black dirt, CALYX, Urban Spaghetti, The MacGuffin, Natural Bridge, The Mom Egg, Long Island Quarterly, Kalliope, poetrybay.com and others. She has two chapbooks, Grasping to What Is (A Short Book Press) and What It Takes (Birnham Wood Graphics), and a book Watching the Wind (Writers Ink Press).