Two Poems by Joseph Santaella Vidal

Walking On Wires


They had us
walking on wires,
pole-less & hopeless.

They watched from below as we leaned side to side
like sunflowers caught in an endless breeze,
perpetually unbalanced.

And although we thought their whispers were prayers,
we would soon find out
they were wagers.


They had us
sidesteppin’ through landmines
and hive minds and white minds

Looking over our shoulders
with every step we took.
They had us shaving our beards

and hiding our tongues
and softening our words
and hating ourselves
and fearing our own.

They had us fooled.

They had us
They had us

but not anymore.

Today I think of my students

My classroom is a map of the world, a different country in every chair. They’re all young. All foreign. All life. Their tongues are heavy with another language: their words clunky & slow & strange.

They’re enviably, beautifully naïve.

I want to hold all of their perfect faces between my palms and tell them to run far away. Take every word I’ve ever taught you and shrink it and crumple it and never think of it again. I want to tell them there’s nothing left here for people like us anymore. They don’t like us. They don’t want us.

But when the time comes, I teach.

I make them repeat the same words over & over & over like a mantra until they lose their meaning. Until they get it right. I make them think about the way their tongues move inside their mouths to make specific sounds. How do we make the /l/ sound? Do our tongues touch the roof of our mouths? Yes. What about the /r/ sound? No.
Good. Repeat after me:
Sheep Ship Sheep Ship Sheep Ship

 Do we use a sheep to sail across the sea? No.

Does a sheep moo? No.


Are you all a bunch of sheep? No. They laugh. No.



Joseph Santaella Vidal is a Puerto Rican writer who recently graduated with an MFA from Emerson College in Boston, with a concentration in Fiction Writing. He is a reader for the acclaimed literary magazine Ploughshares. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Acentos Review, Words Apart and The Mighty. His screenwriting has been featured on National Television and in 2015, his screenplay, The Guest, was selected as the “Best Short Screenplay,” in the Puerto Rico Horror Film Fest’s Screenplay competition. His short story collection, Sunflowers and Other Stories is forthcoming from Mariana Editores.




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