Papa’s Deli Order
When my Social Studies teacher spoke of DREAMERS and visas,
she said undocumented was a synonym for illegal.
My hand shot up to tell her she must be mistaken:
My parents were undocumented, and they were not criminals.
Illegal is a synonym for killers or criminals,
and my papa was no criminal.
On weekends, I help him with the deli order at Jewel.
I point out verses on the posters behind the counter:
Yo quiero cuarto de libra de Sarah Lee Honey Turkey
“I want a quarter pound of Sarah Lee Honey Turkey.”
Yo quiero media libra de Queso Americano.
“I want a half pound of American cheese.”
I walk him through each word,
but he gets stuck on the r’s and the s’s—
he says he hears English like hissing radio static,
but I need him to walk up to the deli counter and order American cheese
because criminals don’t eat American cheese.
When my father is pulled over on 69th Street,
passengers huddle in the backseat of his Uber
as red stars, blue shirts, and badges
float in the grey sky outside.
Silhouetted against the city of big shoulders,
my father’s big shoulders knot against their hissing English.
Because I am at school at debate practice,
I miss 19 of his calls.
After the March sun has set, I finally call back,
but I am too late.
The passengers have been Ubered by someone else.
He sits on the cold, concrete curb while
policemen hiss radio static, open compartments, turn over seat cushions,
and all my father hears is,
and he thinks the country,
he thinks expired visa,
he thinks goodbye hugs and tears at O’Hare
and returning to his mother’s house in Peru,
to the yellow streetlights of the barrio he grew up in.
When I finally call him back,
I want him to put the cops on the phone.
I want to tell them he only drives Uber on the weekends,
to tell them he’s on my way to pick me up,
to tell them he can order a pound of American cheese for 1.99 at the deli
and that is important because criminals don’t eat American cheese.
Instead, I tell my father,
Yo siempre estoy contigo.
Vamos a Panda Express cuando regreses a casa,
podemos conversar sobre pollo de naranja.
Let’s go to Panda Express when you get home,
we can talk about it over orange chicken,
but when we go to the deli this weekend,
you have to order.
¿Como se dice? Dime.
And he says,
“I want a quarter pound, uh, Sarah Lee Honey Turkey.”
The blue and white lights fade
and he turns the key in the ignition.
“I want de half pound of cheese American.”
And under the yellow streets of this cold March night,
he starts home.