Andrea Betran

2 Poems

Grandma’s Answer to Why We Can’t Play Jacks in the Backyard

What good would playing

out there do us? There’s no such thing

as even playing ground.

We play on the tile in my hallway

or we don’t play at all.

We’ve got to learn

to work around the cracks

and the grout lines

because even when we bounce

our balls to miss them, we can’t be certain

of a clean return to our hands.

We need to learn

to read

the rebound, focus

on the pieces left.

All this she seemed to say

in a swift bounce

and sweep

of the remaining jacks.

Reading and Writing Lessons

I remember the day I learned

about my grandmother teaching

herself to read and write. I was being nosy

in her living room cabinets and found

her workbooks, similar to the ones I took to school,

cassette tapes, too. Back then,

I thought literacy was free and that everyone

took advantage. She signed cards only when holidays

and birthdays demanded and wrote the occasional shopping list.

Today, I find two recipe cards

in her handwriting, letters shaped like toothpicks.

Her c wears a hat, her s resembles a backward z,

on this yellowed recipe for her pecan-coated rum cake,

the one she would make every Christmas

before the heart attack that didn’t kill her but

caused her to forget about teaching herself to read and write,

her grandkids’ birthdays, and how to make apple empanadas.

I’m teaching myself how to read

her moods, to know when it’s a good day

to share tuna salad on potato bread slices

and clean out her Ziploc bags stuffed with fading recipes.

Under the pile of those she’s chosen to give me, I hide

the two handwritten ones I’ve found,

not for the recipes but for her letters, reminders

that I can teach myself to do the things I’ve never wanted to do

until I have to, like write down recipes she’s always known by heart.


Andrea Beltran lives in El Paso, Texas and moonlights as a poet. Her poems have recently appeared in Blood Lotus, caesura, and Pyrta. She's the web editor for Referential Magazine and blogs at To her, being a Latina means belonging to, representing, and protecting her culture with an open mind and kind heart. She wants to read, share, and tell stories that have yet to be heard.