Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review


Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review


Article excerpt

It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?

The ones who hide their light under a bushel, in the dark, close, bushelly air, until a shoe kicks the bushel basket over and a light bulb shines forth all those hidden talents.

He was one of those, quiet in class, a comment here, a comment there, but little else. Often while I lectured, he was looking down, his head deep in a book or he'd sit slouched in his chair in that studied way young men sit to let you know they're relaxed, see, they're chill, all the while giving the clear impression they're sizing you up. They're the ones with the No Fear decals on their cars' rear windows, as if that were ever a possibility.

But I knew inside he must be terrified. All of the students were when the tables were turned, when they had to get up and give a teaching presentation in creative writing.

He walks to the front of the room, takes his place behind the lectern and that light bulb flicks on. Except with this kid it's more like a klieg light. He's confidant, self-possessed. Transformed. In the time it's taken him to get from behind his desk and walk to the blackboard he's developed a command that usually only comes after years of teaching. Somehow he's found a way to subdue the terror we all hide so well.

He begins by telling us he's going to give a lesson on imagery and has brought along a visual aid, a deck of Lotería cards. Holding up a card with an image of a red heart-El Corazón-he asks us if we know anything about the card game.

"Yeah, you can get them in the Mission," says one of his buddies from the back row.

"Yes, but do you know how they're used?"

No one bites. He explains that Lotería is the Mexican game of chance. There are fifty-four cards in the deck and the rules are similar to Bingo. Each player gets a tabla, a cardboard tablet, with a selected grid of pictures that correspond to images in the deck. A caller chooses a card at random and instead of giving out the card's name he invents a riddle or little story to describe the image. If that card is on your tabla you mark it with a chip. The first player with four chips in a row wins.

"Like what if I held up this card?" He holds up a card with a picture of the devil. El Diablo is red, reed thin, dressed in a pair of red briefs. His skinny chest indicates he hasn't been working out. Two horns sprout from his head. He sports a pointy goatee. One foot is a cleft hoof. The other looks like a chicken foot.

"C'mon, you burros." The class laughs. "How would you call out this card without giving up the card's name?"

"Who lives underground where there's zero air conditioning and it's extremely hot?" someone offers.

"What's the name for whipped eggs with paprika sprinkled on top?" says another.

"Who wears a red suit and isn't Santa and lives where you'll end up if you're a slut?"

"Bueno!" he shouts. They're hooked. Everyone starts tossing in new storylines. Then, in a seamless transition-where did he learn that?- he reads aloud some poems by Juan Felipe Herrera, who penned a series in direct response to the Lotería cards. He asks us to give it a try. As the deck is passed around the room we're to pick a card at random and immediately write down what comes to mind.

I'm game. When the deck comes my way the card I select shows the image of a man lifting the world, El Mundo, on his shoulders. Like El Diablo he's wearing red briefs but is much beefier. There's a look of strain on his face, as if he were carrying the weight of the world. Which, in fact, he is.

It's strange. I've been feeling a lot like him lately, like there's a world of worry I'm carrying I can't let go of. I'm thinking of retiring from teaching creative writing in a year but can't imagine what's beyond this room's horizon.

I look up, see the students are deep in another world, their heads bent down over their papers, pens scratching away. What's in the cards for them in this downed economy, with no job prospects on the horizon, their student loans maxed to the heavens? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.