DECK OF CARDS by Nancy Valladares
Few things in this world are ever truly half of something. Binaries are the two sides of a coin, or the two faces of a playing card but in a 3 dimensional plane– even these things have depth. A few millimeters or maybe microns of depth, but it is depth nonetheless.
I grew up believing I was always half of something. That I was half complete until I found the person I would end up marrying, or until I found god, until I finished my education. My personhood was always dependent on another thing, which I was to perform for someone else, at some other point in time. So I spent the greater part of my adolescence and some of my adulthood trying to find the elusive “other half”.
I began to look for spaces between words were I could squeeze myself into, because English words and Spanish words were never enough to blanket my half-body and half mind and half-soul. I spent my time looking for words that broke my idea of words ( palabras ), and then I could fit my body between the shards –the sharp ends suited me. It was like repairing pottery with gold; except I was the precious metal, and the broken ceramic was language. (No todo lo que es oro brilla)
I wanted to break language and sew it back together in reverse, patch it up, expand it.
I could measure my self-hood in millimeters; the space I was allocated did not accommodate for the expansion of my diaphragm. (El respirar es un lujo) I can tell you of people whose allocated space was even thinner– the thickness of tracing paper. Their words inscribed with silk thread and water.
There are also people whose space encompasses the area of an entire sheet or paper, others entire scrolls.
I am afraid to use the word we, but I will use it anyway, to make a space for anybody who wants to fit inside that word. Two letters, one vowel, one consonant, with not a lot of time in between. Every breath we take is a word, a sentence, a scream–precious commodities. We have had to write our .27 millimeter thick stories with the most precise tools. We expand and contract the fabric of space/time ( geografia / historia) to suit our needs. We have learned to adapt to place wherever we go, but oftentimes we have to shrink because we are afraid to take up more space than what we are given. Storytelling is laborious work, exhausting, painful and yet we must do it to live.
Who decides the amount of space I am allowed? Who can tell me I cannot write my story in an entire sheet of paper? An entire book? Will they cut me up in pieces? Put me in their paper shredders and spread me throughout different recycle bins, until I cannot piece myself back with gold anymore?
On average, every playing card is .27 millimeters thick.
I have inhabited that .27 millimeter space for years and yet I could tell you a story that is 100 decks of cards tall.
I heard stories about people, who learned how to stack themselves up until they were as thick as books, and of others who knew how to fold themselves over and over again into solid blocks. I think there are people who cut themselves into the smallest pieces, maybe atoms, and stack themselves into needles hundreds of meters high. There are also people who have entire books of white pages, with no words on them–empty, smelling of mold and rot.
DECK OF CARDS is the fourth in a series composed of five poems. One will be posted each week of September. You can find the first poem: here.
Nancy Valladares is Honduran by birth, of Mixed ethnicity, and an immigrant– she is unapologetically brown. She lives and studies in Chicago, working to get her BFA at SAIC. You can find her on tumblr and instagram. Illustration by Jennifer Tang.