*Not your average publishing company

Instructing Juan Gonzalez

Juan Gonzalez, forty-two and illiterate,
smelling like a hindquarter of beef hung
in a rural Puerto Rican butcher shop, doesn’t
bother to shower and change clothes after
custodial work unplugging toilets and removing
long blonde hair slimy from immersion
in goosenecks in dorms at my university, reeks
in front of me twice a week for an hour and a half
in a small, rectangular room with a green board
and chalk that makes me snort like a water buffalo.
I have tried to determine interests as current
English as a Second Language methodology
recommends: Jackie Robinson and computers
and I have searched Borders for simplified material
then prepared comprehension questions with basic
as rodents vocabulary but also some panache. Each
class we have an auditory discrimination segment
buzzing with sounds as experts in reading disabilities
suggest because Juan certainly appears to have
some reading problem although I am no expert and
I have taken into consideration causes of central
nervous system dysfunction slithery as snakes because
we do not know if he experienced:

postbirth trauma
neonatal seizures
chronic ear infections
head trauma


whether his mother did any of the following:

experienced a difficult pregnancy
had a difficult labor
ingested alcohol or drugs during pregnancy
was younger than 16 or older than 40 at the time of
Juan’s birth

so what am I supposed to do now, after thirty-six
hours of sitting in the same room with him, more
time than I spend with most of my best friends,
when he sits there crying like a sheep bleating
explaining why he never learned to read and that
he is embarrassed when he can’t read “The Three
Bears” to his children, “I had to cross the river, I had
to cross the river,” over and over again. He already
told me that his parents gave him to a man who lived
in the next village who used to beat him and not feed
him enough arroz o carne and now his employer
in the building engineer department, or whatever
you call janitors now, wants him to be able to read
job descriptions so sent him to the ESL Department.

Come on, let’s go Juan: bale, hale, kale, male, pale, sale,
tale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…

Poem by Jan Ball

Jan has had 386 poems published. Her three chapbooks and first full length collection were published by Finishing Line Press.

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