Yardstick Lessons

by Miguel Santos 


it was an empty library
in the cold air
and under your colder stare

i had flashcards in my hand
filled with words i could not pronounce or understand
you whip the yardstick on the table
and say: begin

it was steady pressure and firm scolding
you taught my mouth to form the sound
from mañana to maya na to: not later, right now
tease and ease the language
from book to brain to tongue-tied memory

i wrote down words i would never use
memorized meanings that held none
molded my mouth to measured mimicry
you say, i repeat
over and over as the clock ticked on

it’s all old memories, now
there is value in my scars
inside and out
your yardstick, who taught me the hardest lessons
are the ones i teach myself

traced on the phantom lines in my skin,
the ghosts of accents i’ve since lost
all that’s left is the shape of my mouth
conforming to fit a foreign tongue

you’ll never guess where i’m from

Miguel Santos: My relationship with English has been tumultuous, to say the least. I started young; as a child I was asked to join multiple competitions to test my spelling and vocabulary. I kept studying grammar, diction and pronunciation past the point that was required for schooling. I did this not for any big reason; I just found myself practicing until I lost the accent. Now, I put years of hard work to use professionally and personally, in the form of managing operations for a BPO and through spoken word poetry. Every so often, the accent comes back, like an old friend.


Miguel Santos is a BPO Operations Manager by night and frustrated wordsmith by day. Spoken word is his chosen medium. As part of the Cebu-based poetry group The Stray Poets Collective, Miguel hopes to spread the importance of art and poetry within his local scene.

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