How I Learned Not To Smile

by | May 20, 2020 | Poetry

The men in my family always smiled in pictures.

Toothy, grins exposing poor dental work done too late to
save incisors or premolars from porcelain caps or gold
crowns. Their cheeks flushed by the kind of laughter that
comes from Budweisers chilled in bathtubs filled with
ice or the high-pitched whine of a guitar in old school
bachata they sang along to, or the children they hid from
this family gathering. A chorus of sweat dripping from
pomade and polyester. Arms entangled in necks, leaning
on shoulders, fists up in fighting stance, lit cigarettes
perched on purple lips.
“!Parecemos perros!” they chucked after rolls of film and
polaroids were developed and protected behind plastic
sleeves in photo albums only the women collected.

The women in my family never smiled in pictures.

Stoic faces framed by bouffant or pompadour hair stiffened by
Aqua Net and years of learning to tolerate the dry heat of salon
hair dryers and marriages that lasted too long. Saving face
required red or pink lips. Soft parallel lines turned beautiful
barbed wire trained to hold tongues, clenched teeth and
swallow the suffering that came with the gossip of children that
lived on the other side of the city but looked just like their
husbands. Boleros hummed from a heart that drowned in
whisky all that was sour and renamed it satisfaction.
Manicured hands gently perched under a powdered chin, neatly
folded on a skirted lap or restless on the hips of high waisted
jeans. “!Cuidado, que los perros andan sueltos!” they
warned, posing for photos only the men wanted to take.

About The Author


Peggy Robles-Alvarado is a tenured educator with degrees in elementary, bilingual education and an MFA in Performance Studies. She’s a Pushcart Prize nominee, BRIO award winner, CantoMundo, Homeschool and Desert Nights Rising Stars Fellow, as well as an International Latino Book Award winner. This initiated Lucumi and Palo priestess was featured on HBO Habla Women, Lincoln Center, Poets & Writers, The Black Spirit Solstice Summit, and The BADD!ASS Women Festival. She’s authored Conversations With My Skin (2011), Homage To The Warrior Women (2012), and through Robleswrites Productions created The Abuela Stories Project (2016) and Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement and The Muse (2017). Her poetry appears in the anthologies The Breakbeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext (2020), What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (2019), Latinas: Voices of Protest and Struggles (2017), and ¡Manteca!- Afro- Latin@ Poets (2017). For more visit