April 2014
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Stephen Sposato, Rhode Island College, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

This piece is written in dedication to a 16-year-old student that I have come to know and appreciate. He came to this country with his father last year from Guatemala on a temporary basis, leaving behind other family members, in order to make as much money as possible so that their family can buy a farm back home. He just showed up at school with only a few weeks left in the school year, unable to speak English and with oral yet not written command of Spanish. Educational records are sparse and it is apparent that there have been significant gaps in his formal education. He seemed to be locked inside, not being able to communicate. However, he was and still is fiercely loyal to his smile; he wears it like a groom’s tuxedo and he will share it with all he comes in contact with, whether he is having a good day or not. He has a strong heart. I have much to learn from him.

My smile

My smile is my gift to you.
It is a window into my heart and mind.
You cannot really know me, yet, through my tongue.
It doesn’t work too good in English,
But at least I give you my smile.

My smile is my gift to you,
I can connect with you,
even if it is not verbally.
My smile protects me, but it also protects you . . .
it inclines you to a charitable disposition toward me
rather than an unkind one.

I don’t have much to say,
at least not in English, yet . . . .
But I am a lot like you.
I want to belong, I want to be liked, be valued.
At times there is much to not smile about.

I am misunderstood.
I am ignored.
I am confused.
I am someone’s extra burden,
someone’s extra work.

Most people walk right by me in school,
as if I am a ghost.
But I am not a ghost, I am a human, a person,

just like you,
with hopes, dreams, aspirations.

I am a fellow pilgrim, just trying to find my way,
just like you,
and so even though I might not
be able to offer you much,
I offer you my smile.
That is a first step.

It is a step I choose to take every day, everywhere,
toward anyone.
My smile is my song that I dance to.
It is the banner that I march to.
It is my shield.

No one can take it away from me.
Only I can take it away from me.
But I have decided that I will not take it away from me,
or you.

All day long I receive strange looks,
bothered looks, why-are-you-here looks,
looks of pity, looks of indifference,
and I ask myself, what do I do?
What do I give back?

I want to give back with words,
so you can truly know me, so we can commune . . .
but my tongue doesn’t work like that yet.
So I give you my smile.

Not all the right words,
not all the right scores,
not all the right responses you may be looking for,
just my smile. I hope you give it back,
but either way,
it’s the best I can give right now.
Maybe it’s better anyway.

Stephen Sposato is a world languages teacher in Westerly, Rhode Island, and is currently enrolled in the master’s program at Rhode Island College for teaching English as a second language. He has four children, ages 4–8, and he and his wife enjoy surfing, photography, and anything else that involves the beach and smiles.
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