ESL series, day two: Tomomi, Luisa, and Ana

Ceci, Chicago ESL teacher par excellence, taking a break from work


On day two of the ESL poetry series, let’s turn to native speakers of Japanese and Spanish.


(This week Poem Elf features poems written by Chicago ESL students in imitation of “Elena” by Pat Mora. Link here to read that poem. At the end of this post is an explanatory note from the ESL teacher, my sister Ceci.)


Anyone else delighted by the translated phrases in each poem, the way they connect readers to the poet’s previous life? They’re so unexpected they make me smile.




by Tomomi from Japan


My Japanese isn’t enough.

I remember how I’d shoot the breeze with friends.


「最近どう? ちょっと聞いてよ〜。」*


But that was in Japan.

Now I don’t have parents and friends nearby

No one to easily talk with about silly things.


Japan and the U.S. with different common senses.

At the grocery store, I try to read the numbers on the cans to see how much they contain.

But the unit looks like just a sign. I can’t understand.

All the alphabet and numbers float fluffy in the grocery store.


Reading and understanding worksheets that my daughter brings home,

Also, the alphabets begin to float in the room.


It takes so much time to collect and understand; I felt stressed.

I gave up contacting people except for my daughter’s school and public matters.

My heart got nervous and lonely, like when l’m driving on a snowy frozen road.

I want to go back to Japan. Tweet in my heart.


I escaped from learning English.


One day I noticed

My daughter is laughing. My husband is laughing. The dog is waving its tail.

Everyone is living here and moving forward.

Spring is coming little by little.


I want to be able to speak English little by little.

I change my mind.


*Japanese for, “Hey what’s up? Let’s have a chat!”





by Luisa from Columbia


My native Spanish language isn’t enough

I remember my family, my mother, my house and the weather with the wonderful landscapes in my city:


Baila conmigo mama y sonríe, estamos todos juntos, disfrutemos de este lindo dia, de la naturaleza, siempre en familia  **


But that was in Colombia, my country.

Now, I am speaking with Americans

in another culture, in another world, with another language.

I listen to Podcasts all the time  about diferent topics—meditation, brain, foods.

These things help me to improve my new language

And I have my English teachers (Ceci, Marie, Robbie) who help me and support me all the time with new knowledge.

I’m happy because I live with energy and I can learn.


**Spanish for, “Dance with me, Mom, and smile, we are all together as a family and enjoying this beautiful day, with nature, always with the family united.”





by Ana Maria from Columbia


My Spanish isn’t enough

I remember how I would go out with my mother or friends for long walks and long talks,


            Que clima tan rico, vamos a caminar hasta el zoológico y a tomar un poco de sol.  Salgamos ya para almorzar en el camino! ***


But that was in Colombia

Now, for me it is not easy to have these special spaces here

I miss my mother, friends. . . the nice weather of my country.

I still have difficulties trying to understand what people say.

But I keep trying

Despite the frustration of not understanding what people are saying

Or the fear that people will not understand me.


*** Spanish for “What a nice weather! Let’s walk all the way to the zoo and we can take some sun on the way.  Let’s go now, and we will have lunch on the way.”



Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem, Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult.  I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

Ceci Greco

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