Developmental English

By Jessica Rapisarda

December 6, 2021

Developmental English

Julie’s name is Adriana or Alessandra. I can’t remember, because she insists on Julie. More American. It’s not that she doesn’t love Brazil, but she worries that her real name will be too big for American mouths.

She wears hoop earrings and her light brown hair in a high pony. “Professor,” she says, “why you look so fashionable today? You like magazines.” Julie takes my developmental English class at the community college.

Every student within a three-desk radius of Julie cranes to hear her daily Q&A, because she begins any conversation, even small talk, with a question. Immediately thereafter she responds to herself with an answer, one that requires building a delicate mental bridge from one sentence to the next. Like a haiku.

“Why is it so cold in this classroom? They want to kill us.”

“How does Thao know so much about grammar? Professor, you love her.”

While giving feedback on her latest rough draft, I stop at a mysterious phrase: “my heart was smooching.” I ask Julie to explain.

“Do you know how scared I was? My heart, it was smooching.” She thumps her palm against her chest.

“Ah, ‘hammering,’ maybe. This word means ‘kissing.’”

“It is kissing?” she moans. “I’m so bad.” She runs her long acrylic nails up and down the thighs of her jeans, as though scratching out an error.

“Do you like poems?” I ask Julie. “What is correct and what is beautiful are not always the same."


Jessica Rapisarda is an essayist and poet. She teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College, where she is on the editorial board of The Northern Virginia Review. She was a 2021 Inner Loop writer-in-residence at the Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House. Read more of her work at


Picture by Dids courtesy of Pexels

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