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"Thank you for the story portals you create in every poem!"
We are undoubtedly living through historical times. How will our children learn about the unprecedented events of the past year? They will read about it, no doubt. We'll show them pictures. Movies, even, will get made. The future generations won't be lacking in stories that both inform and entertain. But what did storytelling look like before the diversity of mediums now available to us?
Back when, back then, and always, we had oral history. I am interested in exploring orality's relationship to the mythical. Are those accounts that come from hearsay more likely to get brushed off? What does it mean when we categorize something as an old wives' tale?
This month, I want to retell a selection of Central American legends and stories from my childhood. In giving speech to the subjects of superstition, I hope to reexamine my personal relationship to faith and fear. The public will be privy to my process through Tueplo Press' 30/30 Challenge, in which I will write one poem per day. In fundraising, I want to bring attention and awareness to spaces for poets and hybrid-genre writers who feel like their work doesn't quite fit in. Whether we engage across mediums, languages, or temporal spaces, I want all of us to know that there IS a public interested in the ways we push boundaries.
Cares little for the whereabouts of his mistress.
Spent the night soaked in florida water and rue.
Cured his maladies in a single day, he did. He called
on God, once. Meanwhile the women beat their
breasts, or so, he’d have you hear.
I was there. From behind a colonel’s grave I took
the macho out of him. Frightened men are incurable.
Worthless their cocks and tales. I’d much rather
hear it from Mariana. Marianita, he calls her. And gives
her corn cobs the size of her head. Can’t a woman
ever fetch water in peace? We need no wells where I come from.
She could walk around naked for all I care. Don Felix
would never miss her. He’d find another one. Inmune, this time.
Impotence and citrus make a bad pair. Mariana, do not think
me a worthless beast. Your great-grandmother made a
many like me. Gave us life, she did. You and me. Children of the
tallest tales. These men couldn’t make a story out of the
starriest sky. You’d be better off with the wise ones, Mariana.
Birth Name Unknown
One would think I’m made by men. Conjurers, the devils in their minds. The lusty ones are all the better artists for that. Couldn’t carve a piece of wood if I asked them to. They love to paint pictures no one else will see. Maybe they believe their own tales. They’d have you think the spirits wait for them. As though we have nothing to discuss amongst ourselves. Them, when we’re angry, of course. But I’ve taught my daughters to walk around naked when the moon is full. It’s good for their skin and temperance. I was never very good at holding back. Carved my own wrinkles trying to make myself an ugly thing. A thing that lasts. From the way men speak of me. You’d think me godlike.
Lives in a small adobe house.
Moved all the way from Nicaragua to fish in this small-town port.
His wife is tired of pulling scales from within their pillowcases.
Her biggest solace is making coffee for the seamen at noon.
They come and tell the children about pirates and sea-wolves.
One day the ocean got sick.
Bubbled and bubbled it did with the smell of death.
For six days the whole town starved.
Pancho went to the mountains in search of a miracle.
All he saw was sky.
Kept a cross and handkerchief in his hands.
Thought he’d trap angels with his courtesies.
Meanwhile his wife went into the ocean.
All Sara could smell was salt.
She screamed into the foam and prayed for sustenance.
Come winter, the river rocks grow sad.
Unwilling, they make way for stream and man.
Brave, he sails up, to the Virgin’s grove.
We’re not sure if she’s Mary. Him and his hymns
won’t let us think. Silly, the rain on his back
asking for silence. It’s all ritual when it comes
to the body. From birth to her breath putting
out the last of his candles. It’s always the same.
They leave with a fever, delirious. And when
asked, have no truth to tell.
Woman’s Bible in the Rainy Season
Men love to smoke the color blue. In May, the halls of homes grow damp and wet. When there’s nothing else to do, they pull stories out of their belts. They collect women like one does talismans. Think it’ll help them ward off death. Hope to leave children behind like feeding stock. Did you know hens can be tricked into eating sawdust off the earth? Then they’ll lay little wooden chests. Painted green. Spring. For their secrets. Women grow less trusting every day. I tell them the key is in dismembering. Men and their preachings. The severed ones make good messiahs.
Little boy eating from the ashes of the earth.
Remember what it was like to run
before the directions tangled up?
In your mother’s braids, the last of freshwater
and love. Your father, God to this plane
where men run from women after dark.
I stayed by your father’s side because I dislike the
intuition and the dew. When it dawns everything
tastes like a beginning. The way I’d like to kiss.
You, little boy, on your dirtied knees. Make my way
across the thick of grain against your chest. Where
you still keep he who sailed away from the law. I too,
detest the taste of staying kept against the logic of the roots.
I know you’d light my house
on fire without a second thought.
my father’s will, would be, perhaps
thing with which
through my gut
at the fill
fuck your mania.
Many a woman
you turned into
scared, you were,
of what corpses
you need her shut
between your lips
at bedtime when
I am ridden for
tales. Tell me
all about your
on this thing.
Nothing feels as empty as the trails of the earth. Where once, me and you, now runs a serpent. Bodied thing I am jealous of. With no arms to reach for you. No legs to keep me put. I love standing on puddles until the rain stops. There comes the sun and I find myself in a hole. Never had to carve myself out of the present. I stay, always. One day I’ll drown myself. I’ve heard all about this soil and its precariousness. No doubt the terracotta will outlive me. I am porous. Meant for permeability. My output is my weakness. Everything inside me is either wet or dry. Old things. Uncared for. Left behind in floods. Found drying in the sand. Nothing has ever restored its composition. Chemistry, I know. Nothing ever dies. But the sun and the salt will eat away at me. You have to believe me. I am withered. Meant to serve in the afterlife. There is none.
Persephone and Demeter Take a Vacation
at the yolk of it, once,
yanked away from the moon.
Leaps and lactates
like an antelope, jackrabbit,
jointed at its skull. Looks at
me with eyes of gold
and muck. Buried treasure,
perhaps, my mother’s pleasure
for eating tomatoes at
breakfast. Cult of domesticity
as we pull hyacinths from the
ground. Sip on beer and
laugh on papa’s deathbed. God,
forgive us, we didn’t go to church
today. We laid on the steps
of our home. Played poker and
gambled away our secret names.
Trifles, truly. You know the
things men and women call
each other. That’s why we make
ourselves hares and leopards.
Once a year we roam the earth
like animals. This Sunday we brought
the wilderness to our home.
North of Jordan
And what should I say to the clay in the oven?
Baking, red, yellow, and blue —chipped bronze
statue from when you were a goddess. Token
of the crescent moon from when she ripped the
foam off the men and their beers.
Valley of everything that is hot and old. Filled
to the brim with leather sandals and the longing for
I know white linens still make you cry.
Memories of when we dozed-off in between the marigolds.
I wish I could hold your name in my mouth the way I
swish and swoosh Georgian wine when speaking of rivers. Be it that
we longed for eternity —like sunsets that refuse
to set. But maybe the lonely archaeologist
of a thousand years will find all the coins
we spent on paints and paper.
Maybe one man or the other will remember the
color of your eyes in the light of the milk
and the coffee. Mornings of prophetic vegetables.
Walking to the edge of the world for the
iconography and the pomegranates.
I know I will always have the sight of stars
netted in your hair. Once upon a purple
light. Once upon a rainy afternoon and
songs for Marianne. I know I will always have
the time you showed me how to sort through
the secrets of the dirt.
How could I forget coming home to rose water or
the communion of the omelettes. But I know
this —we built a temple on our shoulder blades.
And we will settle wherever the numbers know of dance.
If you leave a jug out in the open
for long enough, it will either
crack or fill to the brim
Do you think that by virtue
of the earth, clay should be more
or less resistant to moisture?
After all these years, I still don’t understand
what it means to be porous of feeling.
Are holes in your skin good
or bad things? At one point,
God must have thought we needed
to be guarded from the elements.
At one point, men made Adam
out of the menstruating soil.
If my mother had died in
childbirth I would have broken
my spine before the flowers
had a chance to grow
from my fingertips.
I still remember what it’s like to
fall asleep looking at the stars.
A part of me longs to have the
the sky fall over me.
The oldest part of me resents the earth
for being so far from the
Do you think if I crawled into a cove
I would wake up underwater?
My curtains are red—
I wonder why, desert rose,
she rose. Deserted I chose
the sandalwood. Scrappy
thing against my skin.
Thing. Thing. Thing.
I’ve made myself
from all my feelings of
red. The way men rub
themselves on me at
summer fling. Whoops!
Abyss of nothing ever
is blue. Today,
Pacific, Central, West
everything tastes red.
I find stars at the end of every barrel.
They’re the wooden nightboats where
my dreams elope. Night after night when
the shellfish, lonely, cling to my tummy.
The fishermen have been asleep for hours.
Back home with their wives and little,
plump children. I am left hungry. Nothing
to feed on but salt and the aftertaste of
sex. I swallow fish whole just to keep
myself from singing. The last man I
loved taught me how to crawl in between
stones. Handy trick for when the waves
wash away the roughness of their surface.
The way I stay still when kissed nowadays.
I save my sounds for beneath the water.
When the jellyfish sting I orgasm. Women
like me are like corals. We open up our
stomachs just to eat.
Tell me about the time
you caught the crickets in between
the soundtrack of the universe
For how envious you’ve been of
glass bottles in the sand
getting picked up
by dreamers and bloodied feet.
The billowing of childhood
to cracker jacks and blue jeans.
But I love the way your
waist dents after
Makes me hungry for
stories and silhouettes of
naked nothing. Expired
plastic with your dreams.
The way you hold your mother’s hand
makes me think of the way I hold my
mother’s hand. When we read off each
other’s menus we’re psychics. Picnic
table telepaths. Betting on the strings
of life to hold, at least ourselves, the
two of us, against the tetrarchy of last
names. I want my daughter to have a
daughter. I don’t want to know a spouse
the way my parents did. Reproduction
is a thing of artists and their works.
Delicacy is unknown to my hands.
My touch is big and brass. If I were
a man I would always pee on the
snow. But I am a woman of the sand.
I’ve always been bad at writing my
own name. I want my grave to be
indiscernible from the earth. Tell
me you’ll sit on it and hold your
child’s hand the way we both
hold our mother’s hands.
Even the simplest of doughs is overbearing when
you’ve been starving for days. I took a bite off
a sweet tamale and almost choked on sugar and hate.
Haven’t eaten much anything that isn’t saltwater
or sentiments. Gospels make me cry. I sit on the floor
and pray with dogs. Coffee is sweeter when
made with corn. Cinnamon has the power to predict rain.
I know it’s coming when my tongue spits
out spite. I’m an expert curse-writer. When I save my
appetite for schnapps. I feed on the acidity
that builds up like an internal tide.
The Night is Hot, Let's Wait Together
An avocado is a
love letter. From
Julia to my mom.
She hasn’t spoken
a word since her
husband died. Not
a thing that wasn’t
auspicious, like a
or being born on a
leap day. All she
cares about is
decay. But I’ve
given birth to
plenty of things
And I’ve seen
how my mother,
lets her most
us. The wait
kills the hunger
when the heart
sun. For this
As my mother
looks at me and
says, “this heart
has been fed.”
I don’t know where I heard that you don’t really belong to a place until you bury somebody you love there. I’ve only lived to see one loved one die. It’s a blessing, you know? Dying in your own home. But my father’s home was wherever he buried those he loved. And I can only hope he’s resting where he belongs. Will it count if my grave is laid on top of his? And what about my mother? By virtue of death, she belongs somewhere else. Look at that, another home to belong to. What will I tell my children when they ask me where I’m from?
“Where the city meets the sea,” I’ll say, “that’s where I’m from.” But I’m not sure it’s the place where we belong.
Memories of my Sanctuary
Whenever I needed balance, I would head to the coast. I’d collect purple shells and line my spine with them. I prayed each and every vertebrae would breathe new life into the emptiness. I am Ixchel, I would tell myself. I give life as I transpire. And I’d lay flat on the sand. I loved feeling the sweat drip from my forehead. The men were always wiping theirs’ off, pretending they were too busy to feel tired. But my village drained me. I always had to have my head up, skyward. And I loved the earth. I loved how cool it was. I loved how hot it made me. This is what volcanic stones feel, I’d say. Ever envious of the elements, I had my shells to clad myself. I’d weave them into a necklace if they were broken.
“You look like a peasant,” my mother would say. “You spend all day toasting yourself like corn under the sun. It’ll make you dry and brittle.”
But I knew this could not happen. I was divine, I was sure of that. I had never met my father. And he was no warrior lost at war. He had to be a god. That made me a goddess.
Yes, little boy that I am. Can’t help
the tunnels between government and church.
Oh, you’d rather secular me? Can’t believe
Marx is theory nowadays. I
want to tell you all about how I ran away to abolish
ownership and sentiments. Can
you believe I drink beer now? Political sentiment.
I miss how we used to fuck in
underground bars. Moments of legend. Unknown
to our parents and martyrs. Great,
big statement your music is. I’m so good at ambivalence.
In between politics and economics,
you’d win. But with your tattered jackets. I’d still undress
When a man breaks faith,
the heart of sky woman
from his gilded promises.
My mother taught me how to
breathe to the rhythm of thunder.
The wrath is the easiest bit.
After all, he has laid scorpions
at your feet.
invite other critters into
your bed. Learn how to
croak and crawl
your way into hell.
Ask for the mighty God
of Rain and say you
learned how to cry from the
emissaries of death. He’ll give
you a seed and woman, I promise,
you will plow again.
Is sure his wife is pregnant with a boy.
Forces her to carve anthems into bars of soap.
Will only feed her olives if she kneels,
at the church’s courtyard, with the first cockcrow.
I spy on them from the doorway. And
heat her morning water. Make sure to add linden
flowers so she can sleep through her
God. She once asked me if I was married. I said
“yes, he’s a tailor.” I am signed to
alteration and repair. But I told her my husband
made me bleed. That he was proud
as he was prickly. But that he could make her
a dress, pink. To clothe her baby.
I’ve got daddy issues of an Odyssean proportion.
No, really. The man made me a sucker for bedtime stories.
I always hope the sailors will stay if for at least a little question.
“If you could go anywhere right now, where would you go?”
But I’m the one that stays and weaves, of course.
I always make sure to tell them about the other, hero-losers in my bed.
I’d hate for them to feel unique.
I’m powerful because I’m coveted.
And I reveal my name in ecstasy, to make sure they’ll remember me.
Then I’m left alone and blinded.
But I’m satisfied with having eaten a man or two.
Before the Dripping
You gave me instant coffee,
but what point was there in
we had set the spirits
bid them goodbye
and ate cake with elves.
The cartography of dreams
is a tricky thing. I know
little of visions within
Be it that I could look,
at the symptoms
of the spirit.
But when the water
floors the earth,
Portrait with A Cup of Coffee
Some things are meant to be sweetened,
like the place where the ocean meets
the image of your life
held within this coffee cup.
Foam of future days
in your pendants
I know it’s not your fault
An element could never pick up
the phone, the sand would slip
through your fingers,
Keep your visions at iris-length.
These humans know little of
knitting and sentiments.
Astrology of Numbers
A motor engine
when a woman,
language in her breast ,
mistakes pleasure seized
for pleasure gained.
When I think of the difference
between a millimeter and a half,
I think of rulers
broken in two.
Numbers have always been
a game for us girls.
Who looks at the stars
and thinks of counting?
Constellations are the work of sisters,
I tell you.
Civilizations were made by children,
restless, in between
the spear and the sparrow
I thought God up.
Now teach me
more songs about longing;
I’ll lay our passports to sleep.
Why concern them with borders?
We’ll travel by the hour.
When you ask me about the holy spirit,
My school of thought
When youre with me, I’m
and hands at their supplest.
No deity will pass through these doors tonight.
We’ll make our own stories.