After Esther Hernandez’s etching La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo los Derechos de los Xicanos (1975)
mother of all mothers:
No Venus on the half-shell, no holy
stamps to pray bedside, you, the girl
who once climbed a cherry tree to pick the darkest fruit, painted
her lips with the juices and if you remember
a story about a red barn, the landscape re-tells that story—
why was it you picked only enough fruit to fill your pockets?
The ripest burst between your fingers.
Guadalupe appeared at the mouth of the cave, the stone
face of the mountain tear-streaked with iron,
the life-rings of a sawed-off trunk where you leaned to remember—
how your grandmother showed to pray, to fear
the mushroom that would grow between your legs if you forgot to wash.
All days are Day of the Dead, the marigold stink,
no blood roses, no stone fruit grows for this virgin, not a virgin
but from her body glows a thorned aura,
thick candle-wax stalks, lit
at the birth of her child, his furrowed brow,
his bullhorned lomo, a yugo
to carry them on moth wings
of torn newsprint and bleeding ink.
Not the first star, last star,
hers is Nixtamalero’s prizefighter cloak
and she is barefoot, unaproned and egret white,
black loop, over under, the beginning of a braid
knotted at her waist, loose strands of hair
claw at her shoulder.
The egret called out ah ah, flew close to the turquoise seam,
it stood still
at the child’s first kick, wasn’t fooled by a feint
and only took off when the child ran
towards it, the distance shortening.
Look beyond the first impulse, deny it, let it pass, though they keep knocking do not
answer the door, like the photograph you say cheese to, the hinged smiles moving
to more sincere angles, hold it hold it hold it.
Unlearn everything taught to you
and so if in the darkest corner of the mercado,
beyond the hooks of garlanded meat, the hum of flies’ wings on your eyelids,
sun-dried fish stiff as leather sandals,
a man’s thorn-eyes graft onto your skin,
comes up from behind, pulls you
to his bull’s horntip
red spike verga,
his arms and legs the grafted branches of peach, plum, apricot and cherry,
seeds never yours
you don’t think of your amulet-pinned bra lined with American dollars,
the razor secreted in your right shoe heel,
the buttoned pocket where your scream resides,
you do not pray,
you elbow the cheek, uppercut the nose, knee his huevos, crumble the teeth, cave-in
eyesockets, cloak him in stars and curses.
You do not pray.
After all, what altars can you keep? Candles burning, the roiling pot of frijoles, the ash
rimmed tortillas, scrape of the empty plate,
all are Days of the Dead, the marigold stink,
no stone fruits, no virgins
to light candles.
In the city center, Guadalupe appeared, a thorn tree bloomed, no sequined and laquered
relicario of silk-floss—
kicking and scratching it bloomed
all lips and fingernails, fucsia and tornasol.