she broods in her pen:


Amalia Mayita MendezTime-Out, Rhinebeck, NY (photograph)


October winds cut furrows of cloud in the Salvadoran sky as papier mache skeletons
dance on our mantle, mariachi band of the dead in a glittering box, and a votive of la
Virgen de Guadalupe draped in her green cloak next to the American pumpkin we’ve yet
to carve. On this Day of the Dead, my children return from a piñata with two baby chicks
dyed lime green and tangerine—a strange fad in party favors in El Salvador. The children
squeal, watching the chicks rush about, like wind-up toys their beaks open and shut on
crumbs of bread, gullets twitch as they swallow water, and tuck their heads into a wing—
a bare bulb for mother’s warmth. The next day, we return from ballet class to find one
pitched across the newsprint with legs rigid as a cartoon’s. And when the kids ask for a
burial ceremony, already the other chick is staggering, asleep at the wheel and suddenly
peeping. My daughter strokes the chick’s walnut head and says, Ok, Mami, I’ll go play
while you wait for it to die
. So I sit at the kitchen table, the limp bird hammocked in my
hand—and with each breath I think—this is it, this is the last, and no, another breath—
just as the children at bedtime lean into me with plumes of sweet breath, their limbs jerk
as they approach the edge—as I hope this is—that they will abandon themselves to sleep,
but again they turn and grip me tighter. Outside these four walls is my hot bath, the soup
in the pot, a chapter, my other life. So I wish for the bird’s last breath—how like
matchsticks are his bones. Now there is no return to the dancing skeletons in their
glittering box—this is where I am supposed to dim the lights, and yet I have to describe
how my daughter broke a branch of purple bougainvillea, point out that my son scooped
up the dead bird and pitched him into the hole in the earth as one would toss a paper cup
into a wastebasket, that it was 8pm on a school night and they stood like statues as they
clutched my hands and whimpered Angel de la Guardia, the only prayer they know by
heart. It ends like this: my children came alive again when it was time to pat down the
shoveled dirt—but the next day they did not paint the stones to mark the graves as they
had promised.


Alexandra Lytton Regalado