If I Were a Nahua Poet
Make my body a cuicoyan, this house of song.
Garland my bones with those who have gone before, colli,
And the ones who have gone before them, colli. Return,
Return. Let the sweet wind be their breath on my shoulder,
Their tug on my tunic. Let my voice join the ancients
To swell the sky with a thousand plumes of light. Ehua!
And when the moon moves between sun and earth,
Let us remember to beat our deerskin drums and dance.
To pound our bare feet and chests until this holy earth
Splits in two, and volcanoes rise up in song. Only then
Will this life be worthy: to make the dark earth rumble,
And the heart, fiercely, tremble. Yolhuihuiyocaz, tremble.
Art: © José Luís Rodríguez Guerra
Miccacuicatl, or Song for the Dead
Who can say why the earth burns with flowers? It is the time of weeping.
We plait our hair and sit on the burning earth. The ash of copal cools our lips.
We dress you in garments of flower and song and cover our eyes with petals of sadness.
Alas, you have gone to the land of the dead where we cannot follow.
The sky mourns with mountains of smoking stars
And the air weeps with the fragrance of poyomatl.
The great torches are lit around us and the Serpent-Tiger begins to speak:
“On your way to the land of the fleshless, dip your hand and foot in the red and black ink.
Take this jug of water and place the jade bead in a safe place in your mouth.
May your journey through the underworld be swift as lightning!
May banners wave and mountains part;
May arrows strike only flesh of obsidian.
“May you arrive at the river when the yellow dog sleeps in the dark.
And when wild beasts draw near, open your mouth wide as a tiger:
Offer them your jade bead so they will not hunger for your heart,
So the sweet perfume of your heart will water our songs here—
Here on earth where we will beat our flowery drum
Each time your song rises on the wings of an eagle.
“Listen closely: You are not destined for the land of speechlessness and cold.
We will plant your flowers in water and they will stand upright.
Your emeralds will be carried in the beak of the quecholli to the highest heaven—
To Omeyocan where the god above all is seated, waiting for you
To return, singing and dancing, to return this life
You have only borrowed from the Giver of Life. Ehua!”
Last night I slept beneath the sky’s sequined shawl,
dreaming. A stampede of Texcocan kings
thundered in this blur: We come but to sleep,
we come but to dream. They must have pinched me—
I felt so alive in this dozing state!
I strolled to a nearby café, sleepwalking—
my new antidote to death.
Then Borges and Cortázar were beside me,
preening. I invited them for a cup
of mate, decaf. No herbal lulls to sleep,
no caffeine to stir us awake. I wanted to
remain in this porous membrane, this lush
liminal space where I could lose myself
staring at an axolotl glaring back at me,
wondering which of us is in the aquarium,
which of us free.
Cortázar insisted I ride with Che, one arm
around his waist, the other thumbing his diary.
I read about his asthma, his breathless swim
to the lepers’ colony—raging birth waters
for a doctor turned rebel—while graying hair
lapped at my face and Che’s scarf reddened my nape
and the green of Argentine countryside flashed past
—until the bike crashed.
I was still in one piece. But Che was gone, lost
in the afterlife, cruising till the next time
he pops into someone else’s dream, or poem.
One day he may realize I was in his dream,
wasn’t I? The one about the accidental
life, page 41 of his seventeenth diary.
Borges nods and winks, hands me a monocle
engraved with an aleph—in case
I want to dream the universe.
NEW poems from Inlay with Nacre
Art: © Cristina Acosta
Song for Nacre
O, lustrous iridescence
slick with pink, silver, violet.
You are the protector of flesh
lining abalone, coating oyster.
Your sticky sheath rains gems.
You glisten on the hilts of knives,
in dewdrop buttons, boxes
inlaid. Your beauty refutes age
while ours fades in fugitive images
of sepia, platinum, mercury and silver.
Milky mother-of-pearl, we rub
your sheen until our scaly skin gleams.
Message from the Black Madonna
to the First Mothers
Some say I turned black from decay
of gold and azure pigments leaking lead.
Others credit centuries of grime,
of devotees’ votive candle-smoke.
I say: Indigene, I belong to your kind.
I am Our Lady of Africa in Algiers,
Manila’s Nuestra Señora de Guía,
La Guadalupana in Mexico City.
I am the brown, the black, of the earth.
I am the first to give birth, to nurse.
My skin is the primordial soil.
I open my dark palms to feed your kin.
I place one word on your Native tongue.
Say: mawlud, napanganak, nacer.
From Africa to Mexico, you are first-born.
Born beyond nations, born to the land.
Ballad of the Crone
Is Mary Magdalene a pope?
The Gnostic wife of Jesus Christ?
In Rome, the point is moot.
Old England’s hags in fairy tales
left nightmares in their wake.
Now wizened spinsters’ loveless trails
may favor lives of saints.
Once, Salem claimed the covens’ curse concocting spells and brews.
Soon, witch hunts rife with burning stakes—
so easy to accuse.
Teacher, healer, goddess, witch:
the woman is the same.
The only difference is the man—
his hoary choice of name.
the consolation prize,
my holes the spoils of war,
my name is gynocide.
© 2019 CINDY WILLIAMS GUTIÉRREZ
-from Inlay with Nacre: The Names of Forgotten Women
(Aquarius Press/Willow Books, April 2019)