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the small claim of bones cover

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

Inlay with Nacre cover

Art: © Cristina Acosta

To My Mother


How do I speak of my eyes, my hands?

To speak of them is to speak of you.


In each word I write

your name abides.


My hands are yours.

Not my feet, not my mouth.


I touch the swell of life--

my fingers brim.


And of my eyes?

I am color-blind--


Only the prism of your laughter

on dark lakes.

Though while I sleep,

you trace rivers beneath my lids.

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.

A Note Sor Juana Dreams of Sending

to the Bishop of Puebla

           So in my case, it is not seemly

             that I be viewed as feminine,

             as I will never be a woman

             who may as woman serve a man.

                 -- Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, poet-nun

                    of New Spain and  the first feminist

                 the Americas, 1648?-1695

FIrst, I dream. Then I write

between the lines for fools

to abide by patriarchy's rules.

Make no mistake: I incite

The Most Reverend's tongue to spite.

Then, I recant, forswear:

No nun's desire will lay bare

in noble works of art.

Ban or burn my books. I take heart:

To confess your envy is my prayer.


Your face

mirrors mine before you were sown--

child of Rwanda, child born of rape--

and on days I know you are mine alone.

My body


the consolation prize,

my holes the spoils of war,

my name is gynocide.


-from Inlay with Nacre: The Names of Forgotten Women

(Aquarius Press/Willow Books, April 2019)

-from the small claim of bones 
(Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2014)

More poems at:

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