Elegy for an Angelito
—In Mexican peasant tradition, when a young child dies, it is believed that the soul of the innocent little one immediately joins the angels in Heaven and becomes an "angelito"
Today I feel nothing; the uterus,
practical and elastic, snaps back
to its first shape, snaps
back that muscular pear.
Today I feel nothing. I say this
though I hear an old man warning: Good poetess,
do not write elegies to your small losses.
But if I am to be a poet, should
the uterus be more than emptied? Filled
with pebbles to jam the machinery,
its cycles choked off
in mid-song? Or should it be cut out
years before the night-sweat
Sing then, gifted sisters, if
you sing to women; sing for my angelito
who died too formless for a grave.
You know what it's like to squat
pushing up skinny, whittled branches, to let go
a small bundle
for music's sake. You must have felt
your hearts, sore
with desire for children returning
with the apple blossom.
My hand was a clamshell, playing
an Atlantic lullaby; I heard my life pulse
through bone, a cacophony
from dry land. I was cold-blooded, aquatic—
dorsal fin, lateral line, protective
adipose layer, pearl
formed around a sand grain—
a hidden luminaria
between the knees. I remember
a handsome rider, sleek, with a headful
of loose dark hair, his mouth, his eyes,
promising the thrill of the hunt, and tremors
from a hundred galloping hoofs;
with a pack of hounds, he said,
on to a rabbit's scent. He called me his
cold water-girl, his hardhearted doll,
as I shivered and flapped
bare pelican wings, then caught up
in motion I crooned
in his ear; and how for an instant
I found myself black—
moving in leopard skin, clawing
his slender back, claws
One night we drove
to a park with bread loaves for wintering
ducks. He stood on the frozen
pond, three buttons on his shirt undone.
Ducks ate from my hand,
impatient, biting my skirt and lifting
the hem with their bills, while he laughed
across the cracking
ice. But love's a brat, and wakes up
in the morning long before anyone.
When a piece of moon still hung
in the sky, I went
to his unmade bed—
the scamp had already gone outside
to play. I found him near a bush.
He showed me his curled-up
lip and stuck-out tongue,
chin stained purple
from eating raspberries.
Where do you sleep, Angelito?
In a mountain cave with Endymion, nursed
by a celestial mother, and hush-a-byed
with silvery kisses? Is her palm sturdy, is
she cautious of your tender fontanel?
May she send you to green pastures, sliding
down a rainbow, with ten fingers
and all your toes. And may she keep you
from Lamia, who is mother
to her own dry bones,
her breathless womb. Or maybe you walk with a dog
through Mitla's winding roads, running
over platforms, among rows of
monuments. Or you're lying in a basket,
on someone else's porch swing, a breeze
rocking you, a father
drawing pictures in sand: owl, wolf,
coyote. A spotted fawn makes his way
through the forest— Angelito! He's bowlegged
and shiny with afterbirth.
But my cradle is empty. I walk among
Aztec women who grease their bellies and eat
what they desire. They chase me
out of the house of midwives.
I bear a cradle on my shoulders, and under
the blankets— the bloodless weight
of an arrowhead. They say I've created
strange children, my root cut clean: gone
are my pleasures, my new moons. I walk
with a weeping woman over thorns and weeds, pleading
with the hills to cover us—
then back to a lake,
wailing, Oh my children!
Sleepless I rise—
roam the city, following
the backs of men, imagining
color of an eye, shape
of a nose, calculating
The watchmen trip me, think
they've mouse-trapped a whore, by
the heels, by stockings
In my bed I look
for him: a voice
calling me to open, open—
but at the door stands
secret darkness, holding
down its heavy tongue. The sheets
tangle me, tie me
to the pillow, leave me
struggling for breath.
My heartbeat frightens me,
fluttering like a bird
against the ribcage, drowning
in thick air.
In the valley,
wood always breaks into field, farms
abandoned after harvest.
Under an old barn ceiling, brushing
aside webs, uterine
wall whisked by broom, our heads
scrape its peak; see
fat-bellied widows with birthmarks,
the yolk of eggs.
We grew up sinless, clean
and original, suffering miscarriages, spontaneous
ruptures, feeling the density
that comes from omission,
the lowered heads in our laps.
There's another field back
of here. Pretend something stands
near the hay mound. Two hawks
circle above— they too may perceive
a new form, moving in its own
atmospheric skin, color of
any open jar of tempera. Walk
as if abstaining,
only from the anticipated
hoax; silkweed pod
split open, milkseeds parachuting. Little stones
can trip; rabbits tremble
underneath swirled grass, holding breath
until we pass. Run with the stream, follow
the river bank, visualize
the undulating water.
Return—Jerusalem girl. Come out,
you sun-burned bride, come
from the lion's mouth, the leopard
mountains, with your honeymilk
tongue, with spikenard,
calamus and cinnamon, aloes
and myrrh. Bring
your fragrant woods and perfume.
Let the children sing:
are in the ocean—The prophetess will dance,
jingling her tambourine—They are sinking
to the bottom like stones.