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

of menopause?

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

withdrawing; my


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 earshot.

The watchmen trip me, think

they've mouse-trapped a whore, by

the heels, by stockings

they peel.

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

what rides

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,

saffron, sweet

calamus and cinnamon, aloes

and myrrh. Bring

your fragrant woods and perfume.

Let the children sing:

The horsemen

are in the ocean—The prophetess will dance,

jingling her tambourine—They are sinking

to the bottom like stones.

*Elegy for an Angelioto was originally published in Albatross Poetry Journal