La Malinche

—Nahua mistress and translator to conquistador Hernán Cortes

At her breast you leaped

toward the New World. A boy again

runaway from home

to scale the tin roofs

of Juarez

to skin fur & feathers

Cactus Wren

& Kit Fox

the cat dragged to

your hand.

Toothy as prickly pear

in the Chihuahua,

the aunts

sniffed out your altars

& rose up

swinging beargrass

brooms, pinching mud-

caked ears, till

they beat you

down to piss


Amid bazaar accordions

a white kerchief


a huapango,

just for your eye.

So fine, so smooth but soiled,

you gushed.

Surgeon fingers

laid bare the markfoul

as a harelip


pocketsful of silver.

Oh how your eyes

never broke

the seal of desire, not

till you won:

The beauty was yours

for a much smaller price!

Wooing her you whispered,

My love is not

a modern woman,

but a fleshy de Kooning,

bruised iris for a heart


on canvas

a voice willing to tiptoe

from seabed

to salty fog.

One night you were sleeping

when skies opened up

& swallowed

pueblo lights, the moon,

the stars

You heard footsteps or

rooster claws on the roof,

scratching backward

& forward.

She was your Indian girl that summer

in corn & sun you loved her,

but came winter

brown thighs washed milky

a neck stained too pink,

so off you sent her

on a boat with a letter

to Father.

She bolted upright in stirrups

at your decree:

Aha!— Dentata!

coming of age

with molars, full-blown.

You pressed an ear to her breast

like a stethoscope,

& listened

for muted arias

Verdi, Puccini


clear-cut & glassy.

*La Malinche was originally published in Southwestern American Literature