Four Poems by Xochiquetzal Candelaria

Take this leaf and debrief me.
I rarely remember names.
I don't know how to knit sweaters.
The letters I haven't written are long.
I know you learned how to walk,
and say apple and yes and yellow
at some point in your career and
clearly I have learned the alphabet. I have
hair that smells like orchids on purpose
and four sisters and one brother
and a mother who is five feet tall.
You have at some point inspected
the parts of a doll or consciously killed
an ant. I can't tell you the color of your
first bike or lover but I know Vermont
in the summer is green. I want to lean
back in the grass by the rippling stream,
and watch fireflies confess. In my language
leaf might mean hand, neck, silver water, nipple.

Confessions of a Female

No is not a word that we are conditioned to use.
Instead we might laugh or say maybe or thank you or yes.

We also see parts of the crenelated whole
and the whole part as beautiful.

We might start to like your choice
of words and for a while that is enough.

We might think you look a bit rough and want
to teach you the difference between soap and style.

The words I love you but do not amount to a contradiction.
For light has always been both particle and a wave.

We are likely to save small things-bead by bead
fascinated by the intricate daring of the infinitesimal.

Saddled with sharing, we unconsciously lament the loss
of the cliff dwelling where you can lift up the bone ladder.

Cortes and Cannon

Before Cortes lops off a messenger's
hands and has another trampled
before the branding, and burning,
there is wonderment
and for a moment endearment
as Cortes dances, off beat, around
the long neck of his field piece.
Stroking it he whispers into its mouth
then cocks his ear to the darkness.
He does this several times, then orders
his men to lie on the ground in homage to the iron.
Clapping his cracked hands,
he speaks in a tongue of corkscrew
and wing, telling the Totonacs to bring
themselves closer. And like well-meaning
friends, bearing glinting quetzal feathers
and silver cactus milk, they laugh
pretending to understand,
believing him wild with love
for the enormous, hollow thing
he has hauled from the hull of his ship.

Love Poem for Mexican Men, 2001

I didn't cut the sign of the cross in the air
swear on my mother's
cracked copy of the new testament
that I wouldn't love you.

The February wind didn't
enter my chest
making it painful
to open arms.

I just grew to imagine that you might
stay out all night, drink the week's pay,
lay some girl who smelled sweet
then treat yourself to a movie.

I didn't want to wedge myself
between stove and counter top,
smile while you called out
for more tortillas. Pray for you.

How could I not have noticed
the smell of almond soap in your hair,
face as smooth as wet ice cube,
the voice at the bottom

or your voice, the impossible
run away, idling R. I didn't imagine you
up close. Didn't see the seam
our bodies could make.

Was it you at the corner of Monterey
and Church who played kickball
in the dirt, yelling
for chubby Miguel to take third?

It's absurd to wonder about it now.
The man I'd never marry looks
like a cross between my uncle and your father
my grandfather and you.

Am I no longer then the lost
wife, found in the river, the one
who woke each day to grind the corn?
Am I now free to be
the ant who hid in the rice
and crawled away?
The other day I dreamed you
out for a walk. You carried nothing.

You must have been ten, a dark wing
of hair across one eye.
Then from way up high,
you too were a tiny black embrace
panting your way up this hill.

Xochiquetzal Candelaria