from my new collection of poems about Mary
for La Virgen de San Juan del Valle,
Your arms stretch under the blue garment,
not a feather in sight, not a flowing drape of sky and cloud,
not a blanket or a pressing breath.
The garment knows to keep stiff and form triangles:
two yolked to your hidden neck. Only your face
tells it is you. Earth within a crown
On your head. Painted with egg, lapiz.
Rings layered in folds of gold leaf.
Your eyes open as if gasping
At the weight of it all. So much hollow between
your thin arms and the mass of your robe.
Between your brown body and the gilt
fabric, between the globe on your head
and flying angels singing above it,
the O, the Ave, the Rosary.
When the plane crashed into your basilica
in Texas, it hit between two wings of the building:
the cafeteria and the house of prayer.
Cafeteria held all the school children.
Sactuary held all the supplicants.
It was the wooden support beam
That kept the exploding plane
from falling into the building.
It was that silent brown spine
between your wings.
She counted. She was fifteen years old and pregnant when she last saw it--the moist, red dirt leading to her mother’s small house. This time, Berta had shoes on her feet, and they rested on the new carpet inside the Americans’ car. It was late June, still the beginning of the rainy season, and she saw the pale green manila mangoes sprouting at the ends of thin, drowsy limbs. There were hundreds of bulbous ovals almost touching the ground. Mangoes falling like eyes from their sockets, low, scornful nightmare eyes that penetrated her while her belly swelled with the child. Eyes that made it clear-- “Go, go. Go! Largate! You and your filthy baby! Elferio should not even look at you without feeling shame. How could he? Junk! Mugre! Ranchera trash!”
She touched the fitted yellow dress she wore now. Some of the threads in the fabric shined in the swath of sun that leaned its light into the car. Berta had not spoken to her mother since she was thick with the baby. The day of the wedding. The oversized white smock sagging on her shoulders, a nice enough garment borrowed from Elferio’s mother for the day.
The rust-colored road to her mother’s house hardly separated the giant strangler trees, waving their limbs in the sky, pointing to the slightly tipped home that was mostly made of wood. It was pieced together with multi-colored boards and cement blocks. A corrugated metal sheet created a large section of the roof. Squiggling up from Berta’s lap, her daughter Josefina pressed her head against the window to examine the little house in the trees.