- Señora Mamacita: a sprung sestina
Pregnant, Luisa mobiles crocheted lanterns in paper nets above the empty crib. Nine months into her waiting, she carries the child who already knows her voice until moist twilight. Her womb decides it will be so, unlike two others, babies entering months too soon, leaping from blackness to utter black, world to world. She pillows my head as if to cradle me, make me the girl she bears, drown me in her sea-salt blood under the embroidered yoke of her dress where I lie dreaming that my mother is a mermaid,
that my mother has spelled my name on her heart’s valves, aorta, its paper- thin walls, as I breathe my moist breath believing all oceans fill with her blood. Time was, my mother pressed news clippings in her books, old photos whose triangular edges she knew would stand out among four-leafed clovers which burned their shadows in my head. Clovers like a ghostly garden, or memory of a garden I crawled in as a baby. On her knees in her modern kitchen, grinding corn on her metate, the flat pestle her black grandmother had used, her mother as well, [End Page 31]
Luisa corrects my gringa Spanish, teaching me black magic names for grief: mamá and murió and muerte. I imagine I am her bones, the mother of her flesh tight across my face and hands. She tells me to name the baby, her belly sieving my whisper like wind through a field of clematis whose papery leaves beg for words, but do not write it down she tells me, touching my head with her lips, do not let paper own her namebefore she does. A question of blood. A storm is coming, the bruise of sky wrapping the trees. Evening rides hollow feathers of knowing fish hawks whose wings split the washed air
without a sound. On the last night of spring, knowing what I know, I will wash a linen handkerchief then drape it over a rosebush. When it dries, the black moon of morning writes the name of the husband I do not want in the folds, the print of a bloodless sacrifice to the god of love. My aunt names me ”John’s niece,” as if my dark mother haunts the bare walls of my house, as if “Martha” is half the story; “John,” the other half, head of the light-skinned family my aunt keeps from me like money I have not earned, John’s sister’s black baby. My aunt brands my hands with his mark, a wordless wound copied on blank paper, proof of having survived, his genes intact,
his brown eyes brooding through mine; like mine, his paper lenses scratched by the truth of voices behind closed doors. Time is amber, the matter of all life. Luisa knows hydrogen/ nitrogen/ oxygen/ carbon; believes talismans keep her fat. I trust my uncle’s homegrown Appalachian jack stories: a baby springs up, made of mountain ash to fend off witches, warning against killing things in sevens—pine cones, black beetles, pigeons in the chokecherry. Standing at the foot of my bed, my mother came to wake me, kiss my forehead, say good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, holding into the moment until I could see her. My blood could feel her clip the tops of mango trees, cull purple fruit, [End Page 32] the sweet roundness of a mother’s breasts, over vines weaving hand-print leaves
into the gate trellis where my mother had let me pick grapes, figs, mulberries—anything grown wild. With her wooden clothespins shaped like women, I hung paper dolls from the tendrils. In the downtown park, Picasso’s woman shoulders a jug as if her own blood sloshed inside, all one bronze movement— from head, torso, cavity of navel to cleft—knowing how to walk without crushing the jagged teeth of dandelions, as if everything—everything rests near her head; as if Earth’s center spins backwards inside its skin. She leaves footprints in the air for Luisa’s baby to follow if she wanders too far...