|Natalie Diaz [Poets House]|
from Natalie Diaz's When My Brother Was an Aztec:
Tortilla Smoke: A Genesis
In the beginning, light was shaved from its cob,
white kernels divided from dark ones, put to the pestle
until each sparked like a star. By nightfall, tortillas sprang up
from the dust, billowed like a fleet of prairie schooners
sailing a flat black sky, moons hot white
on the blue-flamed stove of the earth, and they were good.
Some tortillas wandered the dry ground
like bright tribes, others settled through the floury ceiling
el cielo de mis sueños, hovering above our tents,
over our beds — floppy white Frisbees, spinning, whirling
like project merry-go-rounds — they were fruitful and multiplied,
subduing all the beasts, eyeteeth, and bellies of the world.
How we prayed to the tortilla god: to roll us up
like burritos — tight and fat como porros — to hold us
in His lips, to be ignited, lit up luminous with Holy Spirit
dancing on the edge of a table, grooving all up and down
the gold piping of the green robe of San Peregrino —
the saint who keeps the black spots away,
to toke and be token, carried up up
away in tortilla smoke, up to the steeple
where the angels and our grandpas live —
porque nuestras madres nos dijeron que viven allí —
high to the top that is the bottom, the side, the side,
the space between, back to the end that is the beginning —
a giant ball of masa rolling, rolling, rolling down,
riding hard the arc of earth — gathering rocks, size, lemon
trees, Joshua trees, creosotes, size, spray-painted
blue bicycles rusting in gardens, hunched bow-legged grandpas in white
undershirts that cover cancers whittling their organs like thorns
and thistles, like dark eyes wide open, like sin —leaving behind
bits and pieces of finger-sticky dough grandmas mistake
for Communion y toman la hostia — it clings to their ribs
like gum they swallowed in first grade.
The grandmas return from misa, with full to the brim
estómagos and overflowing souls, to empty homes.
They tie on their aprons. Between their palms they sculpt and caress,
stroke and press, dozens and dozens of tortillas — stack them
from basement to attic, from wall to wall, crowding closets,
jamming drawers, filling cupboards and el vacío.
At night they kiss ceramic statues of Virgin Marys,
roll rosary beads between their index fingers and thumbs,
weep tears prettier than holy water —
sana sana colita de rana si no sanas ahora sanarás mañana —
When they wake they realize frogs haven't had tails in ages,
they hope gravity doesn't last long, and they wait —
y esperan y esperan y esperamos — to be carried up up — anywhere —
on round white magic carpets and tortilla smoke.
A Wild Life Zoo
sleep is good, better is death
Heinrich Heine, "Morphine"
I watched a lion eat a man like a piece of fruit, peel tendons from fascia like pith from rind, then lick the sweet meat from its hard core of bones. The man had earned this feast and his own deliciousness by ringing a stick against the lion's cage, calling out, Here, Kitty Kitty, Meow!
With one swipe of a paw much like a catcher's mitt with fangs, the lion pulled the man into the cage, rattling his skeleton against the metal bars.
The lion didn't want to do it —
He didn't want to eat the man like a piece of fruit, and he told the crowd this: I only wanted some goddamn sleep. The crowd had trouble believing the words sliding out of the lion's mouth, a mouth the size of a cathedral with a vaulted ceiling, maxilla and mandible each like a flying buttress. They believed the lion even less when they saw that one or two of his words had been impaled on his teeth, which were pointed and lined up in a semicircle like large pink wigwams at a war party. The crowd scattered, fleeing to the pagoda bridge over the koi pond and the tinted windows of the humid reptile house.
But, I believed the lion —
I had seen him yawn. I had fallen in love with that yawn and my thighs panged just thinking about laying my head inside that wet dark bed of jaws. So I stayed, despite the man glittering and oozing on the ground like a mortal wound.
About the time the lion burped up the man's jeans, now as shredded as a blue grass skirt, a jeep of twelve zoo workers screeched around the rhino exhibit in SWAT gear and khaki shorts — to rescue the man who was crumpled on the floor like a red dress that had too many drinks — their tranquilizer guns shone like Saint Michael's swords, and they each held a handful of dope-filled darts with neon pink feathers at the ends.
The lion paid this Zoo Crusade little attention and burped up the man's asshole next. He looked at me and said, I hate assholes. (Seven darts hit him at once, causing him to wince.) But, the lion continued, the eyes . . . you can't beat those salty, olivelike eyes. An ear dangled like a yo-yo from his goatee as he shook his massive rock-star hair and stumbled off toward a shallow cave at the back of his cage, dragging his tail behind him like a medieval flail. All seven darts jangled and clicked from his flanks like a tambourine made of pink aloe flowers. The Zoo Delta Force Team followed behind him, stepping in the thick tracks his heavy tail had made. The crowd, now hiding out like two separate groups of bandits, was wary of the animals they found themselves near at that particular moment: the gaping gobs of the electric koi beneath the surface of the flotsamed pond, opening and closing their lips in a song shaped like skulls, and the agile maws of the boa constrictors and pythons, unhinging and resetting their jaws like basement doors. But I believed the lion and rang my bowl against the cage to let them know.