Yo soy como el chile verde, Llorona
Picante pero sabroso. –Chavela Vargas
Sea salt & ache
I’ve invited her in
as one invites
a distance, a dead
loved, slow to let go—
I’ve asked her
the arroyo water gurgling
from her skirts
My children look
as if they understand
We’ve found a recipe for mole (pronounce it mol-ay like olé except móle—
make your mouth like you’re about to suck an egg, dyed or white, boiled or raw)
Oaxaca-style, tongue-burnt dark chocolate, for pouring on poultry
& she tells me how she visits the Midwest now myth has scattered her
like crushed chipotle
like dried thyme & stone-gray ash—
she tells me how a twister picks up the smell of everything it snatches
—what people were cooking, chicken grease & garlic
(her children loved allspice, sticks of cinnamon, they’d line up
like straws, or wishbones, & split)—then that twister, aromatic, belly-
full, swollen as a tick, when it sets each object down,
leaves itself on everything. But it was nothing until it swept us up, she says.
It marks us for each other.
I pour us each a drink.
Mothers were daughters
overflowing yet skinflint
blossoms on the bare bark
our bodies brackish
our underbellies without that tepid padding
those babies who’d sink us young
held like ribcages
& water turning.
I tell the woman slicing
tomatoes & spooning white
sugar I’ve brought home your
babies, I’ve fed them, I’ve showered them—
their ears filled with fresh cut
flowers, their chest bones
stemmed & thorned. She throws me in the river
with her eyes, she casts me
into the mother water, drowning.
I’m her rancid darling
& she’s become the ancient mother
I’ve daughtered against
the years—heavy in our bellies
While I blacken
on the dry comal
guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, chipotle—
she toasts the dinner rolls
& tortilla strips
until they’re golden.
Together we pour
our mixtures, allowing them
to soak, fully submerged,
in simmering chicken broth.
Our talk turns to bedtime stories.
She can’t believe
what they’re calling her
so we set aside our wooden spoons
to Google search &
she covers her eyes
with her braids, the lace-white
sleeve of her once best dress.
When I was a girl
We decide our favorite picture depicts her
like a Calavera Catrina for Día de Los Muertos,
dancing with small skeletons who wear paper party hats,
boat-shaped beside the río.
The trees are bright & though the artist hasn’t shown them,
we imagine piñatas hanging
from their branches, braced for the children’s sticks.
In the sky, a colorful angel carrying a rainbowed plaster pig.
Maybe that’s why we thought of piñatas.
La Llorona laughs.
It’s been too long since I heard that sound.
how she’s stalked ditchbanks
wrapped in shadows
children in her rebozo
how some men compare her
our first country’s
mother they call
puta traitor whore
like my ex called me
or the neverborns
I lent to the water.
Nights I screamed
at the children
they still ran to me
in fear, the monster
they sought comfort in—
She understands it’s tedious
living up to a legend.
We set the table. Say grace.
Jennifer Givhan is an NEA fellow in poetry and the winner of the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize for her poetry collection LANDSCAPE WITH HEADLESS MAMA, forthcoming in 2016. A Mexican-American poet who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a small, border community in the Southern California desert, she was a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, The Pinch Poetry Prize winner, the DASH Literary Journal poetry first-prize winner, the 2015 Blue Mesa Review poetry second-prize winner, an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist, and a 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize finalist. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College, her Master’s from Cal State Fullerton, and her work has appeared in over eighty journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013, AGNI, Southern Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Collagist, and The Columbia Review. She teaches online at Western New Mexico University and The Rooster Moans Poetry Coop. You can visit Givhan at jennifergivhan.com.