Donna Snyder is the author of The Tongue Has Its Secrets (NeoPoiesis Press, 2016), from which the below poems, with permission, are taken. Her work as an activist lawyer advocating on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities has garnered multiple prizes and recognitions. In 1995, she founded the grassroots, not-for-profit Tumblewords Project in the West Texas / Southern New Mexico / Northern Chihuahua region. She continues to coordinate its free weekly workshops, occasional publications, and performance events in the El Paso area.
The thieving wind
I can’t think now, can’t make sense now, can’t quit howling and scaring the dogs. Someone sends me a poem lovely with hortensia, blue bloom-filled corners I can’t see because wind fills my eyes with grit. My ears and mouth are full of desert. I tell myself that is why I can’t hear the voice of the beloved. But there is no beloved, only two unmatched half creatures, or maybe the one is whole in his not-thereness while I am nothing but flaking crepe redolent of fire. The odor of charred flesh and ash chokes me, fills my nose and lungs with something toxic, steals my breath. I hear groans, realize they emanate from my own chest. My flesh desiccates into the scales of a lizard, its tail left inert behind the prickly pear.
Through the pitiless wind a banshee shrieks, Did you not hear me, old woman? No one longs for you, fretting when you are not around. No one reaches for you as solace from the endless gawping nothing that fills the night. No one there but the thieving wind which leaves nothing but the stain of being no one’s necessary. No one seeks you, languishing for your touch. Nothing waits but the grave, obscured by shadows beneath a dun sky, heedless of the cry for the comforting hand.
Rabbit in the moon
Rabbit looks down
sees barren land, water infrequent.
The sun’s biting caress a death blow.
A cold too vicious to survive without cariño.
Ixchel sent me a lover
but chastity had already claimed me,
denied tactile pleasure and serendipity,
tongue pierced with cactus spine.
Mariposa sent me a lover,
but I wasn’t free to flit from ocotillo
to nopal on wings of pumpkin sun and indigo,
trapped in a box of death the color of plums and sky.
Colibri sent me a lover
who couldn’t shimmer in the air drinking sweet.
He plummeted from the sky like a fallen god,
his lungs became rock and his muscles stone.
Jaguar sent me a lover, too,
one kept from me by knives and chains.
He ran into the mountains and lives there still.
You can hear him scream in the starless night.
Eagle sent me a lover
with a tattooed arm that ends in fury,
dead lovers dancing to an unheard drum,
sugar skulls meant to celebrate life reek of death instead.
Rabbit looks down
into this indigo desert, sees my heart twitching
on a plate of lapis and jade, sees blood on the land,
but no succor. No solace. No water to wet my dying tongue.
Masa on the tongue
I want to feed on Corn Maiden’s flesh
caramelized in the embrace of mother earth
let it melt on the tongue like agave nectar
rain in the mouth of years to come