A Amazônia está queimando

               We sing and dance in praise of the butterfly—
               translucent blue,
               gilded wings,
               all its life
               from orchid to cacao,
               ceiba to banana and fig,
               tying invisible strings
               that hold our home in the sky.

               It must,
               lest we drop 
               into an abyss,
               or drift 
               where the gods won’t find us.
               This place 
               where butterflies work 
               for you and me,
               keep rivers full and flowing—
               Amapari, Canapantuba and Feliz,
               the wide and deep goddess far beyond we call the Sea,
               Rain—floods and drought,
               a mist or fog,
               the sun finds us each dawn
               after a journey home,
               when the moon comes to guide 
               both the weary and the ready
               to pounce and hide—
               our home is burning.

               Menacing fires blaze.
               Moneyed Whites rid the earth
               of the people,
               anacondas and spider monkeys,
               hawks and toucans,
               cicadas and cinnamon,
               glass frogs and vines,
               palm and rubber trees,
               tapirs and manatees.
               We hear their screams
               And all that dies silently.
               A Amazônia está queimando.

               They want our abundant lands
               and to annihilate our Mother’s opulence.
               They will end the dance of the butterflies
               and then what?  
               We, too, will die
               like in a story told by the ancestors
               that we only imagined.
               They come for our copper, gold, ore
               Ranchers and loggers raze the land.
               At the United Nations Bolsonaro1 announced,
               Don’t listen to what you hear on the news. Lies.
               Nothing is burning, nothing has been set ablaze.

               We are Waiapi.
               We keep the butterflies happy.
               They stay working
               to hold the planet in place.
               We are the guardians
               of our Mother. 
               Each day before I go to school, 
               I smear the sweet juice of urucum seeds
               on my body and face.
               They are protection 
               from insects and evil spirits.
               I sit in a classroom with thatched roof 
               and other Waiapi women.
               I am the only grandmother there.
               I am Chief of my people.
               I will learn to write and speak
               for the butterfly
               to those who set fires 
               and to the ones who may help 
               save our home.

1Current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

What Is Your Writing Process?

With mop in one hand,
cocktail in the other,
at 9:00 a.m. or night,
flies swatted,
roach corpses swept.
Lola Beltrán belts “Mi ranchito”
through house speakers
from room to room.
I hum off key.
Mares fed, dogs let out,
sun beating on the flat roof,
moon rising behind a cloud—
verses take form.


Having a light supper of peanut butter and wild berry jam
on water table crackers while watching PBS,
a woman who wrote a book came on.
She talked about married Indian women,
her curiosity about them.

They were private, at first, she said.
It took time to gain trust
and signed consents,
everything on the up and up, you understand.
How bloody “Margaret Mead” of her,
how “Jane Goodall,” I thought,
going over to make tea, draw blinds,
bring in the dogs for the night.

After all, I mused, if her subjects—
multilingual, educated, well-traveled—
wished for strangers to know
whether they watched porn,
places where they made love,
how they interacted with in-laws
and reared children,
they’d write their own accounts.

Instead, perhaps sometime
they’d document
the impudent guest
who came to town
for the sole purpose
of blabbing about all that went on
behind closed doors.

Drops Fell on the Roof

                                        Translation by Tyehimba Jess with Ana Castillo


Tic, tic, tic,
tic, tic, tic…
A stab
in the chest of the country

and the night didn’t blink
that Valentine’s Day.

A tic, tic, tic fell on the roof
and no one slept, not my love, not the dog, not me

with the news of the latest massacre.
Seventeen children lost their lives.

Students, poets, leaders of the future,
it was seventeen souls that time.

Seventeen, count them in their coffins,
that will never grow older.

Seventeen sons and daughters. Count, if you can,
the screams of the parents and the people.

Domestic terrorism so rampant
in a place that calls itself democracy,

that has made death banal. It began centuries ago.
Men with weapons, haters of humanity, lovers of power

now, they take off their masks, their costumes,
with the blessing of Mr. President. Tic, tic, tic…

drops fell from the sky, and nobody slept,
not my love, not the dog, not me.

Related Poems


I’ve been somewhere. My mind struggles to remember the cornfields and fruit trees blooming like a young woman’s body and the place where my brothers built the shade house for our sister’s marriage beneath the slender moon where my mother wove her last blanket.

I’ve walked this empty road before in the month of the big harvest when The People left the canyon with wagons loaded with peaches and corn to take to relatives and to trade with our neighbors who live on the high windy mesas.  

I am returning to the red rocks that once cradled us and from whose arms we were torn when death marched in, surrounded us, and slaughtered everything that we loved.

I am the kidnapped one and survived to escape the enemy who feared our graceful lives because we know that Beauty cannot be captured with words or jails.

I hold nothing in my hands except the lines that tell my fate. I long for the comfort of my mother’s stories, cooking, anything.  How she roasted mutton ribs crispy and salty.  Her stories of my Amazon grandmothers who claimed and discarded husbands like ashes.

Dust clouds billow beneath my bare feet. The ground feels familiar, and I walk easily on the sand that flows from the mouth of the canyon.  A crow glides a new pattern in the wake of grief’s echoes.

Thick black ants watch Earth-Surface child return. “Ahhh,” they say, “leave this one alone; she is returning from that place

The Road into Cuyabeno

Texas oilmen named this laceration
in the Ecuadorian Amazon "Sour Lake,"
Lago Agrio, and since it’s an oil town
of 20,000, we know its prostitutes, bars
and garbage-strewn parks fill with
indigent colonists who follow
our oil companies to the jungle.
I think not of Tu Fu or Confucius, but
Lonely Planet, which says "an oil town
is an oil town." We take their word,
walk straight from tarmac to terminal to a
bus that will drop us 4 hours from here.
Because we are norteamericanos, our hopes
are high before we watch rain spit from
an immense sky into half-built, wood-plank
shacks on stilts, walls painted with
political slogans and half-legible names
of local consejeros, green hills dotted
by handfuls of trees, and four parallel
pipelines following our bus like
one of the country’s mangy strays,
flowing straight to graffiti on Quito
walls topped with glass shards:
Holding hands, we peered far
ahead to Cuyabeno Preserve.
Loaded into canoes for the 2 hour
ride to our huts, we forgot the
tanker trucks, derricks, and squat
bunkers for oil workers along the
road that reminded me of Dachau.
Fernando, our guide, laughs a lot.
We laugh, too, because we see
squirrel monkeys, sloths, caimans,
pink dolphins, and kingfishers. 
We sleep like los indígenas in
thatched huts, dumb with fortune.


Vestigial leavinges
and fragmentes.
These. However: whole—
         like us
a piecing together;

or a kind of gluing,
like dinosaurs from Hell Creek Formation,
with soft tissue and blood vessels inside

is not the point, not even
Chomsky’s theory—embedding entities
within like entities—a tree structure.
Because the most powerful ancient

Amazon cultures, who resist
change, have no stories
for what came before. There, prosody—present tense:
woman winding raw
cotton, child at her feet, singing

a series of notes,
like a muted horn (what

is not enough about this? Could we fall prey

to transcendence,
and reduce, to a point that is
fugitive; you are at the tip

of my tongue, then
not. Just like a leaf drifting
out of the picture. It’s called

not simply gone,
but out of experience. Of Christ
they ask: Have you met