The first time I saw my mother, she'd been dead fourteen years and came as a ghost in the mirror, plucking the hair beneath her arms, and humming a bossa nova. She lotioned her chapped heels and padded her bra as if she were alive in the old way. She said I was born with my cord wrapped around my neck like a rosary, and she knew God, the doomed father of her days, wanted us both. Before midnight she plaited my hair, hemmed my skirt, sang lullabies she'd learned on the other side of the flood. She lifted her dress to show her bones shedding light on a stillborn fetus accidentally raptured into her ribs. She said she'd choose her death again, obey any pain heaven gave her. Years ago she watched a man ride a diving bell to the bottom of the Amazon to face the mysteries God had placed there. The chain broke, and they pulled him to the surface smiling, stiff, refusing to open his fists. They broke and unpeeled his fingers. No one wept or fought to hold it. She covered her eyes so she wouldn't see what God, in his innocence, had done.
The Last Known Sighting of the Mapinguari
Before she died, my mother told me
I’d make the monster that would kill me,
so I knew this was someone else’s death
creeping into my field, butchering my cow.
I recognized its lone eye and two mouths.
Perhaps it mistook the lowing for the call
of its own kind. I didn’t mind the heifer—
she’d been sick for weeks, her death a mercy—
but her calf circled, refusing to leave even
as the creature pulled out its mother’s tongue,
fed one of its mouths and moaned from the other.
The intestines glowed dully in the moonlight.
The calf bawled. The disappointed mapinguari
sat, thousands of worms rising out of the split
heart it held, testing the strange night air.
I’ve outlived all the miracles that came for me.
My mother was wrong and not wrong,
like the calf who approached the monster
and licked the blood from its fingers.