Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas

(after Graciela Iturbide’s 1979 photograph)

My warm morning skin bristles
in the jungle hut’s frigid shower

as shrill chirps trill
off my inner ear’s high-hat.

What tropical bird lurks
outside this screen-less window?

I imagine lime green wings,
a feathered turquoise face,

but when its squeak rattles
into a hiss that creeps

behind me like a shadow, I turn
to stare straight into the onyx

eye of an iguana, iridescent
crown gleaming down

on my miserable wet head, tail
coiling the shower pole, tongue reach-

ing for my splashed shoulder.
I slink back, leave dirt in the bends

of elbows and knees, relinquish
a chance to feel eyes licked

into the back of my head. I am not
la Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas

donning her Zapotec headdress
of protruding limbs about to leap,

folded faces, triple chins. Not
Iturbide’s pebble squint refusing to blink

as it latches onto the queen of Juchitán
so far away, yet so near to where I stand

dripping on this poured concrete floor.

Poem for the Tin-tun-teros

This for the timbaleros, percussionists, tin-tun-teros,
those who tap with spoons on their stoves
with pencils on their desks
with nails and knuckles on tables, beds, their own heads
with fists against walls
and fingers on the spines and curves of their lovers, dancers.

This for the congueros, drummers, bongoseros,
those who never rest
with their staccato heels always hammering the skin of the floor
stomping in their dreams filled with maracas, güiros and claves,
these dancers with steps so smooth
and hips that move like their high hats and snares.

This for the timbaleros, percussionists, tin-tun-teros.
They are bad asses with their cymbal storms
their games of sticks that fly like wings. How scampish
their tricks that won’t let us work or sleep
only dance and sing, sing and dance
and sometimes move the earth a little.

Poema para los tin-tun-teros

Este para los timbaleros, los bateristas, los tin-tun-teros,
los que tocan con cucharas en sus estufas
con lápices en sus escritorios
con uñas y nudillos en mesas, muebles, sus propias cabezas
con puños contra paredes
y dedos en las espinas y curvas de sus amantes, danzantes.

Esta para los congueros, los tamboristas, los bongoseros,
los que nunca descansan
con sus tacones siempre golpeando la piel de piso,
zapateando en sus sueños llenos de maracas, güiros y claves,
estos bailadores con pasos tan suaves
y caderas que se mueven como sus high hats y tarolas.

Este para los timbaleros, los bateristas, los tin-tun-teros.
Son chingones con sus tormentas de platillos,
sus juegos de palillos que vuelan como alas. Qué malas
sus trampas que no nos permiten trabajar ni dormir,
solamente bailar y cantar, cantar y bailar,
y a veces mover la tierra un poquito.


“I don’t know what to tell you.
Your daughter doesn’t understand
math. Numbers trouble her, leave
her stuck on ground zero.”

                               Y fueron los mayas
                               quienes imaginaron el cero,
                               un signo para nada, para todo,
                               en sus gran calculaciones.

                Is zero the velvet swoop into dream,
                the loop into plumes of our breath?

“I suggest you encourage languages.
Already she knows a little Spanish,
and you can teach her more of that.
She lives for story time.”

                In the beginning there was nothing.
                Then the green of quetzal wings.

                               Las historias siguen cambiando,
                               sus verdades vigorizadas
                               con cada narración
                               como X x X = X2

Related Poems

from “Xibalba [Outside the water sings]”

Outside the water sings 
its tortuous note, 
devoid of the parrot, 
devoid of the quetzal.

A song without ears, 
a dry silk wrapped around the throat, 
neither warm nor cold 
but a vacillation between the two. 

A hammer swinging 
through the aether of the flesh, 

the mind’s red line. 

Tonight a part of me shivers, liking it, 
my whole body in one place, 
where steel drags along. 

I wonder if the body wants more 
to open or to shut. 

breaking away to the u.s.

a day so perfect that
this morning’s awakening bombs
are overtaken by a woman’s wind chimes
of “tamales, tamales.”

on the way to the airport
iguanas hang upside down,
even they smile.

along farms and fields
rotten bullet seeds
are overtaken by flowering weeds.

on the side of the highway
a tall Maquilishuat tree gives
birth to premature pink petals
inside a plane headed north,
yani & i fly so high
that we can’t tell
cornfields from fences;
it’s such a perfect
final day.


North Africa/Caribbean Note pasafu I
            A la memoria de Tata Güines
Listening to Tata Güines
Standing on my Salé balcony
Better I am living Tata
The beats along with my heart
Drinking sound digest shapes
Sparkling thought images 
Like a deck of cards
Spinning pressed by a thumb/
Tata self-educated which is
Also my case,
He heard the radio in his
Havana Güines barrio,
Listened to the tumba players
On the street, ask questions
He lived the music.
As I read books and rebelled against
Words were in books
What I wanted to feel
Was in books
And the Conversations with elders,
The oral voice.
Music was the ether of youth
The background ocean full of dancing fish,
Rhythm collaborated with my brain
Cells bouncing fast scattered images
perceive it now in Tata Güine’s solos,
City flying the current with
A tropical river that surrendered
At my feet the past
Shrimps holding up pictures
Of blue wooden houses
With zinc rooftops,
Huge sky blue.
Tata hits the skin
His fingerprints mark
Language in the sky,
Each slap reminds a flower
To blossom in the Congo,
The tumba pitch falls into
Slow drag
When he rubs
Hide scratching out mountain dirt
His nails animal where it roamed
Righteous beating, a whining
Like beg, laborious pain
The cabinet is a montage
Of wood-tight animal,
Sealed like leather zapatos
Tata rumbas and I grow shoes
Foot shakes insects off
Goat flesh stretched
Screams colors of tan tinges
How the cow gave milk,
Tata zapatero
Make my zapatillas
Resbalosas upon the loseta
Below on the strees two guys Ganawa
Show up
Before vision I had heard
The metal castanets approaching
Dressed Mayan/or Inca
beyond kaleidoscope colors,
They dance the morning
Café to elevate,
Tata’s manos weave
colors merge so many Africa’s
Open book of Alejo Carpentier
On Cuban music
Immense rhythmic melodious
Till horizon meets historic cotorra
Scribbling sky danzón
My foot wants to danza South
Sahara down
Tata drumming palms upon
Some drums mule skin
Has been said water buffalo,
Goat tumtu sounds make
A fist garden
Floreos crash into
The Ganawa clank.
Dr. Fernando Ortiz
Researched nkongo Banto-Congolese:
Conga a dance a circle,
Makuta cows charge into 
The rhythm
Listen how distance condenses
Throw step and bop head
I am below the Niger River
Scribble Calligraphy on the Sahara sand
Moving down the wind comes
And away blow designs.
My country is rhythm
The only true legislation,
Political status pales with the cadence.
Dance is
The nature of rolling mountains
Running towards the coast
To jump into the water
Government is the clave,
Adal Maldonado took my
Passport photo out of focus
Similar to the nation
But in tune with Mambo
The secret codes upon document
The camera note:
“Accidental products
Of distraction
And forgetfulness
Will make you Mambo again”
The photographer scribbled in
A note twenty years ago
When we were different images
Trying to enfoco Foco it
Becoming enfoco lens out
Focus out of the blue
Enfoco it Que se Foco,
Photography is a squish
In the darkness of the cave
The silence between
Spaces of limestone
Total obscurity
Snaps/What is in the light.
What is Tata doing
Slow finger-popping
The cowhide
Discussing something
With Chano Pozo
Tata was a kid once
Jumped up on Havana stage
Chano there
Put his hands on the 
Tumbadora across from
The composer of:
Started to slap it.
Um, kaslap—kaslap.
The elder saw him right away
Saw what he heard, the color
Of the flowers sprouting.
As I listen the air Caribbeans
Now late February
In the depth a motion of Spring
Moisture warm waves of flesh
Skin on skin
Tata Güines maestro classic
Ever to tumba the dora
upon the street of forever
Sunbeats. Sabora.