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.


Copyright © 2020 by Brenda Cárdenas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I grew up in an extended family that included a number of artists and artisans, so I have always had a deep appreciation for the visual arts. Then, in the late 1990s, I worked for the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago where I became captivated by photographer Graciela Iturbide’s work, particularly Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas and Angel Woman. Before and especially since that time, I have been writing ekphrastic poems, which often feels like a collaborative process, in response to various kinds of visual art, especially work by Latinx and Latin American artists. This poem also recounts an experience I had with an iguana when visiting Chichén Itzá—the Mayan ruins in the Yucatán—where I stayed in a thatched roof hut. Iturbide’s photograph and my own experience meld in the poem.”
Brenda Cárdenas