Still Life of Cárdenas Hacienda with Cats

there was a house at the bottom of a mountain
                        sunbaked mud and straw and as tiny as a heart
with ¼ the rooms and in that cavity a woman gave birth
                        to blood and vomit every year
for thirteen years and sometimes her husband came home at night
                        but mostly he hunted gold buried along the road to Santa Fe
if he ever found it she would never know
                        he guzzled all gold and Taos Lightning
as the children went without some survived some didn’t
                        one boy drowned in the washtub and one twin died at birth
one son clutched a yowling cat to his chest
                        in a hammock on the ocean floor while torpedoes
pounded the sub like shots of mezcal on the guard rails in the canyon
                        where the world split open again at the hip
and another son drove her home and another turned her
                        on her side so she could breathe easier
the living twin closed her eyes and somewhere in Arizona,
                        another daughter fell to her knees and cried at the kitchen stove
a week later, another son bailed him out of jail
                        and thirty years later, a niece and a nephew visited him
at the house made of earth and his mother’s blood,
                        and stray cats played in the orchard.


Copyright © 2022 by Victoriano Cárdenas. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“While Taos gets a lot of attention for being an ‘art Mecca’ or a ski-town, the bloody history of colonization and forced assimilation, and even our tradition of rebellion, tends to go unnoticed, forgotten, or ignored beneath the town’s tourist-y veneer. So, too, the children born of and into these traumas, and generation after generation are trapped in cycles of abuse and addiction while the rich come to paint and play on the land. This poem is my attempt to document only what remains in my family’s living memory of our home, the Cardenas Hacienda, including the shadows and some of the light.”
Victoriano Cárdenas