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. 


Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Adams-Santos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem began once upon a time when I was immobile in my bedroom, listening to the sink drip … There’s a terrible abstraction or dissociation that can happen when the spirit is suffering, and in certain dire moments, like many of us, I have turned to acts of self-harm. Not to die but to come back to the body, to come back to Life, to touch base with my physical vitality through the language of pain, the body’s insistence on survival. In reflecting on those moments, I wonder if there’s not some small echo to the offerings of blood by my Mayan ancestors—some private covenant with the deep mysteries of sorrow and the physical self, a forbidden act with secret, forbidden questions. This poem examines the landscape of that pain, and the sacred moment of one’s own private relationship to her pain and the sometimes irrational—and even amoral—path that survival can take.”
—Stephanie Adams-Santos