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Natalie Scenters-Zapico

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is the author of Lima :: Limón (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), and The Verging Cities (Center for Literary Publishing, 2015), winner of the PEN American/Joyce Osterweil Award, the Great Lakes College Association's New Writers Award, the National Association of Chicana/o Studies Book Award, and the Utah Book Award. She teaches creative writing and Chicanx literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico
Photo credit: José Ángel Maldonado

By This Poet

3

There Is a Bird in My Mouth

I found it on your belly, and caught it
with two fingers. I kept the bird
on a little perch behind my ear.

I plucked its feathers, stuffed them
against my jaw like chewing tobacco,
and spit the black threads

into a styrofoam cup. One night
the bird died. Crushed beak, split
bone—we did it. Your heart

jealous, my body disgusted
by the taste of seed and bark—
we didn’t want the bird.

We did it over dinner,
you reached into my memory
by placing a finger

in my ear. I placed a hand
in your mouth to catch the bird
and we smashed it

together. This is simple, we did it
and spoke of it with ease. Through
the memory, we killed

the bird that was never ours.
Now we’ve become
bird butchers
, you say

and throw the bird’s limp body
in the trash. I reach to clasp
your face, but have lost

both my hands. Each finger
disappeared into your pupils,
our little black cruxes.
 

You Are a Dark Body

of water with a bed of rock barely visible
from your surface. You are the only dark body

of water in a desert littered with bleeding cactus.
At your collarbones you carry a gulch, held up by a thread

of hair. You travel days drinking only from yourself,
because you are this land’s only dark body

of water. At the crease of horizon you find a woman
in bed, her chest wet with saliva, you kick her

off the bed, and take her place among its sheets. A man
lies down in bed next to you. He swallows your dark body

of water and gives you a woman’s body, a body you’ve
never known. As a woman he gives you sores, and through

the sores you breathe, and despite the sores you give birth
to a child stillborn for lack of water. You kick the child off

the bed, but it returns in the arms of the woman whose bed
you stole. You cry to be made again into a dark body

of water. The man kicks you off the bed, covers you
with dirt, and turns you desert. You cry for a bed he will never

let you sleep in again. You cry for your body’s bed
of rock turned desert for lack of water.
 

For My Son Born in La Mariscal

Ciudad Juárez

You bob & spit & bite
     at my breast. You are my private
colony of sharp stones. I burn
     your umbilical cord to ash.
Come, meet the spirits. Before
     your birth I thought you an eyeball
bruised purple. I have no crib
     to leave you in, but a maizena cardboard box
& a blanket of my thick dark hair.
     I have done many things to feed your body—
open-legged, dark-thumbed
     things. Things for the price of what I
can endure in thirty minutes before
     breaking. I know I can’t keep you,
but even stillborn I used the blood
     I gave you to wash my legs clean.