there at the altar
she rests her head
god is candlelight
a flame flickering
she confesses to her father
between her palms te perdono por abandonarme
somewhere she looks out
from a dark room through rain-streaked windows
she hears in an empty house
her sons hung from a wall
and prays her rosary
perdoname quiero desaparecer
Iglesia San Juan Bautista, Motul de Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Yucatan, 1855
You stand beside a woman pretending to be your mother, who moments
from now will be—adopted mother at least—a woman, I imagine, you’ve
never seen before. She owns the land you’ve lived on for a decade, or more,
if you count the years your parents lived on and toiled the land until they died.
Without parents, no relatives to keep you, you knew you’d be adopted. Family
or no family, it didn’t matter. You’d seen children plucked from their relatives’
arms, forced to marry other children so they could then have more children
who’d work their entire lives, repeating si Don, si Doña, a prayer unable save them.
But in the campo, kilometers from the casa grande, you never saw the hacendados.
You were told they lived in the capital and that if you ever see them, you’d regret
having to see them. When called, some come back beaten, or don’t come back at all.
Some choose the jungle. For all it provides, it provides sanctuary, for those who flee.
When he came for you, he stayed on his horse at a distance. He tells you to turn
around, slowly, then again like a bird, with your arms outstretched. Satisfied, it
seems, he comes closer and runs his hands over you, checks your skin and combs
his fingers through your hair, inspects you like men do before slaughtering a pig.
Only ten, you understand death, but it has never been this close. It is what happens
in other places: yellow fever, cholera, the body’s slow disintegration; other bodies
beheaded, bodies hung, bodies strung from picotas for treason: which meant being
obstinate, or aggressive, or indolent, which meant indian, which meant less than.
The man on the horse tells you to walk to the casa grande and rides beside you,
takes you to a woman who undressed you and bathes you and dresses you again
in clothing that does not belong to you. You fear being sent to another hacienda,
unable to mourn your parents until they cross over, their souls, alone and untended.
You glimpse at the figure of Christ above you and take a deep breath before your
body is submerged in water. In the rippled water, eyes open, you see your parents
on their death beds. Despite what the priest says: this now your new mother under
the eyes of the Lord, a genuine saint, you know you’ll never again be someone’s son.
Ángel García, the proud son of Mexican immigrants, is the author of Teeth Never Sleep (University of Arkansas Press), winner of a 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize, winner of a 2019 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and finalist for the 2019 PEN America Open Book Award and 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He currently lives in Champaign, IL and teaches in the MFA program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More information can be found at www.angelgarciapoet.com