How to Die in Zapotec

Dalthon Pineda


The white bird traverses the nocturne sky,
a parrot of dark omens,

                        someone predicts your death and leads herself
                        to your house to embalm it with misery.


They’ll miss you, the un-shucked corn and the wagon,
we all want you to leave content
and that you’re buried with your saddle,
                                                your straw hat
                                                your satchel and machete,
that you’re buried with all you grasped,
                 with all that you lashed,
                                that it ends like that.


Old man,
                        my great father,
you accustomed me to waking early
to walk with the Bright Star to the milpa,
to surprise the roosters,
today I did it your way, old man,
I took my spade and pickaxe and went to cultivate
your tomb,
I made it wide and
so you feel free inside.


On the box
we hammered twelve nails,
twelve were your children who cried,
twelve was the last month of your life. New was the moon
that stood vigil at your death. Twelve were the steps
from your altar to the street,
twelve hands beneath the earth,
twelve were the leaves of the falling dawn,


In your tomb, a wooden cross,
modest and erect, a few letters
that spell your name, a necklace
of yellow flowers.
You always said
this land is good for planting
and starting a life, herbivores
of your word we sowed
basil and sunflower seeds
in your tomb, so your resurrection
within her will be fruitful and clean.

translated from the Isthmus Zapotec by Jake Sandler