from The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems

Natalia Toledo

Flower that Drops Its Petals

I will not die from absence.
A hummingbird pinched the eye of my flower
and my heart mourns and shivers,
does not breathe.
My wings tremble like the long-billed curlew
when he foretells the sun and the rain.
I will not die from absence, I tell myself.
A melody bows down upon the throne of my sadness,
an ocean springs from my stone of origin.
I write in Zapotec to ignore the syntax of pain,
ask the sky and its fire
to give me back my happiness.
Paper butterfly that sustains me:
why did you turn your back upon the star
that knotted your navel?

House of My Dreams

I come down from the mountain
a pool of spring water looks back at me,
I see my grandmother's house
in the midst of the jungle.
I walk upon the foliage
a heavy door opens,
I can touch the peeling walls
what does my nose smell?
The candle releases its incense
in the breezeway.
I open the window, there is the jungle:
the house is cool,
I go to the kitchen
the kettles are my mother's womb.
Smells of soursop and ripening nance,
the sound of oil frying, fish smoke.
What do I feel?: I am content.
I descend the mountain, before me:
a white house with missing tiles
beds of thread stretch across their skies, in my garden no shortage of birds.
I caress a deer and her eyes are an oval sadness.
I'm wearing a plaid shirt
and two crabs pinch my little girl nipples,
I don't smile; I stand stiff as a post.
I am eight years old and my body is a house that remembers her house. 

translated from the Isthmus Zapotec and Spanish by Natalia Toledo and Clare Sullivan

The Isthmus Zapotec originals were translated into Spanish by the author, Natalia Toledo. The Spanish versions were translated into English by Clare Sullivan.