Rigoberto González




Shroud

                     Tazco

The mines have been completely gutted. You can taste the last chip of silver
in your throat, its metallic tang the slowest poison. The clock salutes you

as the walls grow mad with hunger, the hollow stomachs of their windows
churn like ulcers. Where did you leave your children that they have dropped

like pears and will not wake to cry for you? Even the candle will succumb
to sleep and dream it continues to flicker. It’s the tourniquet sky that squeezes

while the moon, maniac monocle, arsonist loupe, observes as she burns
your skin off the earth. Your head grows exposed like the transparent gecko’s,

eyes dark as papaya seeds. This is what the dying woman does, seal herself
in death by dressing each corner of the room in sorrow. You follow her example:

a tear falls from your cheek and you pin it, medal-heavy, to the curtain, let it hover
like the afterthought you call a star. Now, how does the moribund hum herself

to sleep? A fable? A lullaby? A tale transparent with lesson like the kind
the priests prescribe? Give them all a try. You once heard talk about a woman

who cheated death by staging her suicide: flinging her shoes into a lake and hiding.
So convinced was the town of her demise, the shoes fished out like the blue bones

of her feet, that a mass was said, a funeral held, and her unfaithful husband, cold
with guilt, grieved himself to impotence. Her name was chiseled on stone; her

spirit buried. And Death, to punish her, crossed out their grim appointment from
his book. The woman lived for many years in secret bliss, outliving husband,

his disgruntled mistress, and everyone she knew in town. Her body aged and aged
but would not crumble, the pain of immortality nailing a joint to every muscle.

She stood over her grave and begged for death, and Death arrived, using his scythe
as a cane. So thick his book, that when he opened it she saw him lift

an infant’s coffin lid. She died by her hand, Death read, and the words
cannot be changed, he said. So Death laid down his scythe and dared her slice

herself in half. He went away, promising to come when he could pick her up in pieces.
The woman toed the blade, her arms too weak to hold it. She couldn’t even prop

the end up long enough to drop herself on top of it. With this renewed exasperation
her eyes sprung forth two streams of tears, softening the ground until it swallowed her.

She dozes now, buried upright in the salt of her pity, and Death reclaims his crown
as Master Hatchet. But truth is Death must serve the moribund who weaves her own

shroud. Your mother called him once, and you the second time. Invariably he comes.
The tale priests spun into the world frightens only those who live, but teaches those

who want to die: appointments quite adjustable; mortality corruptible—the power
in your hands is in those pills. Take them, woman, wash them down with curses.

Tomorrow your hateful children will surprise their spouses with the child-like grief
of having lost their old mama. And the town will murmur the neglect you suffered,

silenced into desperation. What ungrateful daughter, pilfering her mother’s knittings.
What terrible son, walking past his mother’s window without looking in. The headline

passes judgment: SORROW WEARS A TORN REBOZO. The words will brand
survivors with the black tattoo. O madre santa, let the priests keep you living

with the Biblical salts of free will, not even they had alms to spare when you needed
them. Let them renounce the body of a woman from the sacred grounds again,

there are too many saints cluttering the calendars anyhow. Let the legacy continue:
your mother killed herself, you killed yourself, your children kill themselves as well.




© 2008 Electronic Poetry Review