a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
that stands outside the windowed wall
beside my dining table. She lifted her head.
Eyes onyx. Eyes glass. Eyes blank screen.
What processor, what operating system,
what leap-the-gap impulse turned
her looking my way and made her stay?
I stayed too, eye to eye, we held the space
between us like a coin we’d never spend.
Stopped at the tiendita
looking for gifts.
Found one among
huipils and pillow cases
a work in clay
atop a shelf where
a prowl of jaguars stood
one cub in mouth
the way a housecat
hauls her kitten
a second cub riding
her back, mother’s face
no kitty sweetness
but lips pulled
taut in growl while
holding her tender grip.
She knows what it takes
to live in the jungle.
Don’t fuck with my kids.
I know her language.
She knows mine.
At the house of indigenous writers
a puppeteer showed us how
he taught children the names
of animals in their native language
though most of them spoke
in the tongue of the conquest.
He had an old face, one seasoned
by joy. I could tell by the lines on his face
that love had been the better part
of his days. He brought out
a painted serpent, slipped
his arm into the empty body
to animate its spirit, then pirate
and then jaguar. With each character
the man’s voice took on the cadence
of the creature. The jaguar, he said,
was very sacred. I did not know
what the word meant to him
but I understood that without
the right words the animal
could not be known
and that some words
that had made the creature sacred
had already been lost to the world.
I’ve heard of a tribe that lives
at the confluence of two rivers
in Colombia. For them all creatures
are people. Jaguar is a person
wearing jaguar skin. So people
are obligated to the animal world
as to one’s family. That’s
what I wish we had become.
Alison Hawthorne Deming is the author of six books of poetry and five books of nonfiction, most recently A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, & The Sardine Dress. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, among other honors. She recently received a fellowship from the Borchard Foundation, which sent her to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. The two jaguar poems are set there. She is Regents Professor Emerita at the University of Arizona