Kyce Bello

The Washerwoman Maps Her Body Before Death

I taste flowers by stepping on them,

Flor de Maga on my breath.

I speak hurricane and palm frond,
take in laundry to scrub and hang

like ghosts on a line—

men and women walking, bodiless,
through the tropical night.

On the day a needle pierces my palm,
sharp in the folds of washing,

emerald beaked birds cry
Boriqua, boriqua quien quien quien?

The broken needle’s course is tracked
                        as it rivers upstream—

marked each morning
           at the clinic with an x-ray.

Quicksilver bright
                       against my bones.

Length of arm. Bend of shoulder.
The twin wings of my breath.

While I wait for death,
          birds sing their questions to me.

I embroider red buds on the rumors
                        my daughter will wear

as rain tattoos the tin roof to sleep.

The Washerwoman’s Daughter

I whisper to the tiny bundle
buried beneath a bougainvillea crown,

hurry to light a candle
before the relics of Mother Cabrini.

Her blue gaze a veil
when I press against the light.

The city fills with the umbra of gray
birds rising, their wing beats

a shadowy corona above me.
My son lived long enough

to announce his sister.
In the nighttime rain,

our faces are sequined
by lights and luminous ground.

Author Statement

When I ask my grandmother to tell me stories about her mother and grandmother, she sometimes tells me about her grandmother Epiphania Vega, a Puerto Rican washerwoman who was indeed pierced by a needle stuck into the dress she was washing. According to my grandmother, the needle entered Epiphania’s hand and traveled through her bloodstream, apparently tracked by x rays as it moved towards a vital organ and killed her. My poems sticks to these details, but also explores the ways in which memory and inheritance are fluid, shifting to fill whatever container—or generation—happens to be holding them. In the end, the speaker is not Eufemia, but whatever it is we hold in common across time and space.

Kyce Bello’s poems have recently appeared in Heron TreeThe WayfarerSonora ReviewWritten River Journal of EcopoeticsTaproot, and elsewhere. She edited the anthology The Return of the River: Writers, Scholars, and Citizens Speak on Behalf of the Santa Fe River, (Sunstone Press, 2011), a work of literary activism which received two New Mexico book awards. Kyce earned an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico near four generations of her family.