March/April 2012

Photograph: Jon Henley/Corbis

A Chicana Writes to Rilke

Am I now to build Zapotec temples within me?
But I have no taste for towers.

A milpa then? A 6,000-year-old maize garden
of the mind is my sun-worship site.

(And I have built my ship of death, oh, have I,
of knockweed and fumes—

it’s fear of rank inadequacy stinks so bad,
afraid I’m diving deep

and constantly coming up cold—)

I oppose temples, object to the mountainous
externalization of might.

Might, in me, is not erected,
but absorbed

from corn, water, slaked lime,
ground to a paste:

masa, the grainy, foundational force
that lifts and lights me.

Yes, you had it right. Before masa, the dreamed-of
mano of the future

becomes an interior grinding stone to scrape
the realm of concept completely,

picking up time’s loose minerals, each moment
a metate, concave receptacle

for the grinding rock’s motion. Rock the earth
built for me, cobbled within me.

Maria Melendez is the author of the poetry collections How Long She’ll Last in This World and Flexible Bones. She edits the literary magazine Pilgrimage.