La Llorona’s Life as a Cautionary Tale, by Paul David Adkins

I don’t want you thinking
this is just about my man-hands
plunging a playa’s head
beneath the whirling of a river.

It’s not
really my life.

And I would warn you
not to believe you could
never rifle the cabinets of your own heart
for that snub-nosed .38,

throw open the drawers
of your brain for a carving fork,
then charge with its twin gleam
above your screaming
and the kitchen terrazzo.

I’ve been hurt, and you
think I’m somehow unique—
red droplet in the snow you mistake
for the bud of a peony.

If I’m a woman
wronged, then wrong with me
those wrongs further into something
delicious, something sinful
as a caramel ribbon
cinching a victim’s throat.

Twist those wrongs like a Ken doll’s head
clean off,
until the neck ends in a nob.

I didn’t go to jail, but hell,
I walked

to finish the business of finding
my boys, the nets of their bones
I cast in the dark waters,
and forgot.

Whittle your revenge instead
to one hundred sharpened sticks.

Thrust them in a hole
the shape of an infant’s coffin.
Cover them with grass, and sweetly

call your worthless man,
trill his name
like a partridge in a thicket,

cry to him in your swaddle,
your helpless heap,
your red fists flailing the air.


About “La Llorona’s Life as a Cautionary Tale”: “I explored the legend/myth of the Mexican ghost la Llorona, or Weeping Woman, in the context of incorporating her into greater American culture. In attempting this, I hoped to bring her role of vengeful woman into play along the lines of Anglo-American consciousness. This poem is part of a larger manuscript exploring the history of the spirit, as well as creating out of her the personification of the Central American diaspora northward, and the struggle for identity in an alien, hostile environment.”

Paul David Adkins lives in New York and works as a counselor.


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