Laurie Ann Guerrero
ON EATING RATTLESNAKE
I remember it only once – I was small. Maybe it was
the one my father shot off the front porch, maybe it
wasn’t. The men stood around the fire; the women sat
inside. I snaked around the men hiding myself:
slitherer. I have seen it many times, the long
stripping – one fist pulling skin, another pulling flesh.
And how the kills were celebrated: rattles and skins
hung like tapestries. The innards left to wild things.
When it was passed around, hot from the fire outside,
the women did not partake. I dug in, rough and
curious: there was nothing more unashamed than a
rattler. No apology in its tongue. It would never be
cute. I had to eat it. I had to know this.
HER ENGLISH NAME IS KRISSY
Changsha, China, Hunan Province
In the museum, in Changsha, we ruminate over artifacts she herself has
never seen: Lady Dai’s mummified skin, rice bowls that existed through
one dynasty after another, the embroidered Nüshu – secret women’s
writing, maps of ancient China where she finds her family’s village and
smiles for the first time. She is especially beautiful in this moment.
I refuse to believe her history is older than mine, but say nothing. She
Is young – my son’s age – and not here with me to contemplate my maps,
My villages, my embroidered languages. Still, though she never looks
me in the eye, she tells me I am beautiful, and begs me to take her umbrella
to protect my skin from darkening in the hot Chinese sun.
I know nothing.
She translates placards for me, answers, in whisper, questions about
Mao, and not until I eat the fermented street tofu, take her umbrella,
She offers something most personal: her foot size up against my own.
You are lucky, she says.
Small foot, light skin.
for my son
I have ignored you for a year.
I have not dwelt on the soft fur
of your arms or the way you rubbed
my cheek with your own starry cheek.
I splintered your hands away
from my heart when you exited
me. Of the men who have claimed
my body, only you reflect
my exact goodness, tragic
as a cotton field, ripe with bloom,
but I have not dwelt on this either.
Not in one year or three –
The way you break open your own
throat, singing, sculpting one world,
another, or kiss a girl in my kitchen,
calling her, Love, My Love. No:
I have ignored you for a year or six,
maybe. Not touching your feet
or you shoulders to dab them dry.
Not humming in your ear
as I did once. Not holding your head
against my chest in the sad night. I have not
dwelt on other women who speak sweetly
to you, laugh with you, or hold your head
against their chest in the sad night.
I have ignored you for a year or ten,
finally severing the root, purging,
drying out the heart: go.
-from I HAVE EATEN THE RATTLESNAKE: NEW & SELECTED (TCU Texas Poets Laureate Series) selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo
Laurie Ann Guerrero, born and raised in the Southside of San Antonio, is the author of four collections: Babies under the Skin (Panhandler 2008), A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), A Crown for Gumecindo, a collaboration with visual artist, Maceo Montoya (Aztlan Libre Press, 2015), and I Have Eaten the Rattlesnake: New & Selected (TCU Press, 2021).
Poets & Writers Magazine named Guerrero one of 10 top debut poets in 2014. Her work has received various awards including the 2007 Panhandler Chapbook Award, the 2012 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize from the Institute of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the 2016 Helen C. Smith Award for poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters, a 2014 International Latino Book Award, and has been listed as must-read works of Chicano literature. Other honors include grants from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation.
In 2014, Guerrero was appointed by former mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, Poet Laureate of the city of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the nation. In May of 2015, Guerrero was appointed the 2016 Poet Laureate of the State of Texas. Guerrero holds a B.A. in English Language & Literature from Smith College and an MFA in poetry from Drew University. She is an Associate Professor and the Writer-in-Residence at Texas A&M University-San Antonio where she teaches writing and gender studies. She is currently at work on her fifth collection, a mix of traditional and visual poems & essays.