Psalm of Fire and Water by Cristina Baptista


“Psalm of Fire and Water” by Cristina Baptista


                “[Christ’s] mother gave birth to him without ever having loved.

                She wasn’t a woman: she was a suitcase.”

                                ~Fernando Pessoa (as Alberto Caeiro), The Keeper of Sheep~


There’s a martyr in my mind.

                She will not rest until the ash is cool, the burning done.

                How we fill our hands means everything:


the same fingers that pull triggers pass

                through rosary beads. Not every gun uses bullets,

                              but the target always traces back 


to what we were even before language put us there.

                The ripeness of things was always my undoing,

                a draped coat without putting my arms


through the sleeves. Papa called me reckless:

                I was just careful not to be caught

                in things unworthy of the time it takes to unravel


and repel. I wanted to be free to touch anything within reach, 

                with every finger, with arms ready, sleeves rolled.

                In Portuguese card games, 


Jacks are worth more than Queens—

                which tells you everything you need to know 

                about what we think of our women.


All women carry light as kindling,

                all daughters of Lucifer,

                if not lucifers themselves—by necessity. 


The Portuguese language comes from “Vulgar Latin.”

                All I wanted was for my father to say “you’re pretty.”

                It made no difference—in his tongue or mine.


The silences are abacus beads, moments tallied

                to give shape and texture.

                Instead, Papa said, “it’s too bad you look like me.”


I want others to mistake me. 

                My eyes can be everywhere: I can be Queen of Spades,

                another brain where feet remain—a ruse—


and I will not stop my digging.

                I want to fill these hands with something.

                Do not be mistaken:


even water, and its perpetual beating,

                can coax a new color out of rock,

                can learn to love this new form, the flame.



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Cristina Baptista Artist Statement:

Cristina J. Baptista is a first-generation Portuguese-American writer and educator whose work
has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Adanna, DASH, The Cortland Review, Structo, Right
Hand Pointing, and elsewhere. Her poetry has appeared in print in the U.S.A., the U.K., and
Australia. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Fordham University and teaches in Connecticut.
She is also a 38th Voyager—one of 85 people in the world selected to travel on the 38th Voyage
of the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 wooden whaleship that is the last remaining one in the
world—as well as a documenter and poet of the Portuguese immigrant experience aboard
whaleships. Her poetry collection The Drowning Book is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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