“Secrets of a Wooden Saint in a Church in Jalcomulco,” by Mary Ellen Sanger

The mothers look into the lake and see the whole sky.

They believe I can keep their children safe.

They come, photos snipped to stamp size, and pin their daughters’ faces on my robe.

Carmela, Rosamaria, Inocencia, Flor.

They come with a lock of their sons’ hair, a snip from his work shirt, a prayer.

Roberto, Marco Antonio, Anastasio, Gil.


The mothers come with snot and tears

to beseech me

to caress my feet

to leave me field flowers

to light a votive

to festoon me with the lives of

so many young men and women.

They tack them into the flesh of my arms.

They sneak them into the brocade folds of my vestment.

They fasten them with metal twist-ties to my staff.


Yes, I will send your prayer to the one and only.

Yes, I will align the angels.

Yes, I will call their names in the night when others sleep.


But I cannot make the desert cool,

Or the great river quiet.

I cannot make el coyote less cruel,

Or la migra blind.


The mothers, they look into the lake and see the whole sky.

They look at a wooden saint on a splintered shelf in a church in Jalcomulco

and see a warm bed in Milwaukee , a meal of enchiladas con crema in Atlanta.


And sometimes a mother comes to spit at me,

to take back a lock of cat-brown hair cut from her son while he slept

on the night before he took two pairs of jeans in a backpack to el Norte

saying he’d be back soon, he loved her, he’d call.


Printed with permission by Mary Ellen Sanger, copyrighted by Mary Ellen Sanger @ 2009.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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