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Donkey Poem

Gentle beast, you carry Jesus
to Jerusalem.

And Jesus looks at the city

                                   and weeps for it.

           Equus asinus:

spine sucker
                               thistle eater.

You lay unburied
under the Sierra Madre sun

                                    patas p’arriba
                           the vultures
already gorging
                                    on your stringy haunches.

                       burro humilde, burro sufrido

                       bestia de la melancolía

On a frozen mountainside,

                       a peasant will dismount you and weep

 as he tears into your vermillion


                       Am not I thine ass,
                       upon which thou has ridden
                                                         ever since I was thine
                       unto this day?

Erotic toiler.
Stubborn ungulate.

O, the ass
of every punchline.

                       Every firstborn of a donkey
                       you shall redeem

                       with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it,
                       you shall
                                              break its neck.

5,000 years you plough
                                    the cracked earth

and arrive with your crumbling

            —A room full of howling

                                            men whose eyes brim

with thirst and fever.

                                    Burro humilde, burro sufrido

a dark and trembling woman

                                    and kneels before you.


On the Eve of the Tepehuan Revolt
                        November 15, 1616

            They are so wretched–    these sons of dogs

                                    have nothing
                                    with which to pay tribute.

            Tepehuan, Acaxee, Xixime
                                                         A naked man under a cypress
                                                                                 skins a coyote.
            O, Father, forgive us
            our daily terrors–                    
                                                            What creatures are we

                                    thanking and thanking
                                    the gobs of darkness?

Rabid with cocolitzli–            
                                                I ask pardon
                                                for those who do not adore thee.

                        Even those who suckled
                                                                        upon your language

                        still howl to stars
                        when they shake with pestilence.                  

Every night I dream of scissors–
                                                            cria cuervos y te sacarán los ojos

            On this feast of the Blessed Virgin,

                                                I watch a band of gaunt horses

                        gather in a hushed circle–       silence

                                       so tentacled, so deep
                                                            it grows its own silence.

                                    Guerra a fuego y sangre:        when the bones clatter
                        from the sapodilla trees,         
                                                                        when the rope-suckers pray

                                    beneath the angry light
                                                                        of morning

                        my love comes slithering–
                                                                        What is life but a cross
                                                    over rotten water?  


Erika L. Sánchez is a Fulbright Scholar, CantoMundo Fellow, and winner of the “Discovery”/Boston Review Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, Boston Review, “Latino USA” on NPR, and is forthcoming in Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation (Penguin 2015). Her nonfiction has been published in The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Rolling Stone, Salon, NBC News, Cosmopolitan, and many others. You can find her at erikalsanchez.com.