Borrowed Tongue

Queen Isabel, like me

devotee to both savior and sword,

keeps vigil

while in the background of the barrio

I hear slurred words

in my borrowed tongue—

“look at the redhead, peloroja

puta norteamericana—

“¿Isabella, qué crees del amor?”

the married señor asks me

over vino tinto and tentacled pulpo a la plancha;

his octopus hands

grope at my San Silos cross,

“see my friend here. She’s my paramour—”

the blush of his cheeks and my sangria

stain the enamel of my teeth.

The old cura, petrified priest

refuses me

Christ’s body in my hand,

“Take it,” he says, pointing to my tongue

—I can’t open my mouth.

Originally published in North American Review, vol. 297, no. 1 (Winter 2012)