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)