Sheryl Luna’s poems are brimming with sincerity—and they seem to elucidate the actual while reveling in the cosmic. Her work offers a palpable humanity, stemming in part from her multi-cultural heritage that she simultaneously strives to reconcile and illuminate. Having known Sheryl over the years, I remain impressed by her unwavering self-examination and emotional tenacity.
Widely accomplished as a poet, critic, and teacher, her credentials are also noteworthy: Sheryl Luna won the inaugural Andres Montoya Poetry Prize for emerging Latino/a poets, and her first collection Pity the Drowned Horses was published by University of Notre Dame Press. She has received fellowships at Ragdale, Yaddo and the Anderson Center. She also received the 2008 Alfredo del Moral Foundation award, funded by Sandra Cisneros. Poems have appeared in Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Amherst Review and others. She is also a Canto Mundo fellow. She blogs at Dialectical Migrations and writes a review column for the El Paso Times.
It is certainly a pleasure to have Sheryl’s work here on Numéro Cinq.
By Sheryl Luna
If you try to ruin me,
saddle me with man-made
doubt, I’ll gallop past large pines.
Aspen will bleed fall as I run
forgotten trails, seeking
a sunlit path.
My sway back will sweat slick.
Arctic and blazing,
I’ll grow wild,
rear up and kick.
If you try to break me,
remember, I’m a maverick
on a mad run.
A lasso burns my thick neck.
I thump, trot, and kick.
Use me like property?
Cage me and blame me?
I’m hard-hoofed, snickered trouble.
Just when you think you’ve won,
Cabeza de Vaca’s Horse
I said to Andres, “If we reach Spain I shall petition his majesty to return me to this land with a troop of soldiers. And I shall teach the world how to conquer by gentleness, not by slaughter.” “Why a troop of soldiers?” asked Dorantes, smiling. “Soldiers look for Indian girls and gold.” “Perhaps I could teach them otherwise.” “They will kill you, or tie you to a tree and leave you. What a dunce you are, Alvár Nunez.”
—from a letter to the King of Spain to Alvár Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
The ear a cavern of bats in New Mexico.
My eyes dark matter. I am Pancho Villa’s sombrero,
La Malinche’s fire. White water rapids,
I wind like rivers to the sea. Cabeza de Vaca,
Conquistador with no desire to raze.
Beneath your fallen horse,
your voice whispered borders, tropical need,
rain dance and prayer. You buried your armor
in the heart of Texas. There is a blaze there,
the oldest adobe oven: bread
risen, baked, served.
You shared papaya with natives who used you like a mule.
Your feet shreds and blisters, your body sores.
From captive to survivor to friend, nude
in hunger’s need you learned to speak slavery’s bonds
and thought of a king’s appetite.
Spaniards later took you from Buenos Aires to Spain
in chains and shackles. Explorer, warrior, languages
mixed in your bloody mouth.
And borders speak to you like Rio
and sandstorm. I imagine you in heaven
dressed for summer in cotton and the breeze
a slow undressing. The sky a lewd embrace.
When I open my mouth
bats emerge as the sunset burns
your long silence.
Writing the next Poem
—for Emmy Pérez
The universe waits on nothing,
sheds her nebulous hairdo,
her dandruff stars.
We are glorious fools
after nothing again and again.
I am you, passed
and passing in the empty sky.
Let go nobody said,
and I was gone before I knew it,
and you were lost in the music,
the thin high-altitudes of loss,
the high-altitudes of forgotten hunger.
The homeless congregate in big cities;
I keep my change in my pocket,
while here heavy in the grave. My hand
bone fragments writing
a single poem.
Small Defiant Gods
I weep for none and shed my hair like aspen leaves in fall.
I wander aimlessly alone, come sullen and sacred
at the end of winter. I bow to no one
and send no love. What needs of yours or mine
are known? I whisper no language, require no wit.
If you find me, I will tell you no poem.
I quake not, nor remember. Flirtatious
and haughty, I offer no visions, bother not
with prophecy or prayer. I have no voice, no song.
I come to you no lover, no fool and never reminisce;
my breath is cool then hot. I move darkness,
then light, hold the sun like a toy, the stars like dust.
I know no marriage, no birth or death.
Slow soundlessness follows me and I offer you
no image, no bone or sex. Some call me Dark Mother.
If you find me at the precipice of your cold heart,
I may simply shrug. Some say spirits haunt you
and the un-favored dead hang on, but you really doubt
anything beyond my darkest eye. I smile
for no one; my black skirt trails everything.
Faceless I taunt, you pretend. I move.
Corpses spread over the surface of the earth
like stones. Some say the end of my journey is God,
some say the journey itself is creation, but you know
the hands that hold you are bone and ash, so what moves you
through me like small defiant gods? Your brief living,
breath and word hurl beyond my notice, and I bind you,
in animal hunger, like nomads, hunters or ghosts
that plant and reap. You go on, like blind prophets singing
before I come to reap. My womb is starry, my number is nine.
See also Sheryl Luna’s page on the Poetry Foundation