Sketches for a Genealogy


To everyone, she was Little
Mother, mother’s younger sister;

sometime shelter, confidant, friend—
The maids in neighbors’ houses, especially,

shyly came to ask for her advice:
deboning fish, preserving fruit,

extracting savor from crushed heads
of shrimp. To all, she gave unstinting

service in her prime: from dawn to dusk,
the only acolyte at kitchen sink and stove;

red-knuckled hand that scrubbed soiled linens,
that cut our morning bread. I never knew

her secrets or her true desires.
Though clearly, having had me young

then given me up years before she had
three others, her heart could not

have been immune. One afternoon, while
in her care after school in kindergarten,

she put away the laundry and took my hand,
saying we would walk to the plaza and have

lunch at a Chinese restaurant. She put
her finger on my lips, and her lips said

Don’t tell. The rest is a blur
of noise and oily smells. And then I was too

involved with strands of slippery
noodles in my bowl to notice anything else

about the man who sat next to her at our table,
only that she could not keep her eyes from his.


In response to Via Negativa: Hermetic.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

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