Susan’s poem “Before Cortéz” was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2010.
Thoughts from the author: “I’m always interested in the plight of women past and present and in women’s potential for power. I have an inordinate admiration for women who find a way to use this power to change their lives. Yes, I admire the women who do not simply Ophelia-like cave in and choose servitude or death.”
Bitch they call me. Whore. Yet in the blink of
a puma, I—Malintzin—was changed from
Aztec princess to Mayan slave. But still beautiful,
I think, as I scrub other women’s linens on
the bank of a slime-green river. Testing, I smile.
My reflection meets my eyes, smiles back.
With a chapped left hand, I rake
through my hair. My double uses her right.
I have no rights any more. Angry, I
spit in the face of the washerwoman who
looks like me. A feral cat, she bares her teeth.
But my lips are still pursed. Puta! she cries,
La Chinganda! Curds of water stir as the circle
of phlegm grows wider, thins and vanishes.
The other Malintzin, wet clothing molding
the arcs of her body, rises from the river,
moves slowly, sinuously. She makes no ripples.
Her dress sheds no water. Eyes dark with
menace, she advances until I see myself
reflected in her pupils. Run if you can, she
whispers hoarsely. But, rooted there, I breathe
out and in. When I exhale again, the other
Malintzin steps up close, grabs hold of me,
presses her mouth firmly against mine. Inhale,
she murmurs, shape-shifting into
a plumed conquistador. As bidden, I breathe in
and so begin to vanish….
Susan Terris’s most recent book is Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press). She is the author of 6 books of poetry, 15 chapbooks, and 3 artist’s books. Journal publications include The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly, The Journal, North American Review, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers from Field appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. Susan’s piece, “Before Cortez,” appears in issue 295.2 of NAR. She’s editor of Spillway Magazine. Her book Memos will be published by Omnidawn in 2015.
Illustration by Justin Perkins. Justin graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for North American Review appeared in issue 298.4, Fall 2013.