ire’ne lara silva



ire’ne lara silva  lives in Austin, TX .  Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies including CIPACTLI, Kweli Journal, The Worcester Review, Rhapsoidia, Soleado, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Palabra, The Mesquite Review, The Weight of Addition: Texas Poetry Anthology, Turtle Island to Abya Yala:  A Love Anthology of Art and Poetry by Native American and Latina Women, Finding Gloria: Nos/Otras, and the Cantos al Sexto Sol Anthology. She is the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award. Her first collection of poetry, furia, will be published in October 2010 by Mouthfeel Press. She can be reached at: or through


the ocean’s tongue

I crave the taste of salt. The taste of the ocean. Lapping against my hands, my arms, my face, my tongue. Stinging my eyes. Burning in my throat.  I crave it sleeping and waking, crave it speaking and silent.

I can’t have it. They say it will hurt me. Hurt you. But how can it. If you are floating in your own ocean. I only want to bring the ocean outside to you.

Are you really there. What will I do if it’s true. I hurt myself trying to touch the redness that will say you are not real.

I have odd dreams. Dream my teeth falling out of my mouth, bloodlessly, painlessly. I cup my hands over my mouth.  My teeth fall out, my tongue tracing my bare gums in horror. I dream the world wrong. Unnatural colors. Unnatural sky. Unnatural earth. Unnatural faces. I dream black stones tumbling inside me.

I dream of roaring red waves, blood gushing spilling running from between my legs.  A dark stain spreading across my clothing.  Redness spilling into the tangled sheets.  Redness pooling on the floor.  I try to see your tiny wrinkled face, the tenderness your flesh must be inside me, but all I see is a many-limbed darkness, a hungry tentacled thing.  A dark thing waiting, a thing with enormous eyes.

What else can you be, your flesh knitting itself together here. Now. My heart feels the wrongness of my body creating you. Here. Now.  How could you be beautiful when I am screaming inside all the time. Every breath sears my lungs.

So many questions. It’s pointless to ask them when there are no answers. Everything is a question. How do I live this.

I’m so tired. It would be so easy to stop. To let myself fall asleep driving to the doctor’s office in the dark morning, let the car smash into the guardrails on the bridge, flipping over and tumbling down, down into the darkness below.  So easy to let the rage swallow me whole, take my father’s gun with me, drive away, and never come back.


Sometimes I kill my father here. Wait until he’s asleep and tie his wrists together. His ankles. Push his wheelchair even though the wheels stop being able to turn in so much sand. It takes all my strength, my whole body almost stretched horizontally. Push until the ocean begins to take some of his weight. The waves close over his head. I put my feet on the handlebars, but still his stubborn body bobs up to the surface. I always forget the rocks.

Sometimes it’s in the hospital. Wires are coming in and out of his mouth, his nose, his side, his legs, everywhere. Machines with beeping lights are humming and whirring. The hospital room is too warm. He always complains he’s cold. Somehow the warmth makes the scent of disinfectants and chemicals more pungent. Makes his scent, the oil in his hair and the mucus in his eyes and nose more alien. I wonder which lines I should disconnect. There are so many. Which ones will leave him gasping like a fish if I take them away. Which ones will stop his heart from beating, his blood from flowing.  What would happen If I took this line in my hand and bent it shut. 

Sometimes I tell myself it’s what he would want. That it would make of me a dutiful daughter carrying out his wishes. A thousand times he’s said he never wanted to be dependent on machines. Never wanted to go piece by piece like my mother’s mother. A toe. A foot. A limb. Another limb. Though he never said anything about going like this. A heart. A lung. A kidney. His circulation. And would it be easier, if not exactly right, to say his memory, his conscience, his mind. Would death erase his sins, the echoes of his rage, the festering wounds he inflicted. The killers he has harbored, within and without. What he has done with his own hands, and what he taught others to do. All the lies that slipped so easily from him. He tells me truth. He tells me lies.

I’m not debating forgiveness. I keep wishing he had died while I still loved him.  How do I leave his judgment to a god I cannot see, a god I’m not wholly certain exists. Do I judge and judge that no more hurt should come to the world at his hands. If I was brave, I would lift a hammer in his sleep. Let it crush his skull. If I was strong, I would curse him, withdraw my strength, create fractures in the bindings between his soul and his flesh. Let him die and leave his soul unmoored, a vanishing wisp.


Only the sound and the movement of the ocean soothe me. I come here whenever I can. When my youngest brother watches our father. When our father has been bathed and fed, when he is napping or watching tv.

I go without sleep to spend an hour here every few days. I should be sleeping. But every time it’s more painful to be woken. If I ever leave, I think I will sleep for days, night and day until I forget everything.  I should be sleeping, but I crave the heaving ocean.

Are you angry, ocean, are you hurting. Alone and endlessly rocking yourself. Grieving losses without consolation. What is that sound.  The layered echo of the sobs you’ve choked down, hands over your mouth. Do you bite your tongue to keep from howling.

I keep losing the moon. It was just there. Lower crescent illuminated. Its fullness visible but shadowed. Black clouds keep stealing it away. And I keep losing the mountain. There was a black mountain. With a sharp peak. No trees. But then I remind myself there are no mountains here though they call this place a valley.

Sometimes at night I’m blind. Sometimes I see dark things moving across the floor out of the corner of my eye. Faceless things with too many legs. Bodies without bulk. They growl and grind their teeth together.

Hypnotizing ocean. Waves. The crests of foam. It would feel cold to my legs. I would have to push my body against the waves. Keep the ocean from throwing me back to the shore. But then my feet would leave the ground, and the waves would start pulling me to the place where they begin. And after pushing, after kicking my feet and flailing my arms to keep my head above the water, I could just stop. And let myself sink. And I would tell my lungs not to seize, not to fight. The ocean water would burn my lungs, but it wouldn’t last long. They’d find me on the shore, seaweed tangled in my hair. My skin oddly pale, oddly bloated. But it wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t be there. I’d be in the ocean, silent and sleeping. Dreamlessly.

I’ve lost myself. Inside me, there were desert plains and piercing sunlight, geographies of starry nights and snow-lined weeping willows, the sweet scent of tawny grassed plains.  Now there are no roads. No earth.

I am not anything that doesn’t hurt. I haven’t slept in so long. Months now without sleeping. Only an hour here an hour there. Fifteen minute losses of awareness that steal me away without my knowing.  How much more blood, how much more urine, how much more shit, how much more washing and tending and cleaning and speaking. How much more pulling on my heart, one way and then the other. Rage and pity gnawing me between them, the slow corrosion of their testimonies mocking this work, mocking the pouring out of my life. I would have to gouge out my eyes to live with the fictions. This is not living. Sometimes, I tell myself I’m only dreaming.


My day: rise. Pinpricks and machines. A tiny drop of blood. Wash his face. Lift him from the bed. Change the sweat soaked sheets. The urine soaked liner. Change the hospital gown. Find the slippers. Bring water. Juice. Make oatmeal. Stir in milk. Find a straw so he can drink it. Turn on the tv. Make encouraging noises. Listen. Fourteen bottles uncapped. High blood pressure. High cholesterol. Iron deficiency. Pain medication. Diuretic. Blood thinner. Prevacid. Others, many others. Count the pills. Bring water. Nurses visiting. Ready him for his bath. Wash dishes. Wash clothes. Dress him after his bath. Socks. Hospital gown. Liners following him everywhere. Table tray. Lunch.  Wash dishes. Ointments. Call the doctor. Find the walker. Make him walk. Make him try to do for himself. Bring the urinal. Take the urinal. Change the tv. Massage. Ointments. Sweep. Take out the trash. Feed the dog. Put away the laundry. Dinner. Wash dishes. He soiled himself. I take the soft jogging pants outside and rinse them with a hose. Wash them with bleach. Then the long night. I hear my name. Take him water. I hear my name. I take the urinal. I hear my name. I move the pillows and turn him on his side. I hear my name. More water. The urinal. The pillows. Turn him. I hear my name. He can’t sleep. His legs are asleep. He wants a massage. He can’t sleep. He wants to talk. He can’t sleep. He wants the tv. He can’t sleep. He’s sweating and thinks he’s dying. Check his blood sugar. He can’t sleep. I hear my name.

My father is dying.  Perhaps he sees the shadows around his bed. I wade through them. Fur clinging to tiny skeletons. Babies with collapsed skulls. Bloody fingerprints. Serpentine tangles of lies and aborted truths. Perhaps the shadows are what makes him remember. Makes him speak.  Are we all—my brothers and my sisters and my mother’s ghost—his confessors.  My father can’t stop speaking. Can’t stop dying. Death and lies. Death and truth.  I don’t want to hear any more.

I haven’t slept. I haven’t rested. And every day adds itself to the crushing of the day before.  I hear but I don’t listen. I could forget if the words would only stop echoing in my ears. Tearing all of the past apart. Nothing is, nothing was, as I’d told myself. My father is not who I thought he was. He is a monster, I whisper to myself, and then turn to see if anyone has heard me. I whisper to myself and go back to his room, taking lunch, changing the sheets, making encouraging noises, listening.


The sand is cold. It shouldn’t be cold. I should have worn tennis shoes, but it seemed wrong not to be barefoot. Even if it was too cold to swim. The wind has an edge to it. I should have come earlier, but I couldn’t get away. The sun’s setting. Too dark to see anything but shadows of gold and pink submerged beneath the heavy clots of clouds.  I should have brought a sweater. I didn’t pack any because I hadn’t intended to stay this long. What am I without all the things that pin me to my life. My apartment, my car, my job, my friends—all 400 miles away, all as if they’d never been, as if they weren’t still waiting for me.

I am not crazy. I am not crazy. I tell myself over and over again throughout the day. Sometimes I don’t believe myself. Sometimes I wish there was a place to cry. But my mother’s death taught me—there is no space near dying safe for crying.  Those were tears of grief. Once I let myself cry, I couldn’t stop.  I spent days unable to move, unable to speak. These tears would burn my face if I let them loose.

My teeth hurt. My jaws hurt. I touch my face and feel the coldness of an invisible muzzle. I look at myself in the rearview mirror. The days of makeup and brushes are long past. My hair is wild and ragged. My eyes bright and fevered. I am not crazy. Walk, I tell myself. I am not crazy. Push your hair out of your face. I am not crazy. Breathe, I tell myself and watch the waves.

Never changing. Always changing. Grey and white and dark green. Seaweed washing ashore. Tiny ochre corpses with splayed limbs. Fragments of shells that never glint under overcast skies. They hurt my bare feet, but I keep stepping on them. Imagine little flecks of blood in my footprints.

Only salt and ocean and wind. I lay down on the sand. Close enough to the water that my fingers were touched by the fizzling edge of the waves. Then abandoned, then touched. Tiny particles of wet sand so close to my face. Dark and crystalline specks amidst all the tan. I touch it with my tongue. Salt and sweet. But not what I want. I taste the tips of my fingers. Hold them out to the ocean. Taste them again. The inside of my mouth is warm.

Close over me, ocean. The waves will recede, suddenly, alarmingly, and then crash forward in a wall. Crashing over me. My body lost in the shuddering blackness of the ocean at night. 

The clouds are purpling. The lights in the distance are becoming brighter. How long have I been here.  I ignore my own pain, rising, walking back to the car, returning to the house. Returning.



This is where I talk to you, little one. Here at the kitchen window, washing stacks of dirty dishes and utensils and cups and pans. Where no one interrupts me. Where no one calls me. I never knew my feet could hurt like this. I shift my weight from one to another. Wrap us tight in a spiraled shell amidst all the noise. No one will hear me speaking to you.

What do you dream inside me. I wish you had calmness. I wish my heart would beat, steadily, solidly. But I know what it does. Holds itself still too long and then races. Fits and starts and all my red blood whirring and crashing, seizing and gushing. Not enough air. I never feel as if I can take a deep breath. I never rest here and pain lances through me. Am I hurting the delicate chains that will become your nerves. Crushing the scattered tissues reaching for each other.

I wish sometimes I could sing to you. But there is no music here. I’m afraid I would shatter if I tried to sing. How do I let my heart unfurl itself when I’m afraid it will explode, burst in a red fury from my mouth, blacken and peel the skin from my face.

I’m afraid all the time. Fear claws at me, eats the tips of my flesh. Can’t anyone see me bleeding.  My feet are whimpering with every step. My hands haven’t stopped screaming. The pain behind my eyes is so intense I can’t see certain colors anymore. Am I eating enough for you. Can you hear all the noise. All of the shouting. Am I drowning you in the tears I can’t shed.

I haven’t told anyone.  Never the right time.  Never the right people.  None of them can see. Sometimes, even I wonder if you’re really there.  You are my secret. The one I will keep from everyone. My hope.


My mother never cursed me.  Her mother died when my flesh was knitting itself over bones barely beginning to take shape.  Sorrow and grief mingled with amniotic fluid. I knew the taste of tears before I was born.

The craving doesn’t end. I feel hollowed out by it. My mouth wants it. My skin wants it. I don’t know where the story came from. Only that she cautioned me. Pregnant women should not walk within sight of the ocean.

She is a jealous mother gone mad. Childless. Rocking lifeless things in her arms, crooning to them.  Murmuring their names so low it sounds like the ocean’s lapping edge, like the morning wind, like the gulls circling and diving. The ocean, smiling sweetly, holds their imaginary lips to her cold breasts.

I dream him sometimes. The ocean’s child. Eyes like the night sky spilling over with starlight. No whites. A double row of pointed teeth. Silvery skin, arcing with light as she rocks him back and forth.  Long wisping fins and a curved tail like a sea horse. I dream the day she lost him. His immense body beached, his whimpering growing fainter. And she watched, helpless as the moon forced the ocean’s tides to recede further and further.  

She kept screaming for her child. Screamed as he died, screamed as the vultures started to tear his flesh away in strips, screamed as his bones bleached in the sun, screamed as his memory began to fade in her mind, screamed until the Sun and the Earth held her down.  She heaved against them until they took hold of her lower jaw and ripped it away, wrenching out her tongue and severing her vocal chords.  The ocean bled green and the ocean wept blue and darkness fell. Silence fell.  Only the echoes of her screams remain. 

Blood and ocean in my mouth.


My youngest brother has been here all this time.  Cooking meals and reviving my mother’s garden. Helping me to move our father, helping me with all of those things that I shy away from—helping him to the bathroom, cleaning him afterwards, bathing him, changing the gauze and ointment on his bedsores, inserting suppositories, injecting insulin morning noon and night.  My brother does all these things with a gentleness and precision that surprises me.   I remember my father hitting him, cursing him, threatening to kill him.  He cast out my brother when my mother was dying.  When he was a child, my father molested him.

My brother sleeps in a room down the hall. That at least, I can give him. A space where he can be alone.  A space where he can sleep. But night after night, he has nightmares. Wakes cold and shivering. Wakes with eyes that grow darker and darker by the day.  He tells me the things he can’t bear. How our father reacts to his touch. I hear the tears in his voice.

As much as he can, he works on the garden, planting trees and roses and vines—wild olive trees, Carolina Jessamine, marigolds, lantanas, hibiscus, anacua, esperanza, bouganvillas.  The earth darkens and sings and blossoms. He says he feels our mother’s presence.

He has not forgiven him. 

The rage inside him is festering. Is making him sick. Burning black tar on him, in him, searing his lungs.  Our father is poison.  Festering black rot.  Corruption and filth.  My brother rages and screams but stays as long as he can endure it.  Until the day he leaves.  Limping. Contaminated. Singed. 


Little one, are you still there. Are you still listening.  I loved you before I even knew you were there.  I’ve always wanted to be a mother.  My arms have always wanted to hold you. 

Your father doesn’t know you exist. Tiny and golden and spinning inside me.  Laughing like your father.  He was a laughing boy, little one, and I loved him for it.  He’d never known grief or loss, had no comprehension of pain. He hasn’t ever really loved, didn’t know it would cause me hurt when he left. That is what you are made of, laughter and freedom.

Will you survive here, in this place, inside me.  My womb is grief and weeping and anger.  Will you let me be your mother.

It was a mistake to come here. A mistake not to let him die.  Every day here is acid in my veins, bathing my eyes, bathing my heart, bathing all the soft organs, bathing you.

I had a dream last night.  A large green frog the size of a newborn baby with long, long limbs in my father’s bedroom.  He caught it in both arms as it jumped past him. With one sweep of the knife, he cut off both its limbs.  The frog did not die.  It kept whimpering.  I tried to ignore it.  It screamed like a baby in pain until I couldn’t listen to it. I picked it up, wrapped it in a small blanket, and put it in the freezer.  Every time I went past it, I could still hear it whimpering.

I try to see you within me, little one, but all I see are shadows.


I said I would take care of him. That I would stay as long as I was needed. As long as I could. For the second time, I left my own life behind for a parent. Thought that I knew the cost of it. But my mother loved me. And I loved her. And I would have done anything to comfort her. Anything to heal her. I saw the fire within her growing, ravaging her skin, swallowing her eyes, her voice, the touch of her hands. I counted her breaths as she died. I took her body to its resting place and waited until they were done piling the earth. I took her back to lie in the plots my father had bought for the two of them. Because I thought it was right they should lie side by side after death.

I never would have taken her back if I’d known. I would have kept her with me. Would have lived close enough to her tomb to take flowers every week. To say a prayer and make the sign of the holy cross, ending it with a kiss.  Let her lie in peace, alone, in the soft earth.

I didn’t know what he was.

He confessed in parts.  Confessed he’d had a child while my mother was dying.  The pale-skinned, green-eyed child he’d always wanted that my dark-skinned mother could never give him. Confessed he and my mother had been separated the last five years of her life. I’d never understood why he’d let her die far away from him. Had thought it was just that he was incapable of taking care of someone—not that he hadn’t had the inclination. Confessed he had gotten his step-granddaughter drunk and raped her. And what I’d always known: that he had molded my oldest brother—murderer and thief, rapist and child abuser—protected him, knowing him to be his truest son.  There is more.  But my voice falters. Things he told me. Things he told others. Things he would never admit to.  Things that happened before I was born. Terrible things that could have happened, but I only have incomplete stories.  There are others keeping his secrets for him. 


My father’s becoming dust now. His eyes are clouding over. Sometimes he doesn’t recognize me. When I turn him onto his other side, it isn’t my imagination—he is becoming lighter and lighter. He sleeps more than he did before. Sometimes he moans with pain in the middle of the night. Calls out names. The nurse told me I could increase the dosage of his pain pills. I have to crush them because he can hardly swallow now. I still take a soft towel and soak it in warm water to clean his face, clear the corners of his eyes. Still rub his white, white feet until they gain some pink warmth.

There is no time to think now.  No time to feel.  How can this be the father I loved for so long.  The one who would sing when I asked, the one who told me stories when we were on the highway and I named every passing creek and town.  He kept for me the story of the woman he’d loved after my mother died, the one who didn’t love him back. When I was a child, he hit me, yelled at me, belittled me, threatened to burn all my papers and stories, but he saved all the worst in him for others.

No one believes me when I say he is dying. They have never watched him die before. He told them lies. Told them he would never die. Never grow old. Never collapse in on himself.

He told us lies.


Why did I stay.  After the first night, after the first confession, I should have run away screaming.  I should have protected you.  I should have kept my youngest brother away.  I should have pretended to sleep the night my father’s blood sugar plummeted.  I should have taken us away, torn up my name, undone my history.

Why did I stay.  Only my word bound me.  I said I would stay and I did, redeeming my word with both your blood and mine.

I shouldn’t cry.

I knew it wasn’t the right time.  Children aren’t for me. Too fragile.  Fear would constrict my throat. I would wear my knees bloody praying on stone floors. Anguished faith clinging to hope. This is the wrong world for children. No child is safe. No child can be loved back into health, into wholeness.

No child. No baby. Empty womb. I keep running my hands over myself but all I find is the expanse of my own flesh. No heartbeat. No kicking. You’re gone, little one. How can you be gone before I ever saw you. Before I ever held you.

A rush of redness when I was in the shower. An immense cramp that drove me to my knees. I clamped my legs together. Tried to hold you inside with my hands. Tried to catch you before the drain took you away. A red whisper in my hands.

You couldn’t survive this. My lack of sleep. All the venom running through me, my own rage flowing outwards. I kept drumming my fists on the ground, sending black curses in all directions. How could your fragile flesh survive when my bones have been ground down.

Ocean, did you take him. Did I walk too close to your shores. Did my salty tears fall into you, leave swirling prayers you answered. Will you mother him as I could not. Will you hold him close to your breast and sing him wandering gull songs, the songs of undercurrents and the deep darkness.


My father is dead.

I am grateful. How would I have forgiven myself if he had survived, if he had grown stronger, if he’d lived for another year or two.  How would I have lived with the black tar of that sin on me.  My fault if he’d survived to cause harm to others.  That fear would have clawed at my heart.  Hunted me until he was in his grave.


There is no child. My mother is dead. My father is dead. I have no family. None before me. None after me.

I left. Drove north 400 miles. Months have passed. I can sleep now.

When I cry, I taste the ocean on my lips.

August 2010