César E. Castro

Manless Villages

The mules feed on corn stalks

        While the women fill the men’s canteens

With red beans and maize stocks,

        The kids play ball with tangerines.

While the women fill the men’s canteens,

        And pack their bags with supplies,

The kids play ball with tangerines;

        Old men say their goodbyes. 

They pack their bags with supplies:

        Dried tortillas and tamarind juice.

The men say their goodbyes

        Before the sun lets the moon loose.

Dried tortillas and tamarind juice,

        That is all they took,

Before the sun let the moon loose;

        So the women sing near the brook.

That is all they took

        On their way up the cactus path;

So the women sing near the brook

        Washing clothes, taking baths.

On their way up the cactus path,

        keep the vultures away;

Washing clothes, taking baths

        The women continue to pray:

Keep the vultures away

        And the coyotes at bay,

So the women continue to pray

        As the men set northward.

Creation of the World 

The spicy, seedless tomato sauce is ready;

Pots boil red, silken beans with earthy odors,

And the comal turns amber at the corners.

Her hands dance towards each other,

Away, molding the wet and white corn flour

Into a moonish orb floating above her oil-stained apron.

Flattening the drying masa, she gingerly makes

Figurines with faces livelier than the creations

Of Quetzalcoatl and his gifted jaguars.

“Pupusas,” she calls them, with a hissing

Sound at their end, as she swirls and spins

The new flat, white earth on her ridged palm.

They look like coconut meat, but feel much

Like fried rice.  Patting in rhythm, her hands

Continue their ritual around her fingers.

She places the cheese onto the smoothed flour

And engulfs the two with her hands into a neat

Ball, like the gods once held the blue-green earth.

Moistening the maize clay with sprinkles of tap

Rain, her hands rejuvenate the steamy air

With the continuing beat of her cumbia-like gestures.

The comal sizzles as the wet, chalky masa touches

The amber flesh, and hardens like the skin

Of a hiding snake. She will continue her magic until rusty sunset

When her boys come home quiet and anxiously sit

At the table dressed by the smells of beans,

Tomatoes, and cooked flour, to adore her kernel-like smile.

César Enrique Castro was born in El Salvador and raised near the textile mills of central North Carolina.  He is a poet, activist currently living and working in the Tar Heel state. He received his BA in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and his MFA in Creative Writing from North Carolina State University.  His poems have also appeared in the Rio Grande Review and the International Poetry Review

Two Poems