Michelle Moncayo

Michelle Moncayo


Michelle Moncayo is a first-generation immigrant & tree enthusiast. Her roots rise from the volcanoes of Ecuador, dance to the Dominican Republic, and curl up in New Jersey. She attended Douglass College at Rutgers University, where she studied English Literature and Education. Her undergraduate thesis, Un Día Fuiste, Un Día Seras, Este Día Eres, explored how migration affects oral histories and storytelling, particularly in first-generation Latinx. Michelle is a 2015 Voices of Our Nation (VONA) fellow in poetry. Her work has been featured in Winter Tangerine ReviewKweli Literary JournalBest Indie Lit New England: Volume II, and Maps for Teeth

the man, the stones, and the river


he was a stone collector.                         

(they say that the wrinkles in his hands were made
from holding so many stone faces for so long.
the skin split wide open, rising into canyons.
if he holds his hands close, you can sometimes hear their voices.)

he carries a white pañuelo in his left pocket
caressing each stone as if
they were his sons’ faces,
the ones who stayed behind;
five shines to the left, five shines to the right,
curls his hands around them,
brings them close to his face,
then places them
in his pocket.

(his voice waxes with each gleam and you can almost hear
“que alto que has crecido mi hijo. que sonrisa cristalina fabián. como brillan mis hijitos.
espérenme allí”.)

he goes out on every full moon,
when the snores are float up from opened windows,
wheezing in the night like harmonicas,
his wooden leg galloping on the cobblestone,

                                       (my mother says she once heard him say that this is when
                                        he can hear the shore heaving. “borracha”, he calls her
                                        because she is always lurching forward and back,
                                      never sure of where she wants to go,
                                         or if she wants to stay.)

he walks into the forest, the moonlight on the tulip trees like votives;
the ones who have lost their children crescendo from the darkness,
the foxes and bears flanked alongside them

(tía ramona calls this el bosque de esperando.
                                                      The place where they wait for their hijos to sprout in a tree, in a star, in a stone rolled up by the river.)


tonight, he tells of how he taught his hijitos to stitch
one hand after another, their body becoming needle,
shining sliver of dorsal fin, the roll and yaw of their hand  
in and out of fabric like ocean

(so they would know how to sow with their bodies
until they find home.)

once, on a full buck moon, I ran into him, knocking
a stone and his pañuelo out of his hand. I picked them up
to hand to him; his eyes were a nest empty and waiting
and he said -                                            

(we were all stones once. all heavy and waiting to go home.
how else can you explain the stones that line the river;
the stones the river heaves each night?



you are forgetting what you came here for
so come and lie down.
I will tell you how you used to share
a house with dark hair,                                                            
eyebrows knit in the middle

how she was sage and dirt
with avocado skin elbows 
and hands like the tail of a rattlesnake.

mornings spent harvesting,
eating the crusts of the sun
and threading the dead into the crooks
of her elbows

she listened to the voices blooming from magnolias
looked at the stars to find los ojos de los antepasados
from her ribs their footsteps loosened
her belly lanterned with the light of their songs
her tongue a ribbon unrolling a watch of nightingales 

their absence split her open
howling up at a tangerine desert moon, 
plucking it from the sky and peeling
fingernails of volcanos and acid rain and bone-

you are forgetting what you came here for.

let me draw open the ground of your mouth
gather your snapped ribs of fall spilling
the names of all those who live within you.

you are jaguar and selva, drought and flood
the apagón and the lightning
and you surge like the sea.  

can you remember how to breathe in souls?
do you remember how to eat the dead?


river pasillo

once, in a dream, i saw women undressing at the river.
they slipped off their dresses first, and then their skin
draped over the trees under moonlight.

the forest became a ballroom of dresses and skin
dancing pasillo in the wind.

the month abuelo died i went to the river every night
removed dress first, and then skin,
waded into the water.

espero que me oigas de donde estas.
I’m sorry for the Spanish I cannot speak pero espero que me entiendas.
espero que me oigas de donde estas.

it was almost a new moon.
she was saving a sliver of her light for him.
when she was full he had made it home & I would see him again.

instead, I got hypothermia.
it wasn’t summer here yet
and i should have known better.
the bears were still in hibernation.
the birds had not returned.

when i found my way back to where i hung my skin
it had flown off the trees and away with the wind
my women & i a bevy of doves.

©The Acentos Review 2017