Wendy Silva



Wendy L. Silva is a Queer Chicana poet from California who did her undergraduate work at UC Riverside and her MFA in poetry at the University of Idaho. In 2010, she won the Judy Kronenfeld Award in poetry, and in 2013, she received the Academy of American Poet’s Prize. Her most recent work can be found in the American Poetry Review, Solo Novo: Art and Revolution, Velvettail, and The Packinghouse Review. She loves teaching, writing, camping, and reading graphic novels/memoirs.

La Frontera

After Gloria Anzaldúa


The border is a skin-stretched belly

and the rivers (the roads) mark times of expansion (compression)

over the true ribs of Santa Anna down

to the floating Tenochtitlán or the sweated forest of Quintana Roo—

but my mother shoved me in a Spanish class and said speak… no

mention of north or south or how nutrients used to flow

to my belly button from two sides: ours

and ours. They called our language chuntis,

pedacitos de English and Spanish como un pinche

braid con cabellos? pelos? bellos? sticking

out like loose nerves ends,

expanding (compressing). Look at a map,

pendejo. The swollen Texcoco of our mother

has dried. Do you know what that means?




Why do Mexican grandmothers put alcohol

in Windex bottles or their 367 rosarios on the backs

of doors like wreaths, jewelry you could wear on a night

out, until you notice the bloody Jesus

dangling from the tip and realize

this is not the message you want

to send to the cute girl from class? But you

can’t tell your Catholic abuela,

not because of her shame or disappointment,

but because she is dead and already putting in paperwork

to get you crucified. That is her language of sacrifice:

one I will never know, not even after four years of Spanish

and reading Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a woman who knew

more about this cuerpo than I ever will.




The beautiful place: la barranca (don’t ask me which one).

Thousands of stone steps descending

into a jungle of rain and crabs scuttling

around the trunks of pear trees

to pray. No dangling Jesus in the sweet air. I don’t know where

in the body I was, then, though I knew near the heart.

I could hear it pulsing: no carreteras, no compresión.

Do you know the balance of borders? There is none.

Tenochtitlán era araña once, its legs reaching out

to land, its belly resting in cool water,

collecting drops like beads around its neck.

What my mother said

on my first day of school was not speak

but escucha.


Mother of La Dama

Puliendo el paso, por toda la calle real -Riddle on “La Dama” Lotería Card


My therapist said he didn’t know what chola

meant. As if he’d never seen lips like leeches in black 

outline, glued to the face. I came home 

once, found a pile of eyebrow hair and lashes  

on the dog-haired dresser, my daughter holding a ruler  

and pencil to her forehead. I flipped and smacked her  


with the iron cord as my mother had done to me, her

face red-streaked as my arms—chola

wounds I’d tell my friends, mimicking the lashes

I’d soon be the one to give. The rules

were simple: stay in line. I remember black

mornings at the remate, churros at dawn, home


before noon. Boy, my girl knew how to haggle, home-

grown Mexicana: made one man sell her

a purse $10 less than what he asked, gave them vendors lashes

with her switch tongue. My Wall Street chola,

now walking beside men suited black…

(My therapist reminds me of his rules:


just keep talking, say how I feel, become the ruler

of my past). I thought of home

and the 500 year old fig tree split black

by lightning, fire in its limbs, her

hollowing roots. I took my cholita

to see its branches become dark lashes


against dusk skies. But she lashed

out when I worried about the new rules

she’d set for herself and in two days, mija, the chola,

was gone. Called three weeks later, said she found a home

in New York, bought herself a suit and proved me wrong. Her

success, I tell my therapist, leaves a black


sore inside. I want him to think its just jealousy, black

and white. Give him something to analyze, blink his lashes

at, as if I didn’t see his eyes on my tits. I keep my pride for her

gloved and pressed, in case these rules

ever change and she rides the bus home

in her Caribbean-blue suit, the rewritten history of chola


strapped to her legs like tights. The ink, black.

I want to put that ruler back in her hand, say chola,

aguántate mija, those lashes don’t mean anything but home.


On The Death of Octavio Hernández, 1938, Acatic, Jalisco


I. Mama Lupe, widow


Once my daughter left, too young

to hold the whispers at bay, I began

selling cigars. I’d cut rectangles


from corn husks, grind tobacco leaves

to dust and line the husks with powder. Men paid

a lot for cigars, though Octavio never liked me


making them, said they attracted the wrong

crowd. But he was gone by then.

Sometimes, I’d make cigars thin as infant


fingers for the kids to suck—they needed

to learn to breathe bitter, like their sister,

shadow spun smoke.


II. Juez Torres, town judge


In this town we don’t forgive

the beautiful. Those blue eyes

tying men to their fates—


it’s a shame her father had to see

a whore in his last breath.

The paperwork: victim


was a mule salesman and in a rage

he attacked the boy and out of fear

the boy shot his attacker. It was neither


men’s fault, both doing

what any honorable man would

do in that dark.


III. Bianca, daughter


When my prima asked me

to give her lover a letter dusted

in ground lavender I said yes.


His shadow moving beyond the barn

like a coyote waiting for the moon

to call his name. When I stepped out,


hair already braided, my father emerged

from the outhouse. Three bullets

to the chest I thought was mine


at first—my hands white

against earth. They said he was my

lover. If only I’d been


a respectable girl my father would still be

alive. Truth was a face

my prima didn’t want to recognize.


IV. Mariana, prima


I always admired my tío’s

mustache—when I was young

he told me it was made of goat hair


slicked with milk. He’d let me touch

the ends, sharp as artichoke tops.

But in his coffin he was thin-lipped


and bare: they shaved him, left cuts

by his lips. Maggots, they said, like secrets,

make homes in the hair of the dead.


V. Don Juan Garcia, store owner


Like three knocks on the door

of the sky—from across the street I saw smoke

unthreading and two bodies


fall to the ground. I saw the cabrón

run towards the barn, drop

his hat and keep running. No sheriff then,


only people. Me, rifle in hand

and a pile of my wife’s dresses

to soak the blood. The girl was more dead


than her father to tell you

the truth, and her gown was decorated

with what I thought, at first, were flowers.


VI. Bianca, daughter         


I used to dream of sweeping

the blood from the dirt in one motion

then I’d look up and see the stains


cratered on the moon. Too high for me

to reach. I left my home to work

for my grandmother who’d yell


when the sun’s lip would begin to suckle

on the hills if I hadn’t ground

the corn yet, the way mother


taught me. When my older brother came

to visit he slid his tongue

against mine and said if I’d liked it before,


with a killer, I’d like it better with him.

Blood on my forehead, my father stood

over us— hairless and moon-smoked.



© The Acentos Review 2016