Petra Salazar


Petra Salazar is a genderqueer writer from New Mexico. She is the Poetry Editor for Snapdragon Journal and is the founder of TMI Open Mic and Others Ink, a collective that creates space for gender-marginalized writers to develop their craft outside of cis-male opinion and which will soon provide writing and performance opportunities to immigrant communities in the North Carolina Triad area. Instagram: @petrasalazarpoet

Death Doula


I watched my father's siblings

picked off one by one by time.


Elderly tíos, liver spots on leather,

veins slithering like snakes on silk,

overgrown ears and noses,

some with long elegant bones,

some with those big Salazar faces.


Sitting at their deathbed, I heard my calling:

to be a warm body, a hand to hold for the dying.


Tía Ramoncita didn’t speak, eat, or drink,

but when I sang her Amazing Grace,

tears rolled down her cheeks.


Others thought she was already gone,

but there she was, a stillness preparing.


Before this dying, she lost her English

like keys she couldn't find in a house

no longer familiar.

In Spanish she’d ask for the dead,

mostly her sisters and her mother,

while clutching a doll wearing a gold

charm with her initials engraved

around its neck, to remember.


The dying won’t talk to just anybody,

but like ghosts, they do talk to me

in a nod, a smile, a tear, a hand squeeze.


I tell them stories about the mundane,

remind them of their young bold days,

whisper reassurances, “It will be okay,”

“You’re doing great,” “You’re surrounded

by love,” “Everyone left behind is taken care of,”

“Be at peace, you have our blessing to leave.”


I need them to know that their death is meaningful

to somebody and that their tears and fears are sublime.


I stay by their side until it’s time,

long after everyone else in the room

has retreated to dark corners to cry,

the vanity of their grief more important

than the spirit leaving the body.


Like a cottonwood tree pulled from its roots

clinging to water, to life, the breath is heavy.


It must come away in pieces,

a sacred process for the patient,

waiting bedside with Death.


On an altar of ancestors,

I will light candles and whisper

their names like prayers

until I'm too preoccupied

with my own dying

to remember.


I am as good with the dying

as I am with infants, resting their heads

on my still, warm breast. Borrowing courage

from the sound of my heart beating, slowly

they surrender to that drum calling them

into the ether.

The Acentos Review 2019