Jennifer Givhan

Palabras, Mamá e hija-mujer

Sigue Adelante—

Sana sana colita de rana si no sanas hoy sanas mañana:

Come here hija and I will make it better,

            (He has hurt me again)

—I know, mami will make it all better.

            Eat some pan dulce. Ay, watch those crumbs!

Mija, you have to be careful,

Ten cuidado.

Guard your heart better.

You are young. I was once young.

I know love in a tequila bottle.

I know mariachis beating on your breasts.

Sex pissing in your tarro sagrado.

I know three a.m. marijuana fregadas.

I have been in that one-bedroom apartment,

Baby on my hip—and him

Gone: drowned in stale cerveza

Mosca on the windowsill buzzing his

Departure. Abandonada. I too have told the pain

To go away,

Come again another day.


Sí, mañana.



White flies circled the streetlights, and

I felt truth in the heat:

We were kids. We knew of wanting.

Of life outside haystacks and keg parties.

Bonfires in barrels.

Crossing train tracks at curfew.

Sex in your rusted Mustang,

our feet through the hole in the floor.

I helped you write term papers.

You spouted off kingdom phylum . . . genus species

While we held hands in the guest bed at your nana‘s.

Dreaming of out. Out.

And I heard family. If I‘ve lost one baby, I‘ve lost two;

this is the classification of living things.


On the pier at Newport Beach, we waited for dawn.

Your baby, born a month earlier,

may have been crying back home,

but we wouldn‘t have heard.

Old Mexican men with fishing poles

hunched over the rail.

A Chinese man and his son, reeling an eel.

Unlucky fish.

I leaned toward you: tell them they should throw it back.

What can we keep that we cannot sustain?

Night knows to leave as the moon begins to wane.

Mirrors, Wives, and Infants

“Don‘t let her look in the mirror,”

He tells me and really believes it

As she grins open-mouthed at the toothless wild-haired

Baby mimicking her gracious dark-eyed welcome;

“―It will make teething more painful.”

“Where do you get these things?” I ask.

He was raised by an old wife,

His Aunt Lucy, who hitched a westbound bus

From down South to California in the early seventies

With her five small kids and a few black eyes

To live with her preacher daddy.

She swore Father John‘s syrup cured everything,

And I believe it really may have.

Perhaps it was his belief in the thing,

The power of an aunt and her story,

That kept him safe and, mostly, sane.

He escaped the vato loco life behind the bars

Of his oldest brother who everyone said

looked more brown than black

or the high state-hopping, car-stealing police evasions

of his first little sister who they say was lucky ‘cause

she got the long smooth hair of their Chihuahua ancestors

but unlucky ‘cause she ended up just like her mama.

Though sometime between an infant

And a toddler, a “white lady” without a name

Cared for him. We don‘t know if she sang

Or rocked or warmed his milk or what

Her hands looked like. I think of her,

The no name white lady who might have

Given my husband a finger to suck on

When the bottle wouldn‘t suffice,

As I firm our daughter to my swollen breast

And watch her mouth pucker, amalgamation

Of beige skin, trust, and colostrum yellowed milk.

Mary’s Prayer

When I lost you at the market,

I cleared each shelf

for your folded

little boy body.

You always love hide and seek—

The brief escape,

the minutes you don‘t belong to me

when no one can find you,

until laughing, you emerge from your cocoon


I discovered you beside

a muumuu‘d woman in black-bottomed

socks folded around her ankles.

You‘d gifted her your animal crackers

for offering you a prayer.

My son. You perform miracles

every time you wash your feet

or clean your plate of fish sticks.

Each time you bless me

with sticky jelly kisses.

My heart quickens when I find you

weeping for a classmate

or alone in the yard

watching a cloud journey

through the sky.

When I grabbed your little boy body,

hugged you, took in the scent

of sweat and dirt and cookies,

I swore I‘d never lose you


My cheeks still hot against yours,

I wondered if you knew my only prayer,

whispered nightly.

If you ask me to let him go, I’ll say no.

Not for kisses or hunger or crackers or miracles.

Upon Seeing Another Cross on the Highway’s Edge While Driving Up to Santa Fe

You tell me you want to be cremated and scattered into the ocean.

But we live in the desert, I respond, tired of answering that I want

a place to remember you. To honor your body, to know

that it still exists. I'll want to remember

the baked gingerbread of your arms, the color

of our lovemaking on our second honeymoon.

The melon skin of your throat, I‘d remember and would slice

again and again, to taste your cold fruit. I'll need to imagine

that your slanted eyes and mismatched brows are only shut

in the kind of deep sleep you sleep when you‘ve stayed up

night after night, studying for a nursing exam–the kind of open-mouthed,

drool on your pillow, flat-cheek sleep that will leave sheet-marks on your face,

creases on your wide body. To know that I have buried you, honored you,

can scratch back through the earth, its rich, black dirt clinging

to my fingernails, grass stains on my breasts, to get back

to the quiet of your arms. What cross could I carry?

What flowers could I choke? What box could I inhabit morning

and midmorning and afternoon and so on?

But this is the point you‘ve intoned, tirelessly,

every time I‘ve protested. You won‘t draw a will, I know.

You only hope I‘ll stop arguing with you when you‘re dead.

You instruct me to build a small hill of ash near a shrub in the sand

and then let the wind carry you as it will. Eastward, up the Sandia Mountain.

To the West, back toward home. And then, you say, don‘t follow.

Even if I honor your wish, I think but don‘t reply, I‘ll honor you best

in protest. Your body, even in ash, I‘ll swallow.

Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a small, border community in the Southern California desert, and she earned her M.A. in English at Cal State Fullerton. Her poems have appeared in Verdad, Dash, Caesura, Mom Writer's Lit Magazine, Third Wednesday, Cutthroat, Pinyon, Earth's Daughters, Rockhurst Review, Palabra, Prick of the Spindle, Mothering Magazine, Autumn Sky Poetry, Xenith, Write This, The Shine Journal, River Poets Journal, Poetry Quarterly, and are forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review The Southwestern Review, and Blood Lotus Journal. She was the 2010 recipient of the Emerging Voices Fellowship in Poetry through PEN Center USA and the November poet of the month at Moontide Press. Her work focuses on issues of Chicanisma, motherhood, infertility, and adoption, and you can visit her poetry on the web at She now teaches college composition in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she lives with her family.

Five Poems