she broods in her pen:
by Alexandra Lytton Regalado
October cuts furrows of cloud in the Salvadoran sky as papier mache skeletons dance on our mantle, mariachi band of the dead in a glittering box, and a votive of la Virgen de Guadalupe draped in her green cloak next to the American pumpkin we’ve yet to carve. On this Day of the Dead, my children return from a piñata with two baby chicks dyed lime green and tangerine—a strange fad in party favors in El Salvador. The children squeal, watching the chicks rush about, like wind-up toys their beaks open and shut on crumbs of bread, gullets twitch as they swallow water, and tuck their heads into a wing—a bare bulb for mother’s warmth. The next day, we return from ballet class to find one pitched across the newsprint with legs rigid as a cartoon’s. And when the kids ask for a burial ceremony, already the other chick is staggering, asleep at the wheel and suddenly peeping. My daughter strokes the chick’s walnut head and says, Ok, Mami, I’ll go play while you wait for it to die. So I sit at the kitchen table, the limp bird hammocked in my hand—and with each breath I think—this is it, this is the last, and no, another breath—just as the children at bedtime lean into me with plumes of sweet breath, their limbs jerk as they approach the edge—as I hope this is—that they will abandon themselves to sleep, but again they turn and grip me tighter. Outside these four walls is my hot bath, the soup in the pot, a chapter, my other life. So I wish for the bird’s last breath—how like matchsticks are his bones. Now there is no return to the dancing skeletons in their glittering box—this is where I am supposed to dim the lights, and yet I have to describe how my daughter broke a branch of purple bougainvillea, point out that my son scooped up the dead bird and pitched him into the hole in the earth as one would toss a paper cup into a wastebasket, that it was 8pm on a school night and they stood like statues as they clutched my hands and whimpered Angel de la Guardia, the only prayer they know by heart. It ends like this: my children came alive again when it was time to pat down the shoveled dirt—but the next day they did not paint the stones to mark the graves as they had promised.
Co-founder of Kalina press, Alexandra Lytton Regalado is the author, editor, or translator of ten Central American-themed
books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in cream city review, Gulf Coast, Narrative, NANO Fiction, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. Her full-length collection of poems, Matria, (Black Lawrence Press) is forthcoming in 2017. She is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Prize, the Coniston Poetry Prize, and her work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She has a black belt in Kenpo Karate and lives in El Salvador with her husband and three children. "La Gallina" was first published in Radar Poetry.