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Heredities (1) Etymology

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When she was seven, my grandmother suffered from fever and swollen glands. The doctors believed her tonsils were inflamed, that she needed surgery. Instead, she went to a curandera. The curandera divined that a jealous relative had cast a curse on her and, now, her language of kindness was bound to her throat, the unspoken swelling her glands.

As a child my grandmother spoke to santitos with a voice like a chestnut: ruddy and warm, seeds dropping from her mouth. The santitos would take her words into themselves, her voice growing within them like grapevines.

During the tonsillitis, when the words no longer fell like seeds from her lips, the santito's vineyards of accent and voice grew vapid, dry as a parched mouth. They went to her tongue and asked why silence imprisoned the words of the child, why lumps were present under her chin, why tears drew channels down her cheeks.

I asked my grandmother how her tongue replied. After touching my cheek, she told me she had a dream that night: She was within her lungs and she rose like breath through the moist of her throat. She remembered her tonsils swinging before her like fleshy apples, then a hand taking them into a fist, harvesting their sound. She told me her throat opened in two spots like insect eyes and the names of her children came flying through her wounds like peacocks.

Patting my thigh, she said, "That is why the name of your mother is Maria, because she is a prayer, a song of praise to the Holy Mother." She told me this, then showed me two scars on her throat—tiny scars, like two eyelids stitched closed.

J. Michael Martinez, "Heredities (1) Etymology" from heredities. Copyright © 2010 by J. Michael Martinez.  Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.
Source: heredities (Louisiana State University Press, 2010)
Heredities (1) Etymology

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