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  Brenda Cárdenas
Brenda Cárdenas
Brenda Cárdenas has authored the poetry collections Boomerang (Bilingual Press, 2009) and From the Tongues of Brick and Stone (Momotombo Press, 2005). She also co-edited Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest (March/Abrazo Press, 2001). Cárdenas' work has appeared or is forthcoming in a range of publications, including Mind the Gap: A Portfolio of Poem-Print Translations, City Creatures: Animal Encounters in Chicago's Urban Wilderness, The Golden Shovel Anthology: Honoring the Continuing Legacy and Influence of Gwendolyn Brooks, The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, U. S. Latino Poetry Today, Perioódico de Poesía (UNAM, Mexico D. F.), Cuadernos de ALDEEU, Pilgrimage, Cream City Review, the 2013 Wisconsin Poets Calendar, Prairie Schooner, RATTLE, and others. An Associate Professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Cárdenas served as the Milwaukee Poet Laureate from 2010-2012.

In Veiled Voices

Brenda Cárdenas
(after Harvey K. Littleton's blown glass, Conical Intersection, 1985)

Topple a mountain's cool crown
cool mount
into the tangerine sunset,
set into

twilight's cobalt claw snagged
snagged light
in its honey slump crawl
awl slump

across dunes. Petrify a gush
gush across
of silt and shale. Fix mud
mud silt

with ash. Magenta mesas stretch
stretch ash
between stars, meet 300-foot
meet between

drops to the canyon floor. Cliff-
floor drops
dwellers, a red clay bowl nestles
clay dwellers

in the belly of its own ghost. Come,
Come in
the blistering stones speak.
speak the

Time to grind the yellow corn,
yellow time
prepare this tilted table, push
push tilted

our elliptical breath
breath our
through amber spheres of light.
light through


(after Ana Mendieta's Silueta series, earth-body works, 1973-80)

This body always compost—
hair a plot of thin green stems
snowing a shroud of petals,
skin mud-sucked to bark,
trunk only timber isthmusing
river banks, each finger
a dirty uprooting.

How many stones did I have
to swallow before my legs
believed their own weight?
Dropped into silhouette
of thigh and hip, a ridge
of ossicles crushed to fine
white whispers. Offering Cuilapán

their orphaned pleas, one
twin lingers outside the nave, one
cloistered in a vaulted niche,
its ledge of red roses edging
her blood-soaked robes.
Meat, bone—a deer's skitter
and bolt from the arrow,
an iguana's severed tail, spiny tracks.

They say we dig our own graves.
I have laid me down
in a Yagul tomb, outlined
my island arms with twig, rock,
blossom, mud. Our pulse with fire,
glass and blood. I've raised
myself in the earth's beds, left
this map, this exiled breath.

An earlier version of this poem was published in Cuadernos de ALDEEU, Fall, 2013 and as part of Mind the Gap, a portfolio of poem-print translations, Eds. Tim Abel and Sara Parr, 2013

Chiral Formation

(after Roy Staab's July 2012 installation on Little Lake, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee, WI)

Buckthorn saplings curve
into hoops, linking boughs.
Ring around the rosy.

Four staked crowns etch
surface. Barbed shiver.
Pockets full of hands.

What do you net
in the intersect
when you walk on water?

A forest, my haunted face
crowing, cumulous algae?
Our ashes, child slim as a reed?

Where does a lemniscate drift,
chiral twin wander
when the sun falls down?


Down falls sun
wander inchiral
drift scatewhere

haunt myforest.

Walk you
Do what?



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