La Ciguapa

Elizabeth Acevedo

                              For the Antilles

They say La Ciguapa was born on the peak of El Pico Duarte.
Balled up for centuries beneath the rocks
she sprang out red, covered in boils, dried off black
and the first thing she smelled was her burning hair.

                                        * * *

They say Atabeyra carried La Ciguapa while in frog form—
held her low in the belly until squatting she laid her
into soft dirt: an egg made of ocean. Millenniums later, La Ciguapa
poked through and the blue water burst, grafted onto her skin.

                                        * * *

They say La Ciguapa pried apart her jaw
and spit herself out, soft and malleable
but at the last second her legs scraped against fangs
and inverted her footing.

                                        * * *

Her backwards-facing feet were no mistake, they say,
she was never meant to be found, followed—
an unseeable creature of crane legs, saltwater crocodile scales,
long beak of a parrot no music sings forth from.

                                        * * *

La Ciguapa, they say, was made on one of those ships; stitched
and bewitched from moans and crashing waves. She emerged
entirely formed. Dark and howling, stepped onto the auction
block but none would buy her. They wouldn’t even look her in the eye.

                                        * * *

They say she came beneath the Spanish saddle of the first mare.
Rubbed together from leather and dark mane. Hungry.
That she has a hoof between her thighs and loves men
like the pestle loves the mortar;

                                        she hums them into the cotton thick fog
of the mountains. They follow her none word sing-song
and try to climb her, tall and dark and rough as sugarcane
and don’t know until they’re whittled down how they’ve scraped

themselves dead. They say the men were the first to undo her name;
thinking that burying it would rot her magic, that long cry
they were compelled to answer. They hung all five-toed dogs
because they alone knew her scent—

they say there was a time her silhouette shadowed the full moon.

                                        * * *

They say. They say. They say. Tuh, I’m lying. No one says. Who tells
her story anymore? She has no mother, La Ciguapa, and no children,
certainly not her people’s tongues. We who have forgotten all our sacred monsters.

Dezel Golart / National Endowment for the Arts