Tortilla Smoke: A Genesis

Natalie Diaz

In the beginning, light was shaved from its cob,
white kernels divided from dark ones, put to the pestle
until each sparked like a star. By nightfall, tortillas sprang up
from the dust, billowed like a fleet of prairie schooners
sailing a flat black sky, moons hot white
on the blue-flamed stove of the earth, and they were good.

Some tortillas wandered the dry ground
like bright tribes, others settled through the floury ceiling
el cielo de mis sueños, hovering above our tents,
over our beds—floppy white Frisbees, spinning, whirling
like project merry-go-rounds—they were fruitful and multiplied,
subduing all the beasts, eyeteeth, and bellies of the world.

How we prayed to the tortilla god: to roll us up
like burritos—tight and fat como porros—to hold us
in His lips, to be ignited, lit up luminous with Holy Spirit
dancing on the edge of a table, grooving all up and down
the gold piping of the green robe of San Peregrino—
the saint who keeps the black spots away,

to toke and be token, carried up up
away in tortilla smoke, up to the steeple
where the angels and our grandpas live—
    porque nuestras madres nos dijeron que viven allí—
high to the top that is the bottom, the side, the side,
the space between, back to the end that is the beginning—

a giant ball of masa rolling, rolling, rolling down,
riding hard the arc of earth—gathering rocks, size, lemon
trees, Joshua trees, creosotes, size, spray-painted
blue bicycles rusting in gardens, hunched bow-legged grandpas in white
undershirts that cover cancers whittling their organs like thorns
and thistles, like dark eyes wide open, like sin—leaving behind
bits and pieces of finger-sticky dough grandmas mistake
for Communion y toman la hostia—it clings to their ribs
like gum they swallowed in first grade.

The grandmas return from misa, with full to the brim
estómagos and overflowing souls, to empty homes.
They tie on their aprons. Between their palms they sculpt and caress,
stroke and press, dozens and dozens of tortillas—stack them
from basement to attic, from wall to wall, crowding closets,
jamming drawers, filling cupboards and el vacío.

At night they kiss ceramic statues of Virgin Marys,
roll rosary beads between their index fingers and thumbs,
weep tears prettier than holy water—
    sana sana colita de rana si no sanas ahora sanarás mañana
When they wake they realize frogs haven't had tails in ages,
they hope gravity doesn't last long, and they wait—
y esperan y esperan y esperamos—to be carried up up—anywhere—
on round white magic carpets and tortilla smoke.

Cybele Knowles / University of Arizona