First Camping Trip
Mescalero, New Mexico
Overhead: the night sky like a dark hand reaching
towards me. Around me, all I see
are pine trees, our campfire’s light gone.
I try to turn around, to go back before my mother
realizes I didn’t listen, didn’t stay close,
but my uncle grips my hand tighter until
what little strength I have is lost
in the rough terrain of his. Keep walking
he says, I want to show you something.
We make our way deeper into the trees,
deeper into darkness. Then, our destination:
a small fire. A group of men standing around it.
A beat up Windstar van. Inside, children,
their small, star-like palms pressed
up against the tinted windows. I ask him
why they are in there and if I
have to go in there too. He doesn’t answer.
Instead, we keep walking, into the trees,
further from our campsite, too far
beyond where my memory can follow right now.
Afterward, everything, for a moment,
was still, everything except for my hands,
which flickered, slightly, like a candle’s flame,
they even blurred a little before my eyes.
A light breeze blew across my cheek and I
realized then, there, in the darkness, waist
deep in the murky waters of the rio,
what I had done. They lay floating beside me,
one on each side, face down. Frantic, I pulled each one
of their faces—first the oldest, then the youngest—
to mine, tried to breathe life back into them,
but it was too late, so
I let the rio carry them away.
The last thing I remember is the moon,
full, and bright against the blue-black sky,
glaring down on me like the eye of God.
I awoke alone in the desert—again,
in darkness. I called out
for my children, knowing they would
not answer my calls. It’s his fault,
my husband. His betrayal, sharp—
and deadly like a knife—pierced
pierced through me, unleashing a great fury.
His betrayal murdered them, not me,
not me. Now, I walk the desert, alone,
the pain of their absence growing inside
of me as they once did. I keep looking
for other children to give to the rio,
to take their place, so she will give my
babies back to me. I give and give.
All she says is No, they’re mine,
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