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Poems from “Santa Tarantula,” by Jordan Pérez

Jordan Pérez explores the tension between fear and reprieve, between hopelessness and light, in her debut collection, Santa Tarantula, the tenth winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Pérez lends voices to the forgotten: to the political dissidents, gay men, and religious minorities imprisoned in the forced-labor camps of 1960s Cuba; to biblical women who were deemed unworthy to name; to survivors of sexual violence who grapple with paralyzing fear and isolation.

Your Father Knew Many Women

And they flourished,
his apricot grove.
Glowing after dark, they webbed
together in soft gossips.
They were themselves
hungry. You’ll call them lonely, or sad,
but you can’t say which you hoped to be
true. The summer you turned 12,
you thought of little else, but how he was
an excellent farmer. Apricots will take
whatever they can get if they are truly
hungry enough.
You said you understood the situation.
There is nothing like a man
with slender hands.
You visited them to ask
what he was like, to check
them for scrapes from the large borer
bug. You carried a salve at all times.

On the bus, an old woman cradles
something in a brown paper bag.
You wait for the briny scream of fish
or the glow of an egg tart,
but all she is holding is her own hand.

Letter to My Grandfather in April

I have you to thank
for these inheritances:

a chopped plum
still bleeding;

dark pipe tobacco
leaking from its box,

strung cowrie shells
glistening like virgins.

Papa, your hands are now
my father’s hands,

your bruisebelt is his own.
We are running through the wheat

off 78, two generations
of quiet

sucking each other’s pain
as you might a snakebite.

My father has thrown his funeral
jacket over the car antenna

and it waits there like an accident.
We pretend to miss its darkness.

We tear apart the wheat,
cry like new mothers.

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