#TBT: Some of the Most Beautiful Poems Written by Latinas

Every week, in a segment we call #TBT, we take a look at the people, places, and things in Latino history that helped shape the culture

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ksm36

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ksm36

Every week, in a segment we call #TBT, we take a look at the people, places, and things in Latino history that helped shape the culture. This week, the focus is on some of the women writers who wrote beautiful, moving prose about the world around them.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

1651-1695, Mexicana

“Hombres Necios (“Foolish Men”)”

Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you’re alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman’s mind.

After you’ve won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave–
you, that coaxed her into shame.

You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you’re the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

Presumptuous beyond belief,
you’d have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you’re courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it’s not clear?

Whether you’re favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you’re turned away,
you sneer if you’ve been gratified.

With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she’s bound to lose;
spurning you, she’s ungrateful–
succumbing, you call her lewd.

Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

Still, whether it’s torment or anger–
and both ways you’ve yourselves to blame–
God bless the woman who won’t have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

It’s your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

Or which is more to be blamed–
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you’re all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you’ve made them
or make of them what you can like.

If you’d give up pursuing them,
you’d discover, without a doubt,
you’ve a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!


Adela Zamudio

1854-1928, Boliviana

“Nacer Hombre (“To Be Born A Man”)”

How much work she spends
To correct the awkwardness
Of her husband, and in the house,
(Allow me to be surprised).
As inept as fatuous,
He continues being the head,
Because it's man!

If some verses write,
Of some those verses are,
That she only subscribes to them.
(Allow me to be surprised).
If that one is not a poet,
Why such an assumption
Because it's man!

A superior woman
In elections do not vote,
And vote the wicked worse.
(Allow me to be surprised).
As long as you learn to sign
You can vote an idiot,
Because it's man!

He goes down and drinks or plays.
In a reverse of luck:
She suffers, struggles and prays.
(Allow me to be surprised).
Let her be called the "weak being"
And he is called the "strong being."
Because it's man!

She must forgive
Being her unfaithful husband;
But he can avenge himself.
(Allow me to be surprised).
In a similar case
He can even kill him,
Because it's man!

Oh, privileged mortal,
What perfect and complete
You enjoy sure popularity!
In any case, for this,
It has sufficed you
Being born man.


Delmira Agustini

1886-1914, Uruguaya

“Mi Musa Triste (“My Sad Muse”)”

Murmuring preludes. On this resplendent night
Her pearled voice quiets a fountain.
The breezes hang their celestial fifes
In the foliage. The gray heads
Of the owls keep watch.
Flowers open themselves, as if surprised.
Ivory swans extend their necks
In the pallid lakes.
Selene watches from the blue. Fronds
Tremble…and everything! Even the silence, quiets.

She wanders with her sad mouth
And the grand mystery of amber eyes,
Across the night, toward forgetfulness
Like a star, fugitive and white.
Like a dethroned exotic queen
With comely gestures and rare utterings.

Her undereyes are violated horizons
And her irises–two stars of amber–
Open wet and weary and sad
Like ulcers of light that weep.

She is a grief which thrives and does not hope,
She is a gray aurora rising
From the shadowy bed of night,
Exhausted, without splendor, without anxiousness.
And her songs are like dolorous fairies
Jeweled in teardrops…

The strings of lyres
Are the souls’ fibers.–

The blood of bitter vineyards, noble vineyards,
In goblets of regal beauty, rises
To her marble hands, to lips carved
Like the blazon of a great lineage.

Strange Princes of Fantasy! They
Have seen her languid head, once erect,
And heard her laugh, for her eyes
Tremble with the flower of aristocracies!

And her soul clean as fire, like a star,
Burns in those pupils of amber.
But with a mere glance, scarcely an intimacy,
Perhaps the echo of a profane voice,
This white and pristine soul shrinks
Like a luminous flower, folding herself up!


Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga (Gabriela Mistral)

1889-1957, Chilena

“La Alondra (“The Lark”)”

You said that you loved the lark more than any other bird because of its straight flight toward the sun. That is how I wanted our flight to be.
Albatrosses fly over the sea, intoxicated by salt and iodine. They are like unfettered waves playing in the air, but they do not lose touch with the other waves.
Storks make long journeys; they cast shadows over the Earth’s face. But like albatrosses, they fly horizontally, resting in the hills.
Only the lark leaps out of ruts like a live dart, and rises, swallowed by the heavens. Then the sky feels as though the Earth itself has risen. Heavy jungles below do not answer the lark. Mountains crucified over the flatlands do not answer.
But a winged arrow quickly shoots ahead, and it sings between the sun and the Earth. One does not know if the bird has come down from the sun or risen from the Earth. It exists between the two, like a flame. When it has serenaded the skies with its abundance, the exhausted lark lands in the wheatfield.
You, Francis, wanted us to achieve that vertical flight, without a zigzag, in order to arrive at that haven where we could rest in the light.
You wanted the morning air filled with arrows, with a multitude of carefree larks. Francis, with each morning song, you imagined that a net of golden larks floated between the Earth and the sky.
We are burdened, Francis. We cherish our lukewarm rut: our habits. We exalt ourselves in glory just as the towering grass aspires. The loftiest blade does not reach beyond the high pines.
Only when we die do we achieve that vertical flight! Never again, held back by earthly ruts, will our bodies inhibit our souls.


Excilia Saldaña

1946-1999, Cubana

“Papalote (“Kite”)”

There will never be time

to entangle love in the veins

there will never be time

to lie down to warm the joy like a broody hen

nevertheless the thing would be very easy

if you militate under my eyelids

if you would compromise to mourn my sadness

and you will raise it to the wind

like a kite on the roofs of the city.


Sandra Cisneros

1954- , Chicana

“You Bring Out the Mexican in Me”

You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all
through next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I’d let go the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
Maybe. Maybe.

For you.

You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona in me.
The Pandora’s curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City ’85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccíhuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustín Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.

Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,
like it or not, honey.

You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in you light. Oh,

I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The lust goddess without guilt.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
the primordial exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.

Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Piñón. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible,
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,
I invoke you.

Quiero ser tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Aarte. Amarrarte.
Love the way a Mexican woman loves. Let
me show you. Love the only way I know how.


Olga Eljach (Meira Delmar)

1922-2009, Colombiana

“Acuarela (“Watercolor”)”

It is the first hour.

From the orient
comes the sun.

The moon,
despoiled of the gold
of night,
goes down slowly towards the west
that waits for it under the line
of the horizon.

On the basso continuo
of the shore
the waves unravel,
one by one,
the music they bring
from as far
as time,
and it’s a tune, and another tune
and a thousand more tunes,
rhythmic, repeated,
spilled on the sand.

The seabirds
their flights,
some swiftly, others
they fall on the water, well-aimed,
they rise up, they fly away
until at last the sun´s glare
stumps them

Little by little you hear
voices, echoes, a song.

The breeze, gardener,
sprinkles orange blossoms
on the bright blue of the sea.

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