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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, January 9, 2018.
About this Poem 
"'Corpse Flower’ is an elegy steeped in the logic of familial folk magic. I grew up in rooms with altars to the dead and powerfully felt the presence of people estranged by borders and time through ritual practice. As I've matured, however, the altars I've built seem to lack the mysticism and presence of those from my childhood. The poem's speaker narrates this particular feeling of cultural loss and emptiness in the aftermath of having built an altar. As the speaker cleans the dead flowers from the altar, she begins to lay the petals into the shape of a spine, building the form of the longed-for dead in the hope that the offering of each significant object's ‘slow light’ will return the deceased. I tried to write a poem that resisted clinical ideas about grief and loss and embraced what little I have left of the faith of my grandmothers in the hope that the poem will serve as a record that they existed, and mattered to someone.”
—Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Corpse Flower

Yesterday, the final petal curled its soft lure into bone.

The flowerhead shed clean, I gathered up your spine

and built you on a dark day. You are still missing

some parts. Each morning, I curl red psalms into the shells

in your chest. I have buried each slow light: cardinal’s yolk, live seawater,

my trenza, a piece of my son’s umbilical cord, and still you don’t return.

A failure fragrant as magic. Ascend the spirit into the design. 

My particular chiron: the record that your perfect feet ever graced

this earth. Homing signal adrift among stars, our tender impossible longing. 

What have I made of your sacrifice. This bone: it is myself.

Copyright © 2018 by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley borderlands to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. She is the author of the poetry collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, 2017).