Girls in white dresses press toward us
wherever we go in this Mayan village,
deep in the steamy jungle of the Yucatan.
The white brightens against their black hair
and almond skin, against orchid petals
emblazoned across neck and hem.
They surround us, waving embroidered handkerchiefs —
a swarm of butterflies that might have drifted
out of the bush and alighted on their fingertips.
Cinco pesos, amiga, they chant, their voices
plaintive, the amiga almost a moan.
Their eyes are lucent as stones under water.
One of them takes my teenage daughter’s hand
and walks with us, as if she had been waiting for us,
as if we had been waiting for her.
She wants us to see the cenote, one of those
limestone seep-holes the Mayans depend on for water
in this place without rivers.
A cenote like the one at Chichen Itza, perhaps,
where sacrifices were made to the gods in times of
drought, where divers have found jade and gold,
even the skeletons of children.
The lime trees are heavy with fruit.
My daughter picks one as we descend the sloping path,
stepping carefully over rock jutting from the dirt and
slick with seepage once we enter the cavern.
In the dim light, the cavern echoes with cries –
boys shouting to each other just before
they jump off the rim.
Rising from the black water, they call out to us,
to my daughter, her blond hair – bleached by the sun –
shining even in the shadows.
She calls back, testing her Spanish, her voice,
the height and depth and antiphonal
echoing of this place,
Ah, she sighs – Mexico! –
and bites into the lime, into its exquisite citrusy tang,
then lifts one of our souvenir handkerchiefs,
embroidered with such care, to her lips.
Susan Heroy, on “Amiga”:
I chose this poem for its connection to the category I was asked to judge – family.
It also gave me a chance to relive that experience in Mexico, and to rediscover the
lovely handiwork we had bought from the girls in the poem.
Susan Heroy, on judging the poems entered in her category:
One of the pleasures, for me, of judging a poetry competition, is discovering voices new to me. This was certainly the case with the many entries in this year’s Loretta Dunn Hall Memorial, based on the theme of family.
The harder part, of course, was determining – among so many compelling entries – which to award the prizes.
After reading each poem often enough to trust I had come to understand and appreciate it, I found myself focusing on those poems that surprised, astonished, and/or moved me in some compelling way.