(in memory of José Antonio Burciaga, 1947-1996)                          

                     We are chameleons. We become chameleon.

                             —José Antonio Burciaga

We are space between—

the black-orange blur

of a million Monarchs

on their two-generation migration

south to fir-crowned Michoacán

where tree trunks will sprout feathers,

a forest of paper-thin wings.


Our Mexica cocooned

in the membranes de la Madre Tierra

say we are reborn zacuanpapalotls,

mariposas negras y anaranjadas

in whose sweep the dead whisper.


We are between—

the flicker of a chameleon’s tail

that turns his desert-blue backbone

to jade or pink sand,

the snake-skinned fraternal twins

of solstice and equinox.


The ashen dawn, silvering dusk,

la oración as it leaves the lips,

the tug from sleep,

the glide into dreams

that husk out mestizo memory.


We are—

one life passing through the prism

of all others, gathering color and song,

cempazuchil and drum

to leave a rhythm scattered on the wind,

dust tinting the tips of fingers

as we slip into our new light.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Brenda Cardenas, “Zacuanpapalotls” from Boomerang. Copyright © 2009 by Brenda Cardenas. Reprinted by permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe .

  • Source: Boomerang (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2009)

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"I learned that I had the ability to capture the attention of an audience and evoke emotion from them. When I recited my first poem in 9th grade for a mock POL class competition, I was incredibly shy and barely audible. But eventually I grew to love sharing the emotions poems gave me."
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2016 NY POL Champion