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By Lorna Dee Cervantes


I find a strange knowledge of wind,

an open door in the mountain

pass where everything intersects.

Believe me. This will not pass.

This is a world where flags

contain themselves, and are still,

marked by their unfurled edges.

Lean stuff sways on the boughs

of pitch pine: silver, almost tinsel,

all light gone blue and sprouting

orange oils in a last bouquet.


These were the nest builders;

I caught one last morning, I sang

so it fell down, stupid,

from the trees. They’re so incorrect

in their dead skin. Witness their twig

feet, the mistake of their hands.

They will follow you. They yearn

pebbles for their gullets to grind

their own seed. They swallow

so selflessly and die

like patriots.


Last Christmas, a family of five

woke from their dreaming and

dreamed themselves over: the baby

in its pink pajamas, the boy

in the red flannel bathrobe

he grabbed from the door,

a mother, a father, and a sister

in curlers; all died.

A wood frame house,

a cannister of oil,

a match—watch

as it unsettles.

They were so cold;



I am away from the knowledge

of animal mystics,

brujas and sorcerers

or the nudging chants

of a Tlingit Kachina.

I am frightened by regions

with wills of their own,

but when my people

die in the snow

I wonder

did the depths billow up

to reach them?

"Four Portraits of Fire" from Emplumada, by Lorna Dee Cervantes, © 1982. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982)

  • Living
  • Nature

Poet Bio

Lorna Dee Cervantes
Lorna Dee Cervantes is a critically acclaimed native California (Chumash-Chicana) poet.  She is the former Director of Creative Writing and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Colorado in Boulder where she has taught for 18 years. Cervantes’s writing evokes and explores cultural difference—between Mexican, Anglo, Native American, and African American lives—as well as the divides of gender and economics. See More By This Poet

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