Poetry by Serena Zets
An Ode to Ollanta
Ollanta, I have found a bed in your foothills.
Salinas de maras, I have found a livelihood
in scouring salt from your mountains of mines.
My hands streaked with limestone,
your salt stings my raw skin.
My hair is matted with the fur of alpacas
The tug of fingers running through my mane
is not enough to rid me of its tangles.
A girl in the market says I have hair
the color of granos de cocao,
growing freely in the jungle,
ripe for the picking.
Each morning, I shop for fresh papaya,
its pulp as bright as my suntanned cheeks.
Vendedores in the market call out to me,
bonita, bonita, bonita!
They mistake my olive skin for their own.
One compañero says I have skin the color of potatoes,
my faces reddens. In Ollanta, there is no higher praise.
My teeth stained with the acid yellow
of Inca Cola and my lips painted
with the maroon juices of chicha morada,
an Andean syrup made of purple corn.
I wear such shades with pride. I lick my lips
as I rest under the light of your stars.
Your beams are so much brighter up here
in the mountains, where they are untainted.
Soaring sea levels and smudges of smog
have not touched you yet, you are pure,
you have been blessed by Apu,
protector of the Sacred Valley.
I lie under your stars until the advent of sunrise
jolts me back into existence. Your lax concept
of time is foreign in my homeland
where we never stop to smell
the canary petals of your holy maravilla.
Here, there is nothing more to make of the day,
we rest in our makeshift home in the grasses
of an abandoned soccer field,
goals made of sticks bursting
through the soft fertile ground.
Piece by piece, row by row, we make gardens
out of the moon’s reflection and coca leaves.
In my homeland, coca has been banned
but here, in Ollanta, it grows as wild as honeysuckle.
Its leaves may taste bitter, but its greenery holds sweet memories.
For the Love of God
God did not listen to me/God is not a good listener.
-“I’m not a religious person but” by Chen Chen
I want to ask God if she’s my mother.
In my time on Earth, I have learned God is not a good listener.
We have been playing an endless game of phone tag.
She has sent my prayers to voicemail
and the dial tone of heaven rings in my ears like hymns.
I purse my lips against the phone’s plastic body
as though I’m taking communion,
my own personal sacrament. Alas, I’m still waiting for Her
to call me back. I don’t even want an answer, I only want
to hear her breathe on the other end of the receiver.
I imagine that her breath sounds like church bells
humming in the distance.
I constantly wonder if I am God’s daughter.
When I look in the mirror, I see a refraction of God.
I notice how similar my lips look to those depicted in holy texts.
My lips flow of sugar, of milk and honey.
They spin water into wine when they speak.
Their syllables are coated in holy water, my words are baptismal.
I wonder if I am the fruits of God’s labor,
if I am an immaculate conception.
I want us to be reunited as flashing fluorescent lights form halos
around our crowns. A biblical episode of Maury where I will say
I’m not a religious person but,
God, you are my mother.
Serena Zets is an activist, writer, and freelance journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Angsty Women of Color Magazine, Sonic Blume Zine, and WESA-an NPR affiliate. Serena utilizes her writing to explore her experience as a queer woman of color and address societal injustices. When she’s not writing, she can be found creating visual art or binge-watching Gilmore Girls.
Photo by Amelia Anthony