Poem of the Week | May 02, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Pilgrim” by José Antonio Rodríguez.

José Antonio Rodríguez’s latest books include the poetry collection This American Autopsy and the memoir House Built on Ashes, finalist for the PEN America Los Angeles Literary Award and the Lambda Literary Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Latin American Literature Today, among other publications. He teaches at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Learn more at www.jarodriguez.org



To be honest, I don’t know
About plants standing in for our bodies
In poems –
               The shoulders of saguaros
               The legs of the marsh tree
               The fingers of a leaf.
So what if the Virgen of Guadalupe
Loved roses so much
She made them bloom on a rocky plane
Beside which she would later open her cloak?
Yes, she was a deity then,
But she had inhabited a body once.
Anyway, I’ll never be Juan Diego,
Pruning roses for the Spanish missionaries,
Though sometimes I do feel
Like one of those pilgrims aiming for the basilica,
Dragging his knees across concrete
Even while knowing he will never die
The way the green dies in winter
Only to return the following season, reborn.


Author’s Note

The speaker is an outcast from a religion (wedded to colonization) and so without the expectation of a life after death, hence his doubts about nature as a suitable metaphor, though even in its rejection the metaphor seems to insist itself at the end.