Brandon Melendez

Etymology of Absence Ending in My Grandmother Singing México en la Piel


It’s true, Spanish is a language of blood,
armada that sacked entire villages
& raised an empire from the husk

of gutted earth. But blood
also translates to family—
by family, I mean México.

By México, I mean a ravine
teeming with my ancestors & the river
wearing all their faces. I mean a lineage

that does not belong to me
& also does. Spanish is the first love song
my grandmother learned & the last

bridge between her voice & the emptying
field of my American accent. It is the timbre
of her laugh as she shouts

¡ay que lindo! & kisses my cheek—hard
like she came a very long way
to give me this desert

wet with promise. O language
of a resilient people, of blood that survived
despite blood. It is the sound of everything

my ancestors gave up to hand me
this new country, this mouth
absent of mariachi. But how can I understand

this sacrifice if I cannot
pronounce it? O grandmother’s voice.
Song of silt rising from the throat.

Each callus & raw gumline, a melody
of la fuerza that has not been gagged
with a new name. It’s true—

I want my tongue to move
like that, to have words roll
out of my mouth,

an avalanche of machete
& molasses. But my grandmother’s tongue
is not a commodity I can barter

for a history that does not end
in borders. Heritage is more than mastering
language, more than pulling out walls

from between my teeth. I know borders
are not just built around countries.
Some borders are built inside

of mouths, across bodies, between home
& land. Heritage is also refusing to finish this
erasure, refusing to bury

my ancestors’ song in an unmarked grave
or dub my grandmother’s love
in English. If nothing else, today I hear her rejoice

into a chorus of ¡Así se siente México
Así se siente México!
& I understand,

when people say the tongue
is the strongest muscle
in the body, they mean

it is strong enough to hold
an entire history on its back
& still sing.


Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of ‘home/land’ (forthcoming with Write Bloody Publishing). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. He was awarded Best Poem and Funniest Poem at collegiate national poetry competitions (CUPSI). His poems are in or forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, decomP, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.