selected for publication by Chet’la Sebree

Servants of God

after La Última Cena, Marcos Zapata, c. 1753

In the Last Supper painting that hangs at Cusco Cathedral

eleven apostles and Christ flank the centerpiece  a roasted guinea pig

A bath of light overflows behind Christ’s head In-between

two candelabra a window encases the first-quarter moon amongst

star stampede Cusco is the city closest to heaven desire and fear

meet at its peaks   I compared salvation to satiating hunger

by consuming crispened flesh  My mother’s aunt roasted me a guinea pig

before I migrated Para ti sobrino she said  The most Peruvian parting gift

a last supper Whereas my final dinner before travel was with my father’s face

covered by a newspaper

My first thought within the Cathedral as I paced before the painting

Zapata stroked a fable filled with Peruvian offerings papas lucuma y

choclo require limited use of blues and greens  A challenge to himself

is the red foundation on the canvas the blood of Christ soon be spilled

On the table  Inca gold transmuted to eucharist chalice and various cups

Some apostles chew coca leaf to remind you of height

At the forefront  cloudy fermented corn chicha stands tall in two jugs

I have never been served chicha as the blood of Christ

To evangelize the Escuela Cusqueña painted Peruvian effects

onto iconic biblical moments that traveled far to all corners of South America

To captivate the viewer the table slants upward uplifted to god

as the lace tablecloths’ rough folds ripple aligned to the scaffold’s floorboards

To cause discomfort  a painting within the painting depicts the crucifixion

Jesus and eleven of his apostles are brushed with pearl white skin in sets of two

I became fixated on the apostle brushed in ochre tan and brown

The historical Spanish obsession with purity of blood is captured within the masterpiece

Judas glares at the viewer his eyes defiantly shout it was me

his dark skin past mestizo is meant to be a lesser measure of the man who sold Christ

As if la casta limits pureness of heart Judas holds the bag of coins tight

in a hand as dark as mine Earth tone sinner miles above the clouds

How easily humans meld into monolith & the past renders us canvassed caged stags

its ruins reassembled every time my father instructed my brother & I

the worth of our flesh Hatred timeless every time he pronounced

Nosotros somos más We are better than them

A phrase he repeated when speaking of the people I love more than him

Alonso Llerena is a Peruvian writer, translator, and educator. He has earned an MFA from Bard: Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts. His current work explores the interconnection between the poetics of exile and the poetics of the remains. His work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Offing, FENCE, Cream City Review, and elsewhere.  His manuscript in progress, La Casa Roja was a finalist for The National Poetry Series 2023, 2022 and 2021, The Omnidawn 2023 1st/2nd book prize, the Prairie Schooner Raz-Shumaker Prize for poetry, the YesYes Books open reading series, and a semi-finalist for the Felix Pollack Prizes and the 2023 Noemi Press Poetry contest.

Guest Judge: Chet’la Sebree is an Assistant Professor of English at George Washington University. She is the author of Field Study (FSG Originals, June 2021), winner of the  James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American, and Mistress, selected by Cathy Park Hong as the winner of the 2018 New Issues Poetry Prize and nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry (2020).