cannibal woman


Cannibal Woman
Ada Limón
I’m looking for the right words, but all I can think of is:
parachute or ice water.

There’s nothing, but this sailboat inside me, slowly trying to catch
a wind, maybe there’s an old man on it, maybe a small child,

all I know is they’d like to go somewhere. They’d like to see the sail

straighten go tense and take them some place. But instead they wait,
a little tender wave comes and leaves them
right where they were all along.

How did this happen? No wind I can conjure anymore.

My father told me the story of a woman larger than a mountain,
who crushed redwoods with her feet, who could swim a whole lake

in two strokes—she ate human flesh and terrorized the people.

I loved that story. She was bigger than any monster, or Bigfoot,
or Loch Ness creature—

a woman who was like weather, as enormous as a storm.

He’d tell me how she walked through the woods, each tree
coming down, branch to sawdust, leaf to skeleton, each mountain
pulverized to dust.

Then, they set a trap. A hole so deep she could not climb out of it.

(I have known that trap.)

Then, people set her on fire with torches. So she could not eat them
anymore, could not steal their children or ruin their trees.

I liked this part too. The fire. I imagined how it burned her mouth,
her skin, and how she tried to stand but couldn’t, how it almost felt

good to her—as if something was finally meeting her desire with desire.

The part I didn’t like was the end, how each ash that flew up in the night
became a mosquito, how she is still all around us
in the dark, multiplied.

I’ve worried my whole life that my father told me this because
she is my anger: first comes this hunger, then abyss, then fire,

and then a nearly invisible fly made of ash goes on and on eating mouthful

after mouthful of those I love.