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Collin Kelley

Baptism by Irene Langholm
Baptism by Irene Langholm

Saint Death

Victorious Jesus Christ, who on the cross was defeated,
now defeat my enemy who is vanquished with me, in the
name of our Lord.

                    – A common prayer to Santa Muerte.

My white skin out of place in this place –
okay, call it what it is, this slum.
Tepito, Mexico City, late autumn.
I carry no wallet to be stolen or drugs to sell,
the prostitutes leave me unmolested.

I’ve come to pray at the feet of Santa Muerte,
a scythe-wielding skeleton draped in blood red
robes with a hollow-eyed grin. On her head,
a crown shines like new money. My needs are many.

This saint hears every prayer, accepts alms
in praise of harm, satisfaction guaranteed.
Criminals line up for hours to make her
accomplice, offer candles, flowers and cigars.

Santa Muerte likes her music loud, her dancing
dirty, her liquor straight and her sex rough.
She believes diamonds are a girl’s best friend,
flaunts them on every bony finger.

She says: Fuck that Guadalupe bitch, patron saint
of the blind eye. She takes your money,
offers Hail Mary’s, leaves you with nothing
to show for it. I am the chica assassin, accept
no substitute.

Victoria Gate

Maybe she was crying before she got on the coach at Marble Arch, settled in the seat across from me, but by the time we reach Victoria Gate, tears stream down her face, mouth open to receive her own sacrament.

Indian, ageless in tasteful floral, a blue sweater despite summer heat, an iPod clutched in her hand. Traditional music bleeds from earbuds, then shifts to Bollywood techno beat. And still she cries. Along Bayswater Road, her glassy eyes reverential, meeting her gaze feels like blasphemy. Who is she missing or mourning, or maybe it’s what – her own bed, mother’s cooking, stillness.

London is short on sympathy when it comes to heartbreak and homesickness, not so subtly tells you to walk it off. But sometimes at night when you’re riding past Hyde Park and dusky silhouettes arm-in-arm are framed by bus windows, a familiar song can collapse resolve, make you reach for the red hammer over your seat to crack the escape glass, unbuckle and rise through the treetops until the lamp at Victoria Gate is a pinprick, insignificant, up to the stratosphere where equilibrium inverts and tears become the stars that will guide you home.

On “Saint Death”:
I wrote this poem in 2004 and it sat in my “maybe” folder until this year. I’ve never been to Mexico City, but after going to a Day of the Dead party and reading about Santa Muerte in the LA Times, I was fascinated by the idea of people praying to this saint to bring death and harm to others. I liked the idea of the poem being a sort of conversation between the narrator and Saint Death, so I thought about a couple of old lovers I wanted to pox and this poem is the result.

On “Victoria Gate”:
I wrote out the first lines while this moment was unfolding on the London to Oxford coach in the summer of 2010. It was a beautiful evening in London and the sun was setting over Hyde Park and the woman in the poem was sitting across from me crying. When I got off the coach, I ran back to the cottage where I was staying and completed the first draft. The poem started in stanzas, but I realized it was more of a prose poem because of the narrative quality of the story.