They say what you feed returns.
Jennifer Givhan’s “La Llorona Comes Over For Dinner” reminds me that all cultures weave bright, baleful myths of women-archetypes, ones we wield to scare children into submission. Wikipedia will tell you La Llorona “is a ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near, or who hear her.” But to know her, you’d be better off asking Jenn Givhan.
The poem’s speaker is a mother opening her hearth and kitchen to La Llorona for dinner, despite the uneasy averted glances of that mama’s children. Givhan writes the kind of poem I best like to consume: a wilderness that twists and troubles your understanding of what wild means, how it startles, spreading its wings. Of course a mama seeking redemption is a wild one. Of course you find feral and faith-knotted admixtures in a blend of origin telling and simmering chicken broth. You can smell the bubbling pot these two women prepare together. You can see how one woman shows the other, here, this is what Google says you are, feel them shouldering the burden of whether or not they believe it.
We come to the table expecting to be fed, hoping that when we leave, what we’ve filled our bellies with will carry us through leaner times. Food isn’t all we consume when we need deeper feeding. La Llorona and our speaker salt and sugar each other with the stories of their lives: “she tells me how she visits the Midwest now myth has scattered her / like crushed chipotle / like dried thyme & stone-grey ash / she tells me how a twister picks up the smell of everything it snatches”. This is nurture, too. This sharing is saying grace.
This is the eleventh installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.