Poems from the collection Eating Dignity

Written by

Itzel Zagal

Tamal Communion

“Tamal Comunion” by Michelle Lara Zagal

So, they say:

Para todos los males: tamales.

For all sadness: tamales.

Tata fed me

with corn

from the Gods

that declined to die.


callers of rain:

we do not pray

on our knees,

we offer our sweat.

Madre Tonantzin

accept these tamales!

They are the blood and the flesh,

spices braided in the scars

que curan el susto

y levantan de males,

that cure the scare

and rise from ills.

I was born snuggled as tamal

born too brown with corazón de nopal.

Unapologetic tortilla nourished with bugs

chapulines, xocolat, chile, tomato, and squash.

I eat my lineage confidently in their map.

I learned from my mom:

not to get angry

when cooking tamales.

Blessing the pod with mezcal,

to bake distant memories.

I do not give up on your taste.

Tengo hambre de arraigo

de tu cocina medicina,

I am hungry for roots

from your medicine kitchen.

Sing me! The chile verde blues,

 and bless me with tortillas.

Pájaro colibrí en secreto

I invoke you with tamales.

Recibe señor los amores,

of clandestine seeds.

The bearded men

led by their royal sire

to stillborn plantations.

Blind searching self-respect

in food wars of tasteless

monocultural landscapes

of Indigenous exodus.

Regardless of plagues

insistent weeds

weavers of life

malas hierbas

fermenting resurrection.

Our offerings never stopped,

sweat can´t be bought:

sacred knowledge in milpa.

Quelites today,

frijoles tomorrow,

in the end, just

a handful of dust,

tan solo un puño de tierra.

When Tata died,

a circle of women

kneading masa by turns,

dancing and gossiping:

some green, some sweet.

Tamalada es comunidad,

Community is tamalada.

Eating and laughing the weeps,

steaming dignity

with tamales of corn

from the Gods,

that declined to die!


The poem moves between the quotidian and the current political situation of Mexico. Spanish, English, and Nahuatl are coalesced in the poem to evoke a rhythm of tension and harmony.

Let me tell you about Mexico.

“Let me tell you about Mexico” by Michelle Lara Zagal


Mexico tastes of lime and chile piquín

with orange watermelon mango popsicles,

with friends playing in the street.

Tastes of tlacoyos atole cinnamon

chocolate guacamole chapulines nopal

chicharron, tacos al pastor, bursting in flavor.

Mexico smells of good mezcal with worms,

soccer sweat, green and red mole, return from

the countryside smelling like cows, bananas, and corn.

Smells sweet and sour Tenochtitlan

leafy tea, immortal flowers cempasuchil

on the Day of the Dead, incense with copal.

Mexico sounds of kilómetros, kilos, litros,

jarocho dancing tap, old violin blaring,

ayoyotes inviting deer dance for rain.

Sounds of stories from my great aunt:

nahuales, rosary prayers, Netzahualcoyotl

singing to Xochimiquixtli, the flowered death.

Sounds of sixty-eight languages floricanto,

cielito lindo and, ¡sigo siendo el rey!, quinceañeras

with their cumbia, and huehuetl drum.

Mexico hurts, in memory, forty-three students are missing,

women Coyolxauhquis and Coatlicues

resurrecting, infinite voices without disguises.

Mexico is the thousand colors of the huipil,

in the Huichole’s dreams, catrina’s charm,

jungle sea forest south, hummingbird huitzilin.

Mexico is brave, like the Adelitas Zapatistas,

looking forward as migrantes who day by day

dream inside the border-crossings jail.

Mexico is plagued by narco-war theater,

bleeding lands, privatization, embargoes,

worker’s melancholy of the homelands.

Mexico is perpetual as the smoky volcano

Popocatepetl, with its convulsed ashes,

that pollinate and suffocate at once.

Mexico is eternal as its corn race,

of those who were, who are, and who will be:

germinating inside the movement ollin.

Mexico invokes its fears and its visionaries:

Ometeotl, Guadalupe Tonantzin, Tlaloc,

Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca,

and to all the insurgent saints.

Déjame que te cuente de México.

México me sabe a limón y chile piquín

con naranjas sandia mango paletas,

y amigas jugando en el jardín.

Sabe a tlacoyos atole canela,

Chocolate, guacamole, chapulines, nopal

chicharrón, tacos al pastor, el sabor vuela.

México me huele a buen mezcal con gusano,

a sudor de fútbol, mole verde rojo, al regreso

del campo oliendo a vacas maíz y plátano.

Huele agridulce Tenochtitlán,

té de hojitas, flores inmortales cempasúchil,

en Día de Muertos sahumerios con copal.

México me suena a kilómetros kilos litros

a zapateado jarocho, viejo violín chillando,

ayoyotes invitando lluvia danza de venados.

Suena a cuentos de mi abuela tía:

nahuales, rezos novenarios, a Nezahualcóyotl

cantando a Xochimiquixtli la muerte florida.

México me suena a 68 lenguas floricanto,

a cielito lindo y ¡sigo siendo el rey!, a XV años

con sus cumbias, y huehuetl marcapaso.

México me duele en la memoria, faltan 43 estudiantes,

mujeres Coyolxauhquis y Coatlicues

resucitando en infinitas voces sin disfraces.

México te veo en los mil colores del huipil,

en los sueños de huicholes, catrinas con encanto,

selva bosque mar del sur colibrí huitzilin.

México es bravo como las Adelitas Zapatistas,

echándole pa’delante cual migrante, que día a día

sueña en la cárcel de cruces fronterizas.

México está bravo ante teatro narco-guerra,

tierras sangrantes, privatización- embargos,

melancolía del trabajador por su tierra.

México es perpetuo como las fumarolas del volcán

Popocatépetl, que, con sus cenizas convulsas,

al mismo tiempo fecundan y sofocan.

México es perpetuo como su raza de maíz,

de los que fueron, que son y serán:

germinando en movimiento ollin.

México invoca sus miedos y a sus visionarios:

Ometeolt, Guadalupe Tonantzin, Tláloc,

Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, y a todos

los santos insurgentes.

Itzel Zagal


Itzel Zagal has a writing style influenced by her childhood experiences growing up in rural Mexico and later as a human rights activist throughout Mexico and Central America. She writes bilingual poetry and short stories on issues related to immigration, foodways, and indigenous feminism. She has been published in the International Anthology by the International Women Poets Movement, Cirque Literary Journal, Alaska Women Speak, and the Alaska Humanities Forum Magazine, among others. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2019 by Cirque Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies and loves teaching and preserving Aztec dance in Anchorage, Alaska. Most of her poetry and stories are shared directly with the Latinx community through the bilingual community newspaper El Sol de Medianoche, read at community events, and on Out North Radio.