Raquel Vasquez Gilliland:
“The Tale of the Earth” and “The Tale of Spice”


The Tale of the Earth

There is an earth inside you
and he howls until his feet
pierce the space
between your hips.

You scream.
It sounds

Three pushes and he’s out,
face-down, slippery
as though covered
in huckleberry jam.

Put him to your breast,
lean back against the tree.
Introduce little Earth
to ancient Earth.

Tell them both how
they have oceans
and moons. Tell them both
how they’re held with stars.


The Tale of Spice

Saffron first came to me
by way of yellow ochre
paint: blended with hooker
green and zinc oxide and crimson
to make the orange olive of my skin.

Later, I encounter the dried stigmas
in college at some market
and the price floored me.

We didn’t dream of soaked saffron
for our arroz. Mami darkened
the grains by toasting them
on the cast iron, by stirring
in salsa de tomates. How
could we imagine things
like the most secret parts
of flowers, plucked by hand?
Even coming from a line of people
who picked apples, avocados,

We ran out of food at the end
of the month, living on bread
flavored with mustard. But in
the beginning, when we were
rich, we called our spice
comino, chile, ajo.

If our father got overtime,
we treated ourselves
to flakes of pink sea salt,
pinched over bowls of fidello
and pollo like jewels.


First published in Luna Luna Magazine. Both poems are from Tales from the House of Vasquez (Rattle Press 2018), winner of the 2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and reprinted here with permission of the author. Tales from the House of Vasquez can be ordered here.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a poet, novelist, and painter inspired by quartz and hyacinth. Her first book of poetry, Dirt and Honey, is the recipient of the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Her chapbook, Tales from the House of Vasquez, is the 2018 winner of the Rattle Chapbook Prize. She holds a BA in cultural anthropology from the University of West Florida and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her poems have appeared in Dark Mountain, Luna Luna, Rattle, Sheila-Na-Gig, and other journals. Vasquez Gilliland lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. Here is her website.


Poet’s Note

Tales from the House of Vasquez focuses on my struggles with my mental health after becoming a mother. Many of the poems came from my family’s history and folk tales like The Tale of Spice. For others I’m not so certain where the words came from. This was the case with The Tale of the Earth. My son’s birth was enormously traumatic, so much so that it took years for me to recover. I think, when I revisited it with poetry, I had to reclaim my and my son’s story mythically. To somehow draw the experience from and back to the earth.

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