SWWIM publishes, celebrates, & promotes women, women-identifying & Femme-presenting writers through a Miami-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

Cannibal Woman by 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.


Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Her fifth book, The Carrying, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in August 2018. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tin House, and American Poetry Review.

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