Mariposa Song for Assemina

Willy Palomo

The Zebra Swallowtail evolved alongside the Assemina tree and her fruit, filling her low branches with brilliant black-and-white wings for millennia.  

Because she looked like a little papayato the same conquistadores confundidoswho jumbled up las Indias y las Americas,now these new pilgrims pendejos call herpaw paw. Call her hillbilly mango,Hoosier banana, another anchor babyhailing from somewhere deep in jungle heat.Imagine tongues hungry for everythingbut your name. Imagine being herefor millennia only to be called exotic.The first white man to write her namein his journals also hewed her familydown for farmland. He returnedto Europe once he tired of enslavingcentroamericanos with centuriesof indio blood drying on his beard.Peep this: he only came back to our Americasangry not enough white people knewhis name. Don’t bother looking him up.All he wanted was the gold under herskin. For her yellow to yawn wet betweenhis fingers. In the chirping dark of summermoons, before he could draw a single borderon paper, we whispered her thick green namebetween our jaws & from our backs, beheldbold black-&-white wings. We swallowed& her leaves taught us to shimmy north,nestled between low branchesfor protection.We laugh when you call her America’sbest kept secret. Tell me,¿how does it feel to try to fither true name on your tongue?

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Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. His writing is featured in Best New Poets 2018, Latino Rebels, and more. Follow him at 

September 2019

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