Johanna DeMay

What Our Bones Believe

Strangers ask my Asian daughter-in-law, 
my brown skinned son, What are you?

Self appointed census-takers, they require
a label. No one’s immune—as a small child

I asked a playmate, Are you Jewish
or are you Christmas?

Today, if you ask where I was born,
I deflect the question. Like vote-counts 

in gerrymandered districts, some facts 
can be misleading. Ask, instead,

where I feel at home, who I care about,
what makes my hackles rise? 

What life history has made me the person
I’ve become? Not how I’ve made my living,

what my birth certificate says, which box
I ticked on the census form.

My identity’s not tribal—it sings in two languages,
sways to cumbia’s tropical rhythms,

craves totopos con salsa cruda,
ripe mangos speared on a fork

with a tine like a narwhal’s tusk—
juices dripping down knuckles and chin. 

Identity’s rooted in what our bodies
know, what our bones believe.


Ghost Town

Our tour begins in the shade of Pueblo Bonito. The ranger
gestures toward ghost-filled kivas, grief-stricken walls.

.…took four centuries to build Chaco’s Great Houses.
Some stood four stories high. Aligned 

on a North-South axis to track the sun’s passage
—equinox at high noon, full midwinter moon—

towering star charts in stone, to mark the center
of Time. Abandoned after a fifty-year drought.

He leads his gaggle of gray-haired history buffs,
New Age seekers, a tripod-toting photographer,

through sky-drowned rooms, doorways
even I must stoop to pass through.

Today Chaco’s high-rises house lizards, scorpions,
centipedes, mice. Dappled to match shadows and dirt,

a rattlesnake dozes on a roofless kiva’s rim.  
Aloft, hawks and ravens eye them all.

Fluent in the syntax of clay and adobe, my fingertips
read poems in the Braille of broken stones. 

Sleepless at midnight, I’m haunted
by Chaco’s astromoner-builders.

My growth-crazed city spawns new suburbs
along our dying river, drains our dwindling aquifer.

In wind-blown arroyos, pot shards poke
through parched sand. Indoors, electronic devices

stream neon colors, catchy music, gripping dramas
to keep nagging ghosts at bay.


If English Nouns Had Gender

would you pump raw sewage 
into a virgin river? Use a copper-colored
slot canyon as a garbage dump?|

In English, landscape’s just real estate—
an “it” for us to exploit. When we destroy it,
is our language to blame for our indifference?

I’ve always wondered, does language shape
a people’s worldview, or do people shape
language to reflect their view of the world?  

Is grammar the chicken or the egg?  
And which came first? Would our behavior
change if English nouns had gender?

La montaña—feminine. That never stopped 
Spanish-speakers from dynamiting
her flanks, plundering her silver, her gold.

L’arbre—masculine. When Frenchmen need firewood
they don’t ask his permission, beg his forgiveness
—they chop him down, strike the match.

Like most immigrants’ children, I shuttled
back and forth on a bridge of words,
translating for uneasy neighbors.

English: muscular, action-packed, anchored
in the Here & Now—the hard-headed
Master of Practical Things.

Spanish: sings from the heart, rings
like church bells, throbs like flamenco guitars.
Distinguishes between what is and what might be. 

My two languages—different keys
to crack life’s secret code. I need both
—they’ve made me who I am.

© Johanna DeMay

Growing up in Mexico City, Johanna DeMay began writing to bridge the gap between her two languages, two cultures. Retired after a forty-year career as a studio potter, she writes and volunteers with the immigrant community. Many of her poems spring from experiences of dislocation — her own and those of the people she serves. Her poems have appeared in anthologies and journals including The MacGuffin, Constellations, bosque, Passager, I-70 Review, Loch Raven ReviewWaypoints, a full-length collection of her work, was released in 2022 by Finishing Line Press.

Back to Main Loch Raven Review Site