San Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe – a poem by Lisa Zimmerman

San Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe

The Franciscan priest who baptized Juan Diego
could not pronounce his Nahuatl name
but the peasant didn’t mind.
His wife’s sweet nickname for him
evaporated from his heart the day she died
and many neighbors had already accepted
Spanish names to go with the cupped handful
of holy water ladled on their foreheads.

Think of Juan Diego’s astonishment on his way
to Tenochtitlan that winter morning
hearing his real name Cuauhtlatoatzin!
called into the brittle air—how her radiance
dropped him to his knees in the cold grass,
his eyes briefly blinded by the shimmer
of stars in her long black hair, how
he understood every word she said.

Of course the local bishop didn’t believe
the old man’s testimony until fresh Castilian roses
tumbled from Juan Diego’s open cape and the Virgin’s
beautiful face appeared on the cloth like an admonishment.
Of course the shrine was built and the cape preserved.
Native people walked miles to the sacred spot.
They did not doubt each other or the Virgin
who bore such hope for their lives and told them so
in their own tongue.


Lisa Zimmerman’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Florida Review, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, Trampset, Amethyst Review, SWWIM Every Day and other journals. Her first book won the Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award. Other collections include The Light at the Edge of Everything (Anhinga Press) and The Hours I Keep (Main Street Rag).

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