Buen Esqueleto

Life is short & I tell this to mis hijas.

Life is short & I show them how to talk

to police without opening the door, how

to leave the social security number blank

on the exam, I tell this to mis hijas.

This world tells them I hate you every day

& I don't keep this from mis hijas

because of the bus driver who kicks them out

onto the street for fare evasion. Because I love

mis hijas, I keep them from men who'd knock

their heads together just to hear the chime.

Life is short & the world is terrible. I know

no kind strangers in this country who aren't

sisters a desert away & I don't keep this

from mis hijas. It's not my job to sell

them the world, but to keep them safe

in case I get deported. Our first

landlord said with a bucket of bleach

the mold would come right off. He shook

mis hijas, said they had good bones

for hard work. Mi'jas, could we make this place

beautiful? I tried to make this place beautiful.

Dive in
  1. Who is the speaker in this poem? What words or phrases indicate the speaker’s role or identity?
  2. Make a list of the repeated phrases in the poem. How does this repetition affect you?
  3. The poet makes use of the ampersand (&) instead of spelling out the word “and.” Does this affect the way you read the poem, and if so, how?
  4. How would you describe this poem’s tone or mood? What words or phrases suggest the mood to you most powerfully?
  5. In a recitation, how might you convey the different voices in the poem’s last section, where the speaker quotes the landlord and then responds?
  6. Writing Activity: “Beun Esqueleto” has been read as a response to Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.” Read that poem, or re-read it if you already know it. Now, take a poem that troubles you, or a poem you love, and following its structure as closely as you can, enter into a conversation with it. The conversation might be a kind of argument or protest (as with “Buen Esqueleto”) or it might be a kind of echo or amplification of the original poem. Or, taking another approach—keeping the structure, change the focus. For example, if the poet writes about her mother, you might write about your father. What do you gain (or lose) from echoing the other poem’s structure?


Useful Links

A discussion of Lima :: Limón, the book from which “Buen Esqueleto” is taken.


Examples from the poetry postcard project the poet embarked on during 2021.


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Bibliographical info
Natalie Scenters-Zapico, "Lima Limón:: Madurez" from Lima :: Limón. Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Source: Lima :: Limón (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)
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