Letter for Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who after criticism gave away her vast library (1649-95)
When I am dead they’ll say I was a muse
And praise my science and the poems condemned
By fulminating bishops who abuse
Me as a bastard child, mestiza blend
Of Indian criolla. Monks scrub the floor
Two weeks to cleanse the profanation of
The prelate’s house, for I (whether a whore
Or nun), a female, tread his realm of love
For God. The same men beg our bodies, rage
If we refuse, and fume if we give in;
My secret love only in verse is heard.
They flatter me, painting me young, but age
Is not deceived. Shade, dust, cadaver win,
And gone the books, my loves and my stained word.
Willis Barnstone is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Indiana University. He has received many awards, and authored seventy books. Recent volumes are Stickball on 88th Street (Red Hen Press, 2011), Dawn Café in Paris (Sheep Meadow, 2011), The Poems of Jesus Christ (Norton, 2012), ABC of Translation (Black Widow Press, 2013), and Borges at Eighty (New Directions Press, 2013).