Natasha Trethewey

After a Series of casta Paintings By Juan Rodríguez Juárez, C. 1715

1. De Español Y De India Produce Mestiso

The canvas is a leaden sky
       behind them, heavy
with words, gold letters inscribing
       an equation of blood.

this plus this equals this—as if
       a contract with nature, or
a museum label,
       ethnographic, precise. See

how the father’s hand, beneath
       its crown of lace,
curls around his daughter’s head;
       she’s nearly fair

as he is —calidad. See  it
       in the brooch at her collar,
the lace framing her face.
       An infant, she is borne

over the servant’s left shoulder,
       bound to him
by a sling, the plain blue cloth
       knotted at his throat.

If the father, his hand
       on her skull, divines—
as the physiognomist does—
       the mysteries

of her character, discursive,
       legible on her light flesh,
in the soft curl of her hair,
       we cannot know it: so gentle

the eye he turns toward her.
        The mother, glancing
sideways board him—  
       the scarf on her head

white as his face,
       his powdered wig—gestures
with one hand a shape
       like the letter C. See,

she she seems to say,
       what we have made.
The servant, still a child, cranes
       his neck, turns his face

up toward all of them. He is dark
       as history, origin of the word
native: the weight of blood,
       a pale mistress on his back,

heavier every year.