Instructions to the Poet (or the Cook)

Use what you have
in your refrigerator
Don’t reject wilting vegetables
And fill up the compost bin too fast
You can start by wiping the steel covered island

She is a poet and a cook
but the cook whispers like a fast speed train
Your studio is a mile away, out of sight
When in fact it is merely 35 steps away
Long ones, leaping ones

You know knives need honing
with that sharpening steel tool
it makes you feel good.
And slash, slash, off comes the head
lettuce and her brain melts into butter.

The poet is restless
She looses her shoes and tries on different ones
Not hers, someone else’s, she does not know
Of course it does not work and she hops around
like an invalid, one shoe on, one shoe off.

Enough says the poet.
No more cooking, just go sit in the studio
do nothing
She watches the hectaganol steps meander
Around the tree with thorns

Sometimes getting it wrong
is the best thing
but in the end, she knows she will get it right
having the divine at her muddy feet.

It rained hard in Uzhupud

It rained hard in Uzhupud
a good cotton sheet of rain
the grass, trees, birds, nose, limbs, unwind
a three centimeter orchid out of a blanket of cobwebs.

Before the rain the orchid hid like a delicate insect
in the shade of a bright yellow Fresno tree
but now it imitates a spoiled sister
monkey with candy striped apron wings.

Oxygen squeezes through half open
(continuously half open, oh who knows old age)
esophagus of  the woman’s aging body
and massages her lungs like poetry.

A bit of rough flesh and rippling muscles
reveal stories no one cares about.
What stories are those? Who are they? Watch out,
she may snip tongues in the afternoon wind.

Her memories play with near edges of music
Angelo Romero is singing a bolero
a silhouette of window frames looks for stability
and words turn to every angle of the edge

while she waits for Manuel and his loud bitch
~it could be as persistent as a bark from the distance
to arrive in his mixto white-green-striped taxi high
on the hillside or at the corner of her property.

Once she accused him of a local robbery
and said, my name is Magdalena Johana Maria
he threw up his hands eyed her sideways
reeked and shook hands

Manuel looks after the old woman now
with his sugar moonshine eyes eyeing
the gun toting neighbor Homero up the hill
twice a day, while the bitch barks guilt over fences.

What if it is rainy or foggy and the breeze kicks in?

Then Magdalena sips cedron and mint with honey
and refrains from cutting the bitch’s lungs
with blunt scissors, like a proper gringa
until the late afternoon winds have gone.

 

The Chilean poet Bolaño once said

I watched clouds break, crumble and scatter
like Baudelaire’s clouds would never do.*

Baudelaire said**

~I love the clouds…the passing clouds…up there…up there…the marvelous clouds!

Grey ones afar and white ones near, clouds can rupture
this is how literature is made
any day in Ecuador, or anywhere else.
Poetry is not innocent.

You ‘d better get used to it
Bolaño said
An individual is no match for history

I ask how things were in his Chilean land
but he does not answer.
He died in Barcelona

I try not to digress to homemade Snickers
and gooey caramel sweets in marvelous clouds

You ‘d better get used to it
Bolaño said

When the sounds of black insects and worms
whisper an unfamiliar syllabus to the poet exposed
to bright sunlight at noon
it brings Nothing
Only dry bones in the yard
unattended by the white dog

I can string cloud words
together in slender sadness
in exchange of choked

roots of the willow
Beware, a tree in winter may
Fall

*By Night in Chile
** The Stranger

The Old Man on the Bus (in the Andes)

He was beautiful
I watched him enter the bus,
looking intently at who was sitting in front
He scanned the seats,
perhaps someone would get up
offer him a seat, but everyone pretended not to notice.

He stood close to where I was seated
hung onto the metal sweaty rails, resigned
used ropes looped around his hands
dirty white and blue
wired to catch a horse, a cow, or a calf,
precisely then, an animal unexpectedly caught.

A young woman with tight pants
her black hair pulled back
voluptuous and respectful
like a ripe mango, orange and full
offered him her seat.
The warmth of her buns and crotch held him tight.

This old Latino man sat straight,
his salt and pepper greased hair
chiseled by a small black plastic comb
into a sharp line
reminiscent
of a distant plowed field.

I could not take my eyes OFF of him:
his wool shawl wrapped over his extended
chin, his cream colored sweater brushed,
but his hands, his finger nails, full of dirt
tapped a young woman’s back with child
and offered her his seat. She refused.

He sat down again, chin forward,
a narrow mustache above his lip
a well worn life line.
In the middle of nowhere, in a narrow rocky valley
he got off the bus, a lonely
striking old man. I felt left behind.

Rhythm is Everywhere

Rhythm is not by its own nature
versed in iambic pentameters
to echo perfect pink clouds

Perhaps rhythm is a small triangle
of sea blue sky, at the edge
of a darkened horizon

Or a hiccup probing gently
while I catch my breath
between running rivers

Or rainwater in the stem
of a fragrant red rose
releasing its perfume

But when my heart goes too fast
I forget-shamelessly
the earth does not pause

for my second-hand
for my body to keep time
for my right leg to stop trembling

II

When unbearable hard drums
reverberate daily rhythms
and prayers are without color

When superstitions are chanted and stitched
carelessly on my underpants
with a large safety pin

When inebriations have gone too far
my lips of fear do not sing
my breath tilts backwards

In that moment of muteness
I unwind my helixes one by one
ever so lightly

Its intricate uncurling rests
near my open window
in a wind circle of lilting voices

Just before late afternoon, unwound
and unwrinkled I travel on foot – fearless –
between rhythms everywhere

If the Razor Freezes

She does not care if the razor freezes
in a heart beat and when slowness
of yesterday or the day before
becomes all the same

She does not shudder when hard rain splits
unstable earth and loosens big stones
She forgives herself – for her trespasses
for seeing all the same

Her useless mouth opens, closes,
nothing “but this”,
wherever she goes
beads leave a trail
when she fingers her pearls

A Surreal Bus Ride from Cuenca to Paute

I entered the Rio Paute bus at the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre at 4 o’clock after my women’s group luncheon. To my surprise the bus was full, all seats were taken. Or so it seemed. I was not going to get on, if I had to stand all the way to Paute. But the attendant waved me towards the back and sure enough there were two seats left in the last row next to the bathroom. I took the seat next to the bathroom, but worried how I would ever get to the front when all the other passengers along the way would get on and fill up the center aisle. By the time we took off from the terminal there were only four or five people standing in the aisle, not bad, but I knew that would not last long. A middle aged man squeezed into the seat between me and the young man hooked on to his smart phone. It was hot and things were getting cozy. I took off my jacket and sat back, my elegant lacy white blouse sticking to my body and exposing the skin of my arms. The bus was making good time and did not stop at every stop.

The man next to me started to nod off leaning closer into me. His arm was hot and I could feel his blood mixing with mine through our thin shirts. “Odd”, I thought, and wondered what his blood was telling mine or vice versa. Did his blood know I had had a couple of glasses of red wine with lunch? Did my blood know he had worked hard physically all day and that his blood was more oxygenated than mine? The heat of his arm distracted me from the occasional wafting smells from the bathroom. In a perverse way I was enjoying this communal experience.

Once out of Cuenca and on the Pan America Highway we picked up speed. I allowed the movements of the bus to lull my head back and forth, relaxing my muscles. Hmm, I thought, I could fall asleep wedged between the toilet and the man. Just as I was drifting off, the wind picked up and blasted through the bus, curtains were flapping and the weather changed from hot to cool, sweaters and jackets were going back on. I put on my red jacket and settled back in for another drift of nodding off.

However the sky was getting darker and darker and as we pulled out of the El Descanso canyon and crossed the bridge at the road construction site, it seemed as if we were floating in a grey fog. The hum of the bus was low and all I could see where the indigenous white hats looking outside at the weather change. It felt eery as if we were suspended in mid-air and floating in a parallel universe, waiting for something to happen. The bus slowed down little by little.

Then it stopped and the commotion started. “Policia”! A woman who had been standing made her way rapidly to the rear, desperately looking around. She repeated “Policia, molesta”. OK I got it, the police had stopped the bus, but why was she afraid? I watched as she squeezed between two seats where two indigenous women were seated, neither one of them making a single move. The woman, who looked like a domestic worker on her way home with a bag strapped stuffed with medicines around her shoulder, crouched down on her hunches at the feet of one of the seated women. What had she done, why was she hiding like that? The attendant rushed over and told her she could not be there. “Get up and get a seat” he told her. But there were no seats.

I finally understood what was going on. Everyone needed to be seated for the police.I saw the woman come towards me. Oh no, she is going to hide in the bathroom. If she did that the door would be sitting smack on my nose. I moved closer towards my hot man and he squeezed towards the kid next to him. The kid, still connected to his smartphone, barely moved, but we managed to create some space for the well-put together, sturdy woman to squeeze between me and the toilet. I was now sitting on the two edges of the seats, not very comfortable, but I was game for the moment. The bus slowly took off and in minutes those who were standing before were standing again as if nothing had happened. My woman pulled herself out of our vacuum packed body row and smiled at me, “gracias”. I stupidly said “gracias” too and we all laughed. A minute later the sun came out and we were all normal again, riding the bus to Paute.