From early dawn until noon bright blue,
garbage bags accumulate on the sidewalk.
Sick with the flu and unable to leave my apartment
I watch the embarrassing mass from the fifth floor.
Across the street two indigenous women sit
on the shadow edge of a window sill
surrounded by shopping bags
four white buckets with lids
bundled scarves, shoved behind a lamp post.
One woman wears a tall white Panama hat,
like a floating pie in the sky,
a dark magenta sweater on a red velour skirt,
thick with pleats.
Another dressed in a turquoise sweater,
on a cobalt blue skirt,
carries a dark green bundle
crossed over her back, most likely an infant;
unaware of garbage bags.
Slowly they rise from the window sill
Cross the street with buckets in hand
bend over blue, white and black plastic bags
searching with bare hands
for banana peels, egg shells,
papaya leftovers, fish bones,
wilted vegetables, smashed fruit or coffee grinds.
Sweating in the heat of the day, the women wipe
each scrap deep into the white bucket.
Unknotting and knotting, their skirts scallop
in yellow, green and red embroidery,
with shimmering golden sequins,
best suited for dance.
The infant slides from hips to buttocks
towards hidden treasures,
a subtle rhythm
of harvesting waste
penetrating deep inside pores.
I cannot take my eyes of them,
spellbound by the overflowing garbage,
the women carry full buckets
back to the other side of the street.
On the edge of the window sill they rest;
no words, no gestures, no hurry
they wait for backs to relax muscles tight
from lifting garbage bags, rotting waste
for pigs, perhaps a single cow, and stray chickens.
An old man arms watches from the sill’s edge
as the women tuck vivid skirts under broad hips
to sort their gleanings on the cool pavement.
With my binoculars I make out each item:
a pair of “gold” glasses, a little book, a ceramic picture
a mechanical toy, papers, folders.
Handed from woman to man to woman
glasses are tried, books turned upside down
and separated into shopping bags.
Stepping away from the window I almost did not see
the two small women, infant, and old man,
with buckets and bags tied high on their backs
disappear into the traffic of snarling taxis and cars.
As if by clockwork the garbage truck pulls up,
young men toss recyclables and trash up into the air,
hours of women’s diligence erased in minutes.
Perhaps I will buy a bucket, save my scraps
for the Recicladores of Avenida Molina Mora.