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

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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.

Fish and Song

The end of May
mid morning, air cool, a bit windy
bicyclists ring high pitch bells
to alert pedestrians
for my safety
I twist my neck
in a constant painful knot

I wait to cross the street
on the corner
of the Kloveniersburgwal
of the Nieuwe Markt
to a very narrow fish shop
wedged between two
sixteenth century pack houses
This is where I buy my fish.

I hear his voice loud
I hear the bicycle rattle,
loose bumpers,D-minor,
I make out Eastern European
words and song.

Then I see him
He is tall, late forties, blue eyes
curly salt and pepper hair
He sits on his saddle
as if in a straight-backed chair
high above the handle bar, peddling hard
moving his body strong, right to left
He flies by me, his ballad
bringing up the rear.

What opera is he singing?

I enter the fish shop
only wide enough
for the fish man,
another customer and me.
Cod, sockeye salmon,
octopus, shrimp, langoustines,
crab, oysters, swordfish,
mackerel, sole, sardines,
long-tailed squid, and herring
are piled up high on ice.

I shoulder past the burly fish man
with his bloody rubber apron
red cheeks and a large fish
in his huge hands.
The fish strokes scales
into my hair.
Shocked I ask for fish prices.

Look lady the prices are all there.
In this shop sales are quickly done,
cod packaged, in hand, with a number
to pay the woman cashier.
In and Out.
But I long for more time
to smell and admire the fish
My back to the exit
the woman shoves a small cooked squid
into my mouth, I swallow fleshy
squid sand between my teeth.

The next day I hear
a free lunchtime concert
at the Amsterdam Concert Gebouw.
Hungarian choral music,
gloriously sung
by a hundred men and women,
their songs invite Zoltán Kodály,
Lajos Bárdos, and Béla Bartók
into my belly.

There and then I know
my tall bicyclist is here
singing about night, morning
gypsies eating Cirak cheese
baked ham, beet horseradish
and kabeljauw
their thick tongues,
red from Carpethian wine
purged in the morning
with strong coffee and new appetites.

The bicyclist’s voice brushes over me
tomorrow if I go back
to the narrow fish store
on the Kloveniersburgwal
where I can refresh my memory
of a tall man riding his bike
singing about life
and filleted cod fish.

 

La Tarantula

In my dreams, resistance
breaks up
into miserable robberies
and unforeseen killings,
dead on
I cradle hilarious laughter
in soft flabby arms
like a mother holding her infant.
My life depends on this

When a big black spider
perhaps a tarantula
crawls under my blanket
I slash its hairy legs
with a machete
too many times
until my love pulls me towards him
and quiets my fear.
My life depends on this

The spider never knew resistance
It never knew what bad dreams
can make a woman do.

The next morning
I awaken with a dry poisonous throat
The all-legs-shriveled up spider,
La Tarantula,
lies on my pillow,
like a worn-out mandolin,
a pear shape, with a
severely damaged fretted neck.

La Tarantula had smoothed pine beams
tree sap, tiny amber nuggets
frozen in time.
in search of her mate.
My warm body obliterated her
in the middle of the night.

I rest with La Tarantula
my eyes wide open, vigilant,
her filaments, drying like angel dust,
detach deliberately from my sins
until there is no trace, no shadow
My life depends on this.

Flying Stones

Flying Stones, oil painting

Flying Stones, oil painting

Propelled into sky
tumbling at lightening speed
towards my body
lying in tall green grass
maroon dirt rivulets
my face unrecognizably
fierce, against flying rocks,
stone sculptures
carved of antiquity, undone
I hide in a crevice
of a deep gulley.

For days I lie there
waiting, wanting, wavering
between two worlds
lost and untethered
until I reach out, hands first
then my arms, one by one
the stones fly over me
they never even touch me
they do not break me into pieces
even though they are out of line
and not in their common place
they thunder along without me
I am still here, alone
without brothers, without sisters
no mother, no father
in a foreign land.

2014-08-01 00.46.04

Ayudame, Help Me, Help You

She came down the steep cliff
crumbling dirt and rock steps
from uneven rock to uneven rock
twisted in grey dusty shoes

She was mud brown, thickly creased
A purple skirt, a knitted sweater
And the white, indigenous hat.
Her body bent into her step
retracing, grabbing for grasses.
Her right arm flailed, tottering,
sliding, sitting, missing her feet.

Oh my god, Daniel said
as we waited for the red light to change
Oh my god, I have to help, I said.

We were in the middle of a bad curve.
Our car could be hit
at any moment by an errand truck
barreling fumes and blowing
dust in and out of potholes

I was in the middle of pushing numbers
on the iphone for saldo, for dolares
but dropped it on the car floor
Later we could not remember
what happened to it.

I impulsively ran up the cliff path
and said to her, ayudame, help me
and I knew I said it all wrong
Her eyes nearly stopped me.

Who are you? Una gringa bruja angel?
I reached for her hand, she smelled
strong of old body oils and cheese
strong of old organs knitted in place.

Oh no puedo, no puedo, she said
as she poked her walking stick
in the unyielding ground for life support
No puedo, no puedo.

I gently pulled her down towards me
and wondered how much she weighed
If she fell on me, I am little,
we would both fall
towards the busy road below
where cars and trucks crossed
into our corners of safety.

My hand was wrapped around hers
into an inescapable knot
I considered briefly
I might be bruising her hand.
Perhaps in her mind
I was forcing her down the path

She mumbled, “morir”, and prayers
perhaps Seven Holy Mary’s
but I heard only three
as we worked our way
to the edge of the road
where she disentangled my hand
straightened herself up.

A thank you smile worth
an ocean of rushing words
spilled over me.
Had I helped enough
or too much?

Ayudame, I knew I said it all wrong.

When I left her
she was still poised on the cliff side
close to the road
She probably had done
this a million times.

Ayudame. help me help you.

The Old Woman Who Ran

 

She scared the daylights out of me
we were driving 90 Kilometers
on the autopista from Cuenca to Paute
Her skinny legs spread
her bare uterus forward
shrunken in oldness
into the furthest lane
just like my 95 year old mother-in- law
Patricia
bony, not seeing, blind

I watched the old woman as she leaped
across three lanes
my love and I were a la izguierda
in our red Peugeot 206
close to the metal divider
She never looked up
until the last minute
her and our minute lasted forever
her death timed across the highway
disintegrated into wrinkled lips and eyes

I saw her flying in front of my eyes
red skirt spread apart, skinny legs towards the sky
a puppet, an illusion
Her face in the windshield
was too close.

I screamed NO, NO, NO
just as my love turned the wheel a la derecho
missing her, missing her by a heart beat
a split second in two
My love would have been a murderer
in jail, so close
but he saved her, me and himself
avoiding his mother, all mothers

The woman who ran
was blessed by Jesus El Poder
the One who roams Ecuadorian roads,
protects giant trucks, local blue buses
daily life in every Andes village
and Us.