We’ve sauntered into a city park.
The torrid night air heaves, and
rises where the musicians gather.
We can’t cool down while the oars
of their hands strike smooth skins.
A woman whirls from the crowd,
claims the circle. Her hips and legs
carry the cumbia beat, courtship dance,
slave dance, in bare feet. One hand
a mast, the other sailing her skirt,
she revels in exotic syncopations
of Caribbean bongos, Cuban claves,
Amerindian guiros, African congas.
The drums narrate stories in air
plotted with escape. Her body,
encompassed by the music’s swell,
undulates in waves a man wades out
to claim. He grabs an arm to land her.
He commands. His slap burns her face.
We gasp. She staggers, unmoors now
from the cumbia, now from the man.
Full skirt tucked at her hip, fevered
skin blue-black and as full of tales
as the night, she rides a swell
of silence, into the uncharted dark.
III. Pasodoble: a Day, a Night in Cartagena
In the afternoon Ray walks us around his barrio, his hood.
Stops at a garage, knocks twice. Inside, eight men share a blunt
thick as a cigar. They joke. Guffaw. The largest has benched
for our Giants. He talks. Smokes till the others call him out.
We chorus a bilingual, “Don’t Bogart That Joint, My Friend….”
El Gigante grins. Passes. Around the circle twice. ¡Bastante!
Enough! Outside, yellow swans rule a green drainage ditch
under a pink sky, the sun now blue as a dowager’s hair rinse.
We drift to Ray’s casita to meet his pretty family—Elena,
slender in a black shirtwaist, and three niños—two shy girls,
a scamp of a boy—in their thin-walled, tin-roofed shack.
Ray invites us to supper. Aggrieved, Elena stands barefoot
at the wood stove and argues the money, where he’s been.
He shrugs, it’s fine, and takes us to market. We buy plátanos,
tomates, cilantro, and arroz she’ll cook in fresh leche de coco.
Waiting for supper, we three fish off a pier with prawns
for bait, but luck runs out with the tide. Sinks like the sun.
With after-supper coffee and Pielrojas cigarettes, Ray
warns that our hotel has a reputation. It isn’t safe for us
nice gringos. He offers their small master bedroom,
the only room with a door that locks. It’s clean.
He closes the deal at less than hotel price, with breakfast.
Respecting the walls, we are fluent but restrained
in our lovemaking, a dialect most practice and receive.
They poured over the riverboat like seeds
spilled from the skull of a red, rotting moon.
Drowned in clouds, the sun’s seized heart
stopped beating against the Magdalena shore.
The crew anchored mid-river. Sweated
as they laughed at the gringos swatting,
swelling with angry tokens in exchange for
blood. We shuddered with the maddening
itch of deposits, withdrawals. Farther south,
black marketeers netted a river of dollars.
We weren’t going there, to Chile, weren’t trading
currency to enable the coup, but we’d paid taxes.
Soon the blood of President Allende, the blood of
free Chile, would be sprayed onto the front steps
of Democracy. General Pinochet ran the Stadium
with the assistance of the CIA. The goons
hacked off Victor Jara’s tongue singing freedom.
Severed hands from his arms playing guitar when
he could no longer sing. Citizens by the thousands
were bulldozed into mass graves outside Santiago,
were dropped into the protesting Pacific. In vain
we shuttered windows. Latched a cracked cabin door.