Sunday, August 29, 2010
it's a common trick:
a brilliant string
tied to your wrist,
Mrs. Chase the librarian
taught you to do,
only that was your finger,
and to remind you
to return your borrowed book.
is this young man who
somehow has your hand in his
within seconds of greeting you.
he has convinced you
with his yarn,
to share with him the following intimacies:
something you wish to do for the Earth;
a fantansy that you have;
something you desire to do for yourself.
(“we will skip dreams, travels and studies,” he says
“because it seems that you need not be
reminded of these.”)
“A little knot
on a string cannot
remind you of your dreams
That is silly”
he assured .
“But this string can line your pockets, no?”
And gave him mil pesos
For reminding me.
In the summer of 1993, on Saturday nights I swam naked in the Trout River. With a belly full of beer and bonfire smoke in my hair, I mounted the pedestrian bridge below the interstate for an exhibitionist dismount. The rumble of the semis above shook the bridge as I shivered on the rail for fear that any second a police beam would shoot behind me. Both of these, the rumble and the fear, propelled me forward to the current, which always delivered me to the safety of my friends waiting on the motorboat.
The danger, not the safety, was why I chose to swim there.
In summer of 1993, my friend Santiago swam in an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Medellin. Among the sounds of splashing Colombian beauties whose breasts were-scarcely formed beneath their purple bikini tops, you couldn’t even hear the squeak in his voice, which his mother said sounded like the conversations between the mice living between the walls in their country house. He and Juan and Andres would meet there summer afternoons with two purposes; watching the tiny purple breasts, and to find safety from the things their parents always talked about in their presence. Puberty and politics.
That summer when Santiago thirteen, he drank Postobon soda at the poolside. I drank Pabst Blue Ribbon on a broken down peer over the river. We discovered this parallel between my American adolescence and his Colombian one over shots in a Bogota bar as adults, when we were both living far from our parents and our homes.
When Santiago talked about the Olympic-sized swimming pool in Medellin, he buddies perked up. “Do you remember that day?” Santiago asked his two musketeers, as he knew I certainly would not.
“Andres was on the diving board, clutching his nuts and shivering like a little girl. Same as now,” Juan said winking at Andres. Andres punched him and took a shot.
“He was trying to impress that little mamacita, Maria, and her friends. Remember.” With each detail, the salsa music, the heat of December, the green hills that were the backdrop for the pool deck-- I felt myself disappearing from the scene.
"When Andres jumped, we heard the shots.”
“For a split second we thought that little gordito broke the diving board!” Juan chuckled. I did not. “But then the people near the radio started cheering. The salsa stopped and someone started yelling. 'They shot Pablo Escobar!' "
The boys had cheered with the rest of them, or so they told me between casual puffs on their cigarettes. When they talked about it, it was as though puberty and politics were tainted by the same nostalgia.
After Escobar was shot, they walked home, for once without looking over their shoulders. Santiago's parents were in the kitchen, still cheering, while the rice for lunch burned on the stove.
“For once we felt like you gringos. Safe for a whole day!” All of them laughed at me for this. I was still caught in the feeling on the pool deck. I could only imagine their relief, and thought it must have been similar to the realization that the police beam never hit me on the bridge over the river.
They bought another round of shots, and the party continued as usual.
“Bogota, t embodies all the cities you’d ever want to see, and I suppose, many that you would not.” (paraphrase from an Airplane magazine.)
[It is dangerous there.]
[Don’t go alone.]
[Best not to walk at night.]
[ Carry your cash up your sleeve.]
Discover if they are right
By moving, in your way,
Around that forbidden city.
Move with reckless abandon
Like the costeno ice cream seller
who I saw hurdle the Carribean surf
with his impermeable
cart full of firecrackers,
bombpops, and other dangerously
When he surprised
the Santa Marta swimmers
he exposed a hidden desire:
A craving for the sweet countered by salt,
A guava popsicle on sea-kissed lips.
Move with awareness of your desire
For the beautiful and the terrible
A decadent dessert
at the restaurant that reminds you Europe
can be yours too: Crepes and Waffles.
Indulge in your crepe, chocolat, crème fraiche
From your seat near the glass
Where you can smell espresso
And at once
bazuco and sniffers glue,
the odor of garbage sacks
your leftovers being exploited by men
on the other side of the glass.
Move up mountainsides
For a panoramic view from Monserrate
verdant and sublime
shared over a bottle of wine
and on your way home,
a view of twelve year olds
exposed in red-lit doorways.
Moving in Bogota is
street mangoes doused in salt.
And continue searching.
As though you were the Guajira woman’s hands,
through crowds of suit coats
citizens dressed for the cool
or evading it
beneath door frames and newsprint.
Behind a plaid-skirted girl
as she hopscotches an improvised court
skipping over holes,
alternating her beat,
narrow sidewalk to narrow street.
That the walkways are not
minefields of shit
and electrical pits
and grime ground
The streets can be a tap dancer’s stage.
Hear the clicks on pavement
slick from all-day mist.
With eyes skyward,
remaking the faces
of buildings old as Bolivar,
day by day,
ochre, salmon, celeste.
Like the obrero
whose charcoal eyes
are as singed as the door
he torches and scrapes
until he reveals
the color of his wife’s skin.
Your own admiration
as he who pauses
to marvel at the wood,
imagining his senora
and lunchtime in her steaming kitchen
You will understand:
Bogota is a beauty
coated in soot.