We drive through this valley
called Death, through a landscape
blacker than a bottomless sleep
unpierced by dreams.
Stars are intermittent
glimmers sprinkled across
the pre-electric night. I am
not afraid. The silhouettes
of trees are nonexistent. Nothing
wings toward us
or away. Sand dunes meld
into the ridged backs of monstrous
creatures sprawled in our path.
I will not be afraid.
The crystalline curve
of Comet Hale-Bopp,
frozen in time,
fragmenting in space,
we cling to the disappearing road,
to our bodies.
On the Road From Quito to the Coast
our rental car succumbs near Jipi Japa.
The only mechanic in town says
one week, maybe two.
The former mayor of Jipi Japa owns the biggest house,
the air-conditioned touring car, the one hotel.
Our room has the only A/C. His son agrees to drive us
to the local indigenous dig, guides us across
muddy rivers, along a maze of humid trails,
to nonexistent ruins. He brings us to a beach unknown
to other turistas. He encourages our abandon.
He is our driver, our guide.
We are stranded. We love him.
It's true—roosters crow at first light,
in this case around 4:30
in the morning of the second day—
or is this the third—of our unexpected stay,
as on the first and all the mornings before
we landed, and for all the mornings
after we depart… if we do.
It is 4:32 a.m. The rooster reports the progress
of the equatorial sun, turns a blind eye
to Señora Turista. My husband, choosing
ignorance, snores bluntly just outside
his own ear-plugged hearing. His chest
pierced by the many sharp daggers
I expertly aim, is unbloodied, intact.
The cock is not stupid, stays out of range
of my eye as he struts the dirt street.
I am a quick learner. My quick-witted son
is slower, less humble, willfully ingests
the lessons of water, of street food. He pukes
in the sink of the Jipi Japa Hotel. Again.
Again. Ad nauseam.
He too avoids my eye.
The son of the former mayor
of Jipi Japa agrees to drive us back
to Quito for a price. Before we leave,
he loads up the trunk. Misterioso.
The road is a car-killer. Boxes thump
behind our backs. We stop
outside a village set by the jeweled
waters of the sea. It is picturesque.
It is not on our itinerary.
It's hot. Our driver, no longer
agreeable, motions us to stay inside.
Two men wait
by the side of the road with a cart
that could fit three bodies
squeezed. My husband
hints darkly of drugs.
Boxes are transferred from car to cart, artfully
hidden under greenery. The men
head down to the village.
Three monkeys perch on the car's backseat.
My husband covers his ears, and I, my eyes.
Our offspring covers his mouth. The son
of the former mayor of Jipi Japa returns
to the car for the journey into the mountains.
He is our driver. Our guide. We love him.
In the Forbidden City two men squat, take turns dipping their
dripping brushes into a common bucket. Their glorious task is
to scrub the fallen emperor's courtyard square by marble square.
At the Alhambra the Calif's roses are exquisite, among other
clichés: absolutely meticulous reconstruction, magnificent
restoration. His highness royal's legacy commands attention—
tourists tour, cameras click. Below us, the medina lies in ruins.
We are on the go — walking climbing ogling
the opulence of dynasties gone to seed
until we grow bored
with the silver they ate off, the marble they shat in.
Tonight in starry Granada the gardeners return to their doorsteps
where weeds thrust thick fingers through cracks in depleted soil.
A full moon away, the scrubbers return to their Beijing hutong,
step over dogshit, the spoiled remains of unsold produce, to rest
against the silvered wall of the latrine assigned to their sector.
We are the new kings and queens dispensing dreams to beggars.
We lock away our treasures. We smile. We pose. We hunger.
—CJ Muchhala, Shorewood, WI