Five Views of Guanajuato: A Mythology


Pedro, or Juan, or Jorge
builds a stranger’s house.
He rides the blue-and-green
third-class bus into the city,
walks six blocks, sets
a nylon bag in the shade—
his lunch of tacos wrapped
in cloth and, for dusk,
a clean shirt. He ties yellow
twine twice around a stack
of eight concrete blocks,
heaves the blocks
onto his back, against
his head. There is no
sidewalk, only a jagged path,
where he and Pedro,
or Juan, have worn away
the scrub. Men jump
from a truck and call up
to him, Hombre! Amigo!
He climbs, strong
and goat-footed,
to the shade
of the stranger’s house,
a charming house,
with a charming view.


The clerk at the bank
has a hologram of the Virgin
stuck to her computer.
When she gets home
she washes her blue polyester suit
in the courtyard.
Geraniums bloom in #10 chile cans.
A cock and three hens posing
in the dusk. She wrings the skirt
and jacket and blouse,
drapes them on the mesquite
that grows at an angle,
and goes in to read La Jornada.
Columnists in the capital are sanguine.
Same old cartoon: squat man
on a column. @!~#//! She might
laugh, but alone, one doesn’t.
In the morning she feels
for the gold cross at her nape.
The blue suit is dry. She eats two eggs.


Burros tethered to a signpost
sound one slack-jawed heave.
Brave bougainvillea bloom
in pink and orange, an antidote

to dust that lines the curbs.
The reservoir, La Esperanza,
hope drained of hope, yawns
a toothless and sere yawn.

La Tristeza del Frijol
the sign beside the road reads.
Two men with hoes kneel in its shade,
their tethered animals sad as beans.


On one side of the market,
Mercado Hidalgo, named
for a revolutionary whose head
was removed just down the road,
on one side plastics and pottery,
on the other the butchers
with pigs’ heads on hooks
and cows’ livers spilling
over the white tiles
and dogs looking for
a slipped bit of flesh.
In between are pyramids
of fruit and stools hiked up
to stands where you can
buy ceviche or sliced tongue
on tostadas. There’s not room
to breathe hoof of cow,
sweat of dog and chile,
concrete washed dry,
pigeon feather and shit,
corn tortillas
fundamental as prayer,
candles burning
before the virgin on her scythe-moon.


No vale nada la vida
Not worth the tank of gas
carried on his back
through the narrow aisles
of the market, late afternoon,
old women buying tortillas
for the evening meal.
The tank is silver,
his shirt purple.

Not worth a thing, this life
The west wall of the market,
pig’s head hanging,
eastward, in the afternoon light.
His ears glow pink and veined:
hibiscus blossoms,
virgins’ tongues, saints’ palms
curling toward paradise.

In weeping it comes to an end
Get your name
etched on a grain of rice
outside the market,
on the deep stone steps
under the blue umbrella.
It takes a magnifying glass
to read what is written there.
You can’t ever be sure
of the spelling.

Life’s not worth a thing
or so sings José Alfredo Jiménez,
cantador of despair.
Buy his tapes on the market steps,
and marigolds,
flowers of the dead,
thousand petal gold tongued,
speared and ancient,
weepers of the soil,
of sadness and determination.

About the author

Athena Kildegaard's sixth book of poetry, Prairie Midden, is forthcoming from Tinderbox Editions. Her poetry has recently appeared in Prairie Schooner, december, Beloit Poetry…

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Issue 14 · February 2012

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