Thursday, January 27, 2011

Of Gum and Shrimp and Machu Picchu*

After his four day adventure on the trail of Machu Picchu
Joseph returns to the hotel in preparation for his return flight.
He drops his pack
Props his feet
Finds a piece of gum
Turns on the TV
Spies some American cartoon featuring a smoking baby 
Subtitled in Spanish

This reminds Joseph
Of the figurines at the museum at the base camp
And of the archeologist’s lectures
About these people who sacrificed grown children
Here and there along the mountain trade routes
Before DO NOT LITTER signs
Littered the trail 
Way back
Before wrong had existed
Before wrong disappeared

As he watches the baby
Joseph rests his head on his hand
Leans into the loveseat
Thank god I come from civilized people
Who do not sacrifice children
On mountains
To make the gods happy
Or make things better for the rest of us
His feet throb
He could never have reached Machu Picchu
Were it not for his sherpa
The Dead Woman’s Pass would have been the end of him

Near the end of the show
His gum unflavors
So he swears and spits it out
This gum no bigger than
An embryo
Or last night’s shrimp
Carried to the top of the Machu Picchu on his sherpa’s back
Gum that has lost its taste is
No longer gum
You can and should discard it

Recumbent, Joseph rolls his eyes back and remembers
The way his hands felt
Against the firm stone walls
Remembers the stones put together tightly
Stones carried long distances uphill
Stones carried without wheels
No space between them for so much as a fingernail
How was this done
Before paper? Before lasers? Before autocad?
He wonders
Feeling a little smaller
Almost as small as the gum he just spit

The drone of the cartoon of the smoking baby
Coupled with his own sore limbs
So tire Joseph that he begins to sleep and dream
Whether or not he had a nightmare
He will decide when he awakes

From inside the television
A woman stares
Into the core of Joseph's soul
As one might stare into the face of a cleft-lipped child
Both pitied and adored
No, you do not sacrifice children on mountains in the daytime
Instead you take little melon scoops out of your face
In the dark
I can see the pock marks on your face
Tiny gum-sized divets
Where the parts you threw away used to fill
And now you are so dimple-filled
Your skin is like a golf ball’s
The melon rind is all that is left of you
It is a wonder someone has not throw you out
If they could find
A tall enough mountain
Or big enough trash can
Joseph, still dreaming, and wishing he had an earlier flight
Brushes his cheek with his fingers then
Raises his arms, his voice in defense
You must be mistaken
My face is smooth as marble
I come from a civilized people
We do not sacrifice children
On mountains
To make the gods happy
Or make things better for the rest of us
And the woman answers Joseph
Again, from the screen into his soul
You do not sacrifice them on mountains--
You do that
In hospitals
And alleyways
Where the cans are
And the gods
Are not
*This poem was written in honor of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.