Friday, June 01, 2007

Poem #152 of 365

i'm going to Palenque from Palenque
with my Tribe Called Quest On,
with my Tribe Called Quest On.

it was an early December morning,
yet so humid i could almost see
my breath in sweat vapor before
my nose, and the walk from my
hotel room, where the night before
i’d had a bout, Kafkaesque, with one
large bug that haunted me from
beneath my bed, well that walk
was a relief, as it meant i was
leaving that bug behind.

and the signs from the little
pueblito of Palenque pointing
me to the pyramid ruins of
Palenque kept me from getting
lost, but really, how could i lose
my way, when there were so
many rv’s and merry milers
with u.s. plates and
fat-necked men behind the wheel,
all heading in the same direction.

no one stopped to offer me a ride,
but that was fine, i was up early
and the sun wasn’t so high yet,
and it was easy to hear the students
doing their morning fitness exercises
on the concrete slab behind their
school building. they looked so
crisp and lean in their blue skirts
and slacks, but i knew they’d be
soggy and spent by midafternoon.
how strange to be warm in december,
during radish harvest season, with
sweat beads on your brow.

i'm going to Palenque from Palenque
with my Tribe Called Quest On,
with my Tribe Called Quest On.

that trip to Mexico,
to Oaxaca and Chiapas,
Tehuantepec and Guerrero, was the
trip of Miles Davis, Primus, a Kendra
mix tape, and A Tribe Called Quest.
there’s one specific Miles song, title
doesn’t come to mind, that when
i hear it takes me back to my long walks
lost in Oaxaca, Oaxaca. i can almost
smell that city as if i was there right now.
and so that morning, my Sony Walkman
was giving me an upbeat backdrop as
i went to Palenque from Palenque, and
it occurred to me that it might have been
culturally sacrilegious to be listening to
Black American hiphop in my headphones
while siphoning sights in the Mayan
highlands. But that is the way of the
viajero, bringing something new, finding
something old.

From this morning walk, i have one
sole photo. It’s a black-and-white,
and i’m facing the camera with an
uncertain not-quite smile. It’s a self-
portrait, of course, and i remember
where i stood when i snapped it. An
inspiration to lose the perspiration
propelled me to dip in a small watering
hole, a shallow creek with cool water.
i slowly stepped in, a little undressed,
and let myself get saturated in the jungle
shade. Thinking back on that moment,
it occurs that i had no fear, wasn’t trepidated
about possible water moccasins, scorpions,
or spiders. The water looked refreshing and
that’s all that mattered for the few minutes I
squatted in it, taking a picture to help
remember the moment.

i'm going to Palenque from Palenque
with my Tribe Called Quest On,
with my Tribe Called Quest On.

After the dip in the little creek,
i continued down the road, air-drying
as i went, and singing along to “I Lost
My Wallet in El Segundo”--gotta get
it, got got to get it. i was surprised to
happen on a tourist hippie campsite,
with dreaded Europeans and tie-dyed
types swinging in hammocks and
smoking breakfast in quiet murmurs
and soft song. I turned down the volume
on my headphones to get the full effect,
but was satisfied to keep on walking,
to get to the pyramids, to see Mayan
ruins for the first time.

And when i reached the pyramids park,
it was as if someone had mowed down
a forest of redwoods to reveal an iconic
and majestic gem. The pyramids pierced
the sky, and the early morning tourists
stooped as they hoisted themselves
up the many block steps to the top, as
if they were bowing in humbled awe.
i joined them, overwhelmed by thought,
as i had just passed a Lacandon indian,
native to this region, who had practically
begged me to buy one of his handmade
tools: a carved bow, an arrowhead, some arrows.

These were as authentic as one could get,
and it pained me to see this young father
--somehow i knew he had a family to feed--
willing to almost give away his hand-wrought
implements of survival for a chance at
some few dollars. Is that what it’s come
to, i wondered later, as i stepped to the
top of the first pyramid. we protect the ruins,
but not the people.

Mixed feelings overtook me as I imagined
the great Mayas who'd built and lived among
these pyramids. Surrounded by selva, I
wished for the trees to grow back and crowd
out the tourists, so the developers would
leave and the Lacandon father could
keep all his tools and use them to subsist.

The howler monkeys never showed their
faces, but I heard their gutteral cries as
I felt my mouth itch to howl in reply.

copyright 2007 tammy melody gomez

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