Chichicapa, Mexico

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block
First Place, October 2010
Judged by Paul Lisicky


Mezcal Del Maguey Chichicapa
is one dirt road farther than the day laborers from Oaxaca.

Coconut farmers live there, hands and clothes carry the scent
of bath soap.

The men are brown as beans. Washing under outdoor pumps
their bellies are plump and white.

We play dominoes under the shade of my copal tree
and share the Mezcal of the city.

When they sleep on the Day of the Dead they awake refreshed
and disappointed.

Women walk single file the way women once followed behind
ancient horsemen.

In my clinic, they point on a doll to the places they hurt.
When they don’t want me, they speak Mayan.

When they nurse, their breasts fall as sweet potatoes
from a basket. They carry barley corn in their pockets.

Children run after the red pullets. They ride a stuttering
burrow who circles the plaza as though trying to remember.

Older girls stay with one another, long chestnut arms,
I imagine their pupils set with deep purple iris.

Young men gamble with their deaf beauty. Turkeys come
to them, stars whiten.

Skinned animals hang in the market, small goats chew,
their bobbed tails twirl.

Dried stigmas from the saffron crocus stiffen on pages
of newsprint.

Night rises from the arroyo north of the city and turns
my house black.

I read under the hurricane lamp. The crickets move close,
the eyes of the yellow dog are open in a waking trance.

The town cannot afford a bright moon. Shooting stars
are clean as bells, voyaging planets slide close.

You cannot write them, there is no post office.
It is too far for the bus to come.


This poem is enlivened by its awe and cold wonder of the place. I also like the humility of last stanza: "You cannot write them, there is no post office." This seems to suggest something about the limitations of description, the inability to make complete meaning of a bewildering experience. --Paul Lisicky

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