José y Maria

by Greta Bolger
The Waters
First Place, February 2015
Judged by Ned Balbo

We live this winter behind a locked gate,
in a casa much nicer than our home, in a country
where we are not fluent in the language or ways.

The faces of most everyone we pass on the path
or see on the boats or in town are brown,
with various whites mixed in, from Canada

Belgium, Germany; French girls overdressed
in fancy fashions, young American men
with not much but beer money.

Children carry heavy things for us for tips:
bags of food, bottles of water, though I worry
about their slender backs and growing necks.

Tonight, a poor couple set off the lights
on our motion-detected walkway,
looking for someone or something next door,

a very big house with no known inhabitants
but meticulously Mayan-tended grass and gardens.
I did not understand the man, did not know

what to say, but yelled up the hill to rouse a resident
who emerged and stood stiffly on the inside of the fence
shaking her head steadily no, no, no, no, no

as the man with gold-framed teeth, and his wife
and their baby wrapped in a rebozo stood on the outside,
the man pleading his case, explaining their hope —

for a job? A place to sleep? A long-lost brother?
The night was cold for here, 50-some, and windy
and the woman turned them away anyway.

A powerful poem of class division and social commentary that is also a perfectly pitched dramatic monologue. The speaker’s tugs of conscience cast a troubling light (and Biblical overtones) on the inaction that turns away a family in need. --Ned Balbo