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Oaxaca Sketches

In January of 1995 I traveled in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico working on my novel, stopping to write at various places in detail. I stayed for awhile on the beach at Zipolete where I worked on the book, holed up at the Hotel Genesis, run by the accommodating Eduardo and his wife Lorena. It was a great place to write. A simple shower in the back and a couple lights got me back to the basics while the Pacific kept on crashing, receding and completing in my ears. I love to go to sleep with the ocean.

Like photos, I wrote poems to capture the flavor of places. Later, I took and grafted them into the novel and grew them into prose.

Church of the Virgin of Solitude
Oaxaca, 1/1/95

Gilded arches loom overhead and give
a terrible lightness to all the weight
of the altar where the Blessed Virgin
stands with open arms. Above her son
hangs from a cross suffering and smaller.

Angels on either side are taking off
almost in flight. Below on the stone floor
a man holds a candle, slides on his knees
toward the distant altar shimmering
with candles and gardenias, belief.

God looks from the center of the ceiling
a white man with a gray beard. Cherubs peek
from folds in his red robe that swirl above
his right hand raised, dove in a flame. His left
hand palms the world, a ball that doesn’t fall.

Zipolete Beach

Wind lifts all four ends of the tablecloth
and they flap like wings about to take off.
Twelfth day of my trip finally a bit
like I can (and am) relax (ed) swinging

in a hammock reading Sor Juana Ines
de la Cruz. Pouring buckets of water
over my head back at the beginning.
I’d like a beer. The sun’s about to set.

A V becomes an L of pelicans.
As I swallow a light goes on above
and Angel comes riding his tricycle
cheeks puffed with breath. Que rapido eres

I say to him. My niece, nephews I’d give
my life for them. This makes me not fear death.
A cloudy pink quivering’s all that’s left.
Children small as ants play in silhouette.

Zipolete Beach

Reading Zen and The Birds of Appetite
I’m thirsty and going to buy some water
ending the chapter about to get up
Angel appears with a bottle half full

enough. Angel smiles is gone in a flash.
There is some kind of water shortage.
I have to pee. The bathroom’s occupado.
To take a good bath you don’t need that much water.

Zipolete Beach

The sun is bright The sun is strong
I have a tan and lost ten pounds

Everybody’s naked Everybody’s young
The smell of pot wafts through the palms

If it snowed all the iguanas would die
Thank goodness it won’t

Zipolete Beach

Huge rocks jut from the surface of the sea
like they are moments about to happen
hummingbirds or truth already spoken
like a sculpture remains for all to see.

The distant horizon shimmers and forms
waves that break into moving sand
about my feet, a constant genesis
that ends, begins swirling in wind and foam.

Here take a breath, relax, get strength. The palm
the rock, the wave will stay. It’s people come
and go below the hungry pelican
who dips and floats. ¡Adios! ¡Hola!

Hotel Mitla

This morning as I’m thinking a good thought
the sun out of the mountain rose and broke
on my face unexpected light and warmth.
To think a good or bad thought is my choice.

That had never occurred to me before.
A hummingbird appeared and looked at me
still with vibrating wings then completely
still sat a second here there on a branch.

Opening my notebook in the shadow
of the nook in the middle a small cold
scorpion crawled into the cracked table.
I turn the page and wake another one

I bring to the bars of the window
knocking it to the sunny ledge, poke my pen
erecting the stinger, scared little kid
and I’m the guest. I let it crawl back in.

Have you ever been stung by a scorpion?
There is a great pain like fire. Your tongue
is paralyzed. Your teeth chatter hot cold
with fever for two hours. It’s very strange.

Maybe we better throw it out the window.
I get a piece of clumsy paper and it crawls
quickly away. —Here let me, says José.
As he wants crushed it falls into the dark.

Fiesta de San Pablo de Mitla

Men inside figures—a señorita
with big breasts, hoop earrings, a cigarette
a cowboy, a lantern, a mouse—dance through
the crowd and drunker on mezcal trumpets
and loud whoozy drums follow and keep up.

Fireworks now shoot up out of us, break bright
stars into flowers against the dark. Ahhhhh!
In flames charred pieces fall directly down.
A woman’s shawl starts on fire but it’s part
of the fun to help her to slap it out.

Some very drunk men put over their heads
and backs explosions in the forms of bulls
then they light the fuses, zigzag, take off
veer among us. The nearest trample, run
from the boom, the blinding scarring sparks.

An ignited wheel spins ignites others
up the tall tower where a house bursts
into fire and a human figure, red yellow
and blue flames flutters. Whatever happens
tomorrow it’s been worth it to get this far.

Church of San Pablo, Mitla, Oaxaca


  1. Lydia Cortes
    Posted 10 Jun ’17 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Love these poems!

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