Disturbing the Spirits

The afternoon angles away like a flag, takes itself with it, begins to rain. We all go home in our dark work clothes in an evening hidden by fog. It all gets darker evenly, around us in the buses, fanning out across the road, a curtain dropping. Their city built entirely into, out of, around, mountains and rivers. They point out and hold dear the red, but no one knows what makes it so. Anything I touch. You gotta let more love in than that, Tauthacho tells me and leads me down the dark, rank cave.

I stay in a small room by the garage. The room on the roof has a guitar on the wall that Wyatt immediately takes down and starts to play. I hastily smear charcoal on paper. I do not know Wyatt well; he is a brief lover, we are both in transit, he is meant to help me live in the here and now. His own circle of atoms knit together, face naked as a petal as he sings. I stab the fabric with a needle, my hands full of scrunched fabric as Wyatt looks openly at me. His body reminds me of those of my older brother and a certain former lover: freckles, stray hairs. The first time I fell in love, I was astounded at how it felt to adore errant moles and other imperfections; it was like an axe in my chest made of honey that hardened with loss.

In the Diva’s house, where by the Diva’s decree I am allowed to wake up and put on whosever clothes are lying about since I need more warm clothes than I brought, there is Isa in ruffled skirts, just back from Switzerland; Maria, outside practicing with her band in the same sweats she has been wearing all week; Johann in one of the woven ponchos from the marketplace, a week away from the end of his year in Bolivia and his return to Belgium; cousin Ale in his Illinois sweatshirt; and the Diva herself in shawls and spectacles, described as a “Diva” of the literary scene and director of a library of important and rare Bolivian literature. No telling who will be home at any time of day aside from lunch; everyone is off to do this, back from doing that. Sometimes I awake in the large, dark, cold morning and pour yogurt with a cloaked Death and piles of books as my only attendants.

Jessica, the young poetess I am dining with, says of Bolivia: I would want people to know not just the stereotype of donkey, poncho, violence, corruption, illiteracy. I would want them to know of the young people who want to seguir adelante

La calle de las brujas, the street of the witches. Always going around curves and after every turn the city looks different. I catch glimpses of myself in the silver bowl ashtray. Jessica, the young poetess I am dining with, says of Bolivia: I would want people to know not just the stereotype of donkey, poncho, violence, corruption, illiteracy. I would want them to know of the young people who want to seguir adelante, kids in El Alto who are doing rap, want to study film. There should be art and fellowships. El Alto is where, in early summer, protests took place against the privatization of the country’s resources, protests and blockades of the indigenous majority ousting Bolivia’s president. Now anyone who reads the New York Times knows El Alto is the trouble slum, but not about kids spitting their poetry, moving hands down with the beat, taking photos with their minds, the only equipment available.

I receive a letter from a friend who says that tea parties with invisible friends are one of her favorite kinds of silence. I know what she means. When I wring my hands at the hard luck that befalls good people, Annie Dillard pauses, pinky lifted, and says simply, “We are moral creatures in an amoral world.” When I am caught between what might have been and what is, George Oppen pipes up while pouring more tea, saying, “There was no ocean liner.” “Only the mist is real,” agrees Octavio Paz, hard at work on his crumpet.

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