Disturbing the Spirits

The car doesn’t hit me exactly. The car nudges me. Either the backward downhill give of a car switching gears, or intentional. Ya pasó I say to Maria a block later, but more to myself. As we walk down the gentle slope Maria says, Oh wait I did go to Russia. We took a bus to Saint Petersburg from Finland. How beautiful, the bridges that lifted up to let the boats pass through, how lovely, those boats.

Moments like a corridor but the minute they have been lived, the lengths of corridor shift, disappear, rearrange. The floor under our feet disappears, the walls cave in, the minute we take our next step forward.

What do you think about motherhood? I ask the Diva and she says, Well shit it’s hard, man, it’s not just to care for them as children, it’s their whole life. She talks with her dancing friends and I wait as per her orders at the threshold. Two men pass and keep looking back at me. I signal to the Diva that I am going to get something to eat but she doesn’t see. I get chicken and walk back up and the Diva is walking down and says, I told you to wait! This neighborhood is really dangerous. Shakily lights a cigarette. She asks if I have a novio and I tell her I am tired of young men using their brains to try and avoid heart-work. I ask her if she has one and she says she had one, but she is tired of intellectuals. They are too suburban.

The logical part of the brain would be the money-taker, calling out where the bus is headed, the part of the self that knows its route, its location. Moments like a corridor but the minute they have been lived, the lengths of corridor shift, disappear, rearrange. The floor under our feet disappears, the walls cave in, the minute we take our next step forward. Worms in reverse. We go through somewhat of an ordered survival and leave behind mirrors broken, bobbing up and down, liquid.

Are there any female monkeys in Belgium? asks the Diva, because she is considering becoming one. She is actually considering becoming a female monk in Belgium since Johann is thinking of monkhood, she just confuses the words in English. Everyone hoots. In the end the Diva decides not to live in a monastery since she would have to give up smoking and drinking. Do you smoke? asks the Diva, then looks at my face. Are you suffering? she asks, laughing.

From the minibus the Diva points out gleaming spoons and hanging teapots. After the part of the market that smells acrid after a day of fruit bazaar she tells me that there is the same difference of opinion in Latin America between the inclusive nature of “hybrid” literature and those who believe genre should continue to be entities with enforced, distinct limits. There is also a debate in Latin American literature between the largely socially important literature and more internal literature of a higher level, she says. For example, I prefer Jessica’s poetry because it is more internal and intellectual. Historically the political and social turmoil of this part of the world has led to fables about the common man, social theme, that sort of thing. But I like the higher level of literature because every worker, every mother of eight, every miner has that internal life.

What looked solid isn’t. The steps we take dissolve; footholds turn to dust. Hidden dark places where poets squirreled away. In a city where there are naturally as many ups as downs, and plenty of both, I realize that every time I have told someone or been told of a memory we have been descending, going downhill.

Am I wandering through it now; will I be shaken by a kind younger hand into the late afternoon with a woven blanket over my frail legs? It could cave in on itself, the insubstantial shelf, could bottom out into nothing. Even in Jessica’s upscale suburban house there is a patchamama figurine. Fires for the virgin, dances and mantles. Sit among dogs and fading light. In the building across the way two figures move side to side, lit with late light. What looked solid isn’t. The steps we take dissolve; footholds turn to dust. Hidden dark places where poets squirreled away. In a city where there are naturally as many ups as downs, and plenty of both, I realize that every time I have told someone or been told of a memory we have been descending, going downhill. I can’t explain this city any more than I can explain memory. When buildings fall to shadow, uneven houses on cliffs start, various certain ones, to spark.

Black dog nearly bites me in the thigh, won’t let me pass. Think about the hairs standing up on my body, about adrenaline, about the body language of the dog and me, conveying cowardice, wonder about other humans in other times in other generations, lions maiming them. We’re all riding the wheel in thin sunlight, hanging dreams on the hook of someone just out of reach, working out the kinks of being in worlds with abilities to dream, suffering the sweet pain of texture. In the white minibuses of La Paz, the money-takers call the name of every stop.

Based on the author’s time spent with Vicky Allyon in La Paz, Bolivia, translating her poetry
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