Monday, January 20, 2014


By dawn we had reached the village 
        where the festival was to take place.
Greeted by itinerant musicians 
        playing something like klezmer music,
We were soon surrounded by shamans 
      with headdresses like juke-boxes
         made of tinsel and feathers,
feathered boas around their robes the color of sorbets,     
       all of them shaking marachas.
Lead to a small chapel from which billowed copal smoke,
      its lineaments obscured 
     by smoke, jukeboxes, feathers,
as honored guests, we were compelled by etiquette
     to sing a phonetic anthem  with ten dozen choruses.
The dialect was unknown 
     to the anthropologist who accompanied us,
      as well as to the barrio shaman--call him "Mario"--
    acting as our interpreter.
The former supposed 
       that it was some synchronous paean 
     to assorted demiurges, saints.
I wished it was "Yankee,Go Home."
Some whim or intuition
     had lead me to wear a business suit,
     trusting that it  act as a prophylactic measure
    and keep the gods at bay.
This was only partially successful.
     Repelled by my cologne,
     they did not pass
      the threshold of my conciousness,
taking possession of me 
     (as they did my junior colleagues)
instead crawling at my feet like lizards, hissing
    with forked tongues imprecations
    whose import--though in Nahuatl--
     did not escape me.
Your gods are demons, I thought,
    picking my way through the cow dung.
Strictly local, they delight
   when an afternoon knife fight
      ends in shed blood.
It pleases them that
    some wretched widow thereby
     fulfills a destiny slated
 from day one of becoming
     a mater dolorosa hocking pig parts,
that children are hitched 
      like donkeys to a spindle
    which makes the merry go round go around.
In a circle of peyote takers with a look
   of ecumenical bliss straight from California
     danced the anthropologist, his loopy grin
confirming my hatred of the ineffable.
The book he'd write later
     lead to tenure, and a second Volvo.

(the illustration is of an Asmat body mask now in the DeYoung)

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