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by Rafael Guillen |

El Cafetal

 I came with the rising sun and I've brought
nothing but two eyes, all I have,
simply two eyes, for the harvest
of grief that's hidden in this jungle
like the coffee shrubs. Fewer,
but they fling themselves upwards, untouchable,
are the trees that invidiously shut out
the light from this overwhelming indigence.
With my machete I go through the paths
of the cafetal.

Intricate paths
where the tamags lies in wait, sunk
in the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics,
the carnal luxury that gleams
in the eyes of the Creole overseer; sinuous
paths between junipers and avocados
where human thought, cowed
since before the white man, has never
found any other light than the well
of Quich; blind; drowning in itself.
Picking berries, the guanacos
hope only for a snort to free them
from the cafetal.

Through the humid shade beneath
the giant ceibas, Indian women
in all colors crawl like ants, one
behind the other, with the load balanced
on a waking sleep. They don't exist. They've never been born
and still they are dying daily, rubbed raw,
turned to wet earth with the plantation,
hunkered for days in the road to watch over the man
eternally blasted on booze, as good as dead
from one rain to the next, under the shrubs
of the cafetal.

The population has disappeared
into the coffee bean, and a tide of white lightning
seeps in to cover them. I stretch out a hand, pluck
the red berry, submit it to the test
of water, scrub it, wait for the fermentation
of the sweet pulp to release the bean.
How many centuries, now? How much misery
does it cost to become a man? How much mourning?
With a few strokes of the rake, the stripped bean
dries in the sun. It crackles, and I feel it
under my feet. Eternal drying shed
of the cafetal!

Backwash of consciousness,
soul sown with corn-mush and corn cobs,
blood stained with the black native dye.
Man below. Above, the volcanos.
Guatemala throws me to my knees
while every afternoon, with rain and thunder,
Tohil the Powerful lashes
this newly-arrived back. Lamentation
is the vegetal murmur, tender
of the cafetal.

Glossary:

Cafetal: a coffee plantation
tamag?s: a venomous serpent 
guanaco: a pack animal, used insultingly to indicate the native laborers
ceiba: a tall tropical hardwood tree


by Rafael Guillen |

Not Fear

 Not fear. Maybe, out there somewhere,
the possibility of fear; the wall
that might tumble down, because it's for sure
that behind it is the sea.
Not fear. Fear has a countenance;
It's external, concrete,
like a rifle, a shot bolt,
a suffering child,
like the darkness that's hidden
in every human mouth.
Not fear. Maybe only the brand
of the offspring of fear.

It's a narrow, interminable street
with all the windows darkened,
a thread spun out from a sticky hand,
friendly, yes, not a friend.
It's a nightmare
of polite ritual wearing a frightwig.
Not fear. Fear is a door slammed in your face.
I'm speaking here of a labyrinth
of doors already closed, with assumed
reasons for being, or not being,
for categorizing bad luck
or good, bread, or an expression
— tenderness and panic and frigidity - for the children
growing up. And the silence.
And the cities, sparkling, empty.
and the mediocrity, like a hot
lava, spewed out over
the grain, and the voice, and the idea.

It's not fear. The real fear hasn't come yet.
But it will. It's the doublethink
that believes peace is only another movement.
And I say it with suspicion, at the top of my lungs.
And it's not fear, no. It's the certainty
that I'm betting, on a single card,
the whole haystack I've piled up,
straw by straw, for my fellow man.


by Rafael Guillen |

I Hardly Remember

 I hardly remember your voice, but the pain of you
floats in some remote current of my blood.
I carry you in my depths, trapped in the sludge
like one of those corpses the sea refuses to give up.

It was a spoiled remnant of the South. A beach
without fishing boats, where the sun was for sale.
A stretch of shore, now a jungle of lights and languages
that grudgingly offered, defeated, its obligation of sand.

The night of that day punished us at its whim.
I held you so close I could barely see you.
Autumn was brandishing guffaws and dancebands
and the sea tore at the pleasure-boats in a frenzy.

Your hand balanced, with its steady heat,
the wavering tepidness of alcohol. The gardens
came at me from far away through your skirt.
My high-tide mark rose to the level of your breasts.

Carpets, like tentacles, wriggling down to the strand,
attracted passers-by to the mouth of the clamor.
With lights and curtains, above the tedium
the bedrooms murmured in the grand hotels.

There are dark moments when our ballast gives out
from so much banging around. Moments, or centuries,
when the flesh revels in its nakedness and reels
to its own destruction, sucking the life from itself.

I groped around me, trying on your embrace,
but love was not where your embrace was.
I felt your hands stroking that physical ache
but a great nothing went before your hands.

I searched, down the length of your soulless surrender,
for a calm bay where I could cast a net,
yearning to hear a trace of the vendor's voice
still wet with the glimmer of the flapping minnows.

It was a spoiled remnant of the South. The aroma
of muscatel was tainted with whiskey breath.
I carry that dead embrace inside me yet
like a foreign object the flesh tries to reject.