The road to Sabana Real is cut from rock
and soil by secondhand motorcycles and the many feet
of many women carrying clay-colored vegetables.
We take in the mountain and its people like manna
from God, sustenance firmed in secret before sun
or water. The caravan stops twenty miles in,
a crowd of men and women, children and chickens
gather around a cinder block hut.
A man with swollen hands comes
from a far off sugarcane field for vitamins.
A woman finds she is pregnant with her fourth
child. We have bags of lollipops for the children,
but no shade for the elderly. A frail man coughs
weakly as we put on masks, fearing the worst.
Someone’s toe is infected. Someone’s knee
is crooked. Someone’s baby is starving.
Someone is waiting, someone is watching,
someone is saying “The American doctors
are here with free pills.”
And the boys' feet are caked in mud and their guts
are filled with worms. But they laugh too,
and play, and terrorize the windows
with little furious hands and fingers—boys
who have appetites for lollipops but not soap.
And the girls squeal in delight under the squeeze
of a blood pressure cuff, run out with our butterfly
stickers on their eyelids. Perhaps the world
is not such a mystery.
Or is it? In the airport, I look for postcards
for my mother and father. The plastic rack
has pictures of palm trees and phrases
like "Carribean Paradise." No pictures
of the Haitian woman to whom I gave
a sack of granola bars, the girl in her arms,
or the one clutching her hemline.
Nor the tree canopy from the side of the mountain
road to Sabana Real, the children chasing down
our swaying truck of students and supplies.
I seal up these images in a place
that’s not home. And then, on the back, what
would I write? Maybe something bittersweet,
like "Having a great time, wish you were here."
Above La Descubierta
Back home, I would have dreamt
of these stars, the secret
wonder of being one body, sleeping
beneath them; the leveled rock path
leading up the mountain
and these unfamiliar constellations,
pouring out nameless loves and other
mysteries in droves as we go up.
Back home we were less deliberate.
Back home, no one got up before
daylight to climb into the coming
sun. It's that notion of how
provoking the new world can be,
because it's still new, and
because we might well be too.
It comes with a different craving
in the bellies of our hands,
our feet, a hunger for exhaustion
and the feeling of having earned
the windswept path we walk on.
It's not something we would have done.
Yet here we are, sweat-matted
hair in clumps, copper scours on
rubbed skin, bleating goats
muffled in the sound of our
breathing and nothing else: living
proof of ourselves, proof that we want
more of ourselves than we thought.