In the Village


Of course I may be remembering it all wrong
after, after---how many years?

That golden evening I really wanted to go no farther;
more than anything else I wanted to stay awhile
in that conflux of two great rivers, Tapajós, Amazon,
grandly, silently flowing, flowing east.
Suddenly there'd been houses, people, and lots of mongrel
riverboats skittering back and forth
under a sky of gorgeous, under-lit clouds,
with everything gilded, burnished along one side,
and everything bright, cheerful, casual---or so it looked.
I liked the place; I liked the idea of the place.
Two rivers.  Hadn't two rivers sprung
from the Garden of Eden? No, that was four
and they'd diverged.  Here only two
and coming together.  Even if one were tempted
to literary interpretations
such as: life/death, right/wrong, male/female
---such notions would have resolved, dissolved, straight off
in that watery, dazzling dialectic.

In front of the church, the Cathedral, rather,
there was a modest promenade and a belvedere
about to fall into the river,
stubby palms, flamboyants like pans of embers,
buildings one story high, stucco, blue or yellow,
and one house faced with azulejos, buttercup yellow.
The street was deep in dark-gold river sand
damp from the ritual afternoon rain,
and teams of zebus plodded, gentle, proud,
and blue, with down-curved horns and hanging ears,
pulling carts with solid wheels.
The zebus' hooves, the people's feet
waded in golden sand,
dampered by golden sand,
so that almost the only sounds
were creaks and -shush, shush, shush-.

Two rivers full of crazy shipping---people
all apparently changing their minds, embarking,
disembarking, rowing clumsy dories.
(After the Civil War some Southern families
came here; here they could still own slaves.
They left occasional blue eyes, English names,
and oars.  No other place, no one
on all the Amazon's four thousand miles
does anything but paddle.)
A dozen or so young nuns, white-habited,
waved gaily from an old stern-wheeler
getting up steam, already hung with hammocks
---off to their mission, days and days away
up God knows what lost tributary.
Side-wheelers, countless wobbling dugouts...
A cow stood up in one, quite calm,
chewing her cud while being ferried,
tipping, wobbling, somewhere, to be married.
A river schooner with raked masts
and violet-colored sails tacked in so close
her bowsprit seemed to touch the church

(Cathedral, rather!).  A week or so before
there'd been a thunderstorm and the Catheral'd
been struck by lightning.  One tower had
a widening zigzag crack all the way down.
It was a miracle.  The priest's house right next door
had been struck, too, and his brass bed
(the only one in town) galvanized black.
Graças a deus --- he'd been in Belém.

In the blue pharmacy the pharmacist
had hung an empty wasps' next from a shelf:
small, exquisite, clean matte white,
and hard as stucco.  I admired it
so much he gave it to me.
Then---my ship's whistle blew.  I couldn't stay.
Back on board, a fellow-passenger, Mr. Swan,
Dutch, the retiring head of Philips Electric,
really a very nice old man,
who wanted to see the Amazon before he died,
asked, "What's that ugly thing?”