WE AIN’T SUPPOSED TO PLAY

Playing ball in the streets of Cartagena (Colombia). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

I rubbed oil into my new Dave Winfield mitt. Being the youngest of the older four kids in a family that could only afford one worn glove, I finally had my own. For several months, a friend taught me to catch – a skill I never really learned as a kid in our backyard games. Oh, I can smack that ball okay (how many windows we broke!) and I’ve still got a mean pitching arm. But no, I never learned how to catch.

In 1988, I was ready to hit the road for my first trip to Central America, come what will – even a pick-up game with kids. I packed that glove and a new ball into the bottom of my old canvas pack and headed to the bus station. They would provide much fun over the next few months – even playing catch with three Honduran soldiers on the border with Nicaragua.

My love for baseball has followed me through nine journeys now through Latin America. I have watched kids playing baseball in a neighborhood dirt lot in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. I have joined youngsters playing ball on the side lawn Havana’s Capitolio and stickball (with Hatuey beer caps as “balls”) in the streets of Santiago de Cuba. I pitched to the boys playing in the calles of Cartagena.

But one experience brought me back to my youth, to those times when girls weren’t supposed to play ball. We couldn’t join Little League and there was no t-ball. Heck, we didn’t even know about that League of Their Own, a herstory that would not be re-discovered until decades later. Still, I dreamed of becoming a professional player.

 

One day wandering around Rama, Nicaragua, I see three boys playing in a small field at the foot of an embankment. One is swinging a splintering bat and another tossing an old tennis ball. They invite me to play with them. At that moment, two girls walk along the path. We call to them. No, they shake their heads, girls don’t play.

I put my hands on my hips and look at them. “Really?”

“Well, Ma would be really mad if she caught us playing.”

They put their basket on the ground and join us for a couple of innings, the gals against the guys. No-one’s keeping score. We’re too busy hunting down the ball in the thick vegetation.

Soon, all too soon, a woman’s voice tumbles down through the brush. One girl drops the bat and looks worriedly at the other. Es nuestra mamá, they say. And they run up the path and disappear around a bend.

 

Indeed, we girls weren’t supposed to play ball either. On the school side lot, I was one of the few that joined the boys in a pick-up game. One day in the third grade, I caught hell when I came home for lunch. A wide grass streak greened one side of my pastel floral, voile dress. “What happened?” my mother asked. “I stole third.”

 

 

                published in:

Prairie Schooner – 3:33 Sports Shorts

 

Catching a game at Estadio Tomás Arrieta, Barranquilla (Colombia). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Baseball is a big sport in some areas of Latin America, like the Caribbean coast of Colombia. To learn more about the history of the sport in that country, see my article “Baseball” written for Colombia Adventure Guide.

And be sure to catch a game while in Latin America! You can check it out in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua (great attending a game there!), Panama, Venezuela, Colombia — and, of course, on the Caribbean isles: Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The sports section of local papers carry information on the national standings, game schedules — and the careers of their compadres in the U.S. major leagues.

 

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THE PASSION OF CHRIST : Quito’s Good Friday Procession

Throughout Latin America, in big cities and small villages, processions occur from Holy Wednesday through Holy Saturday of Semana Santa (Easter Week). The most important of these days is Good Friday, marking the crucifixion of Jesus.

One of the most impressive of these commemorations occurs in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. On Good Friday is the procession of El Señor de Gran Poder (The Lord of Great Power) – accompanied by a whole entourage of thousands of cucuruchos, Verónicas, Roman soldiers, Christs and other figures. Officially the procession begins from Iglesia San Francisco at noon, but the pilgrims begin leaving at 10 a.m. More than a quarter-million onlookers come to the city to witness this fervid display of Roman Catholic faith.

Today we shall witness Quito’s famous Good Friday procession – and take a look at the human face behind the hoods and veils.

Safe Journeys!

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Behind the hoods and veils, beneath the crosses, though, are humans – individuals proclaiming their faith. Let us now take a look at some of the cucuruchos and Verónicas, the Jesuses and the Roman soldiers  …

 

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All text and photos © Lorraine Caputo

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It is, once more, time for a quarterly roundup of my recent publications. On this occasion, I offer you journeys to Alaska, the Northwest coast of Turtle Island and New Mexico – and to points further south: Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Argentina … and within …

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend this March equinox browsing through the list (with links) below.

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Noche de otoño. Denali, Alasks. colored pencil. drawing © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Moonrise” in Plum Tree Tavern (January 2019)

“Triple Lakes,” in NatureWriting (1 February 2019)

“Passages” in The Conclusion Magazine (Bangladesh) (Issue 4, February 2019)

“Megalopolis Aviary” in Pika Journal (Mauritius) (Issue 1, February 2019)

“Meditating a Storm” and “Patagonian Night Voyage” in Setu: A Bilingual Journal of Literature (Bangladesh-US) (March 2019)

“From a Letter to a Friend in New Mexico,” “Into the Shadows,” “Climbing the Outer Ridge” and “Yet in my Words” in The Writer’s Café Magazine (UK) (March 2019)

 

And my article, “WITNESSING: Journeys in Central America,” was picked up by The Esperanza Project: A Green News Portal for the Americas

 

El Soberbio in Argentina’s Misiones Province is one place where you can time travel in South America. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

AndesTransit

Time Traveling in South America

 

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

DISCOVERING GALÁPAGOS : A Poetic-Photographic Journey

Uninhabited shores of the Galapagos Islands – much as the first humans had seen. Playa Brava, Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

On 10 March 1535, the Galápagos Islands were discovered by Tomás de Berlanga – or so the official story goes.

Tomás de Berlanga, bishop of Panama, was on his way to Peru to negotiate a settlement in a dispute that had arisen between the Spanish conquistadores Francisco de Pizarro and Diego de Almagro there. His ship (which name has been lost in the mists of time) were caught in a strong current and carried westward.

We’ll let Bishop de Berlanga tell his story. In his letter to King Carlos V of Spain, Berlanga wrote:

The ship sailed with very good breezes for seven days, and the pilot kept near land and we had a six-day calm; the currents were so strong and engulfed us in such a way that on Wednesday, the tenth of March, we sighted an island; and, as on board there was enough water for only two more days, they agreed to lower the life-boat and go on land for water and grass for the horses. And once out, they found nothing but seals, and turtles and such big tortoises that each could carry a man on top of himself, and many iguanas that are like serpents. On another day we saw another island, larger than the first, and with great sierras; and thinking that, on account of its size and monstrous shape, there could not fail to be rivers and fruits, we went to it. The distance around the first one was about four or five leagues and around the other, ten or twelve leagues. At this juncture the water on the ship gave out and we were three days in reaching the island on account of the calms, during which all of us, as well as the horses, suffered great hardship.

The boat once anchored, we all went on land and some were given charge of making a well, and others of looking for water over the island: from the well there came out water saltier than that of the sea; on land they were not even able to find even a drop of water for two days, and with the thirst the people felt, they resorted to a leaf of some thistles like prickly pears, and because they were somewhat juicy, although not very tasty, we began to eat of them, and squeeze them to draw all the water from them, and drawn, it looked like slops of lye, and they drank it as if it were rose water.

On Passion Sunday, I had them bring on land the things necessary for saying Mass, and after it was said, I again sent the people in twos and threes, over different parts. The Lord deigned that they should find in a ravine among the rocks as much as a hogshead of water, and after they had drawn that, they found more and more. In all, eight hogsheads were filled, and the barrels and the jugs that were on the boat, but through the lack of water we lost one man and two days after we left that island we lost another; and ten horses died.

From this island we saw two others, one much larger than all, which was easily fifteen or twenty leagues around; the other was medium. I took the altitude [of the sun] to know where the islands were and they are between half a degree and a degree and a half of the Equator, in the south latitude. On this second one, the same conditions prevailed as on the first; many seals, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do not know how to flee, and many were caught in the hand. The other two islands we did not touch; I do not know their character. On this one, on the sands of the shore, there were some small stones that we stepped on as we landed, and they were diamond-like stones, and others amber colored; but on the whole island I do not think that there is a place where one might sow a bushel of corn, because most of it is full of very big stones, so much so that it seems as though at some time God had showered stones; and the earth that there is, is like slag, worthless, because it does not have the virtue to create a little grass, but only some thistles, the leaf of which I said we picked.

Tomás de Berlanga named the Islands “Galápagos” for the tortoises whose shells resembled the horse riding saddle called galápagos in Spanish.

 

But Was Berlanga the First Humans to “Discover” the Galápagos Islands?

It is possible that various indigenous nations visited the Galápagos Islands before Tomás de Berlanga and his Spanish colleagues did. For centuries, trade routes between Meso- and South America existed, and perhaps Manteños, Atacames, Coaque and Chimu – pre-Inca nations of the Ecuadorean and northern Peruvian coasts – dropped by the isles. Huancavilca oral history relates that the islands were called Yawatisuyu, which in Quichua means “territory of the tortoises.”

Then there is the legend of the Inca ruler Tupac Yupanqui (1441-1493), conqueror of Quito and grandfather of Atahualpa. It is related in several post-Conquest chronicles (which Clements R. Markham summarized in his article, “Discovery of the Galapagos Islands” in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography) that Tupac Yupanqui departed from the central Ecuadorian coast with a fleet of balsa rafts and arrived at the islands, which he named Nina-chumpi and Hahua-chumpi (or that is, Fire Island – Albemarle / Isabela Island, and the Outer Island – Narborough / Fernandina Island).

These persistent legends provoked renowned Swedish explorer Thor Heyerdahl to investigate several sites in the Galapagos in 1952. He brought back what appeared to be evidence of Inca and pre-Inca habitation (or at least visits) to the islands.

In recent decades, several archaeological digs in the islands have been undertaken to determine whether humans arrived in the Galapagos Islands before Tomás de Berlanga did. In 2005, a team made up of Australian, Ecuadorian and other researchers investigated sites where Thor Heyerdahl had found suspect pre-Spanish pottery. Atholl Anderson, et al., stated in their findings paper:

We conclude that the hypothesis of prehispanic habitation in the Galápagos Islands is unsustainable in the light of current evidence.

 

My Personal “Discovery” of the Galapagos Islands

Ever since I was a child, I have been surrounded by nature. It all began growing up in a nature reserve within an industrial city. From there my appreciation – and dedication to the protection of Mother Nature, the web within we humans exist along with all else of Creation – has grown stronger. It has led me to work in Alaska, and then Galápagos. The solace I find in Nature is a balm for this soul, after many human adventures.

On several occasions, I have been blessed to be able to live and work in the Galapagos Islands: 2006-2007 for nine month; and in 2013 and 2016, for three months each. The following are a trio of poems I have written during my stays there.

Safe Journeys!

 

The Daphne Islands viewed from the plane approaching the airport on Baltra. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

JOURNEY OF CHANGES

(To the Enchanted Isles)

 

I.

Clearer the land below

crushed-velvet emerald

& gold

forest brocade

 

Then veiled

then shrouded

in clouds

 

 

clouds below

blinding early Light

clouds above

blinding

 

 

II.

clearer, nearer

 

Flat earth

dull mirrors of

rice fields

Brown streams

broad rivers snaking

carved canals

 

Waters flooding &

lapping

around homes

 

City stumbling

through mud to

muddy waters

Laced by

roads, bound

by bridges

 

 

Clouds below

blinding

azure sky

shredding

clouds above

light

 

 

III.

Sometimes dryer land

fractured by valleys

shadowed by

clouds

 

 

clouds below

thick

blinding light

above

intense

blue sky

clearer

blinding

 

 

IV.

Indigo-

deep azure

above

Deep indigo-

azure below

silk waled

 

with clouds…

 

No speck of terra

land…soil…earth

 

Just indigo

just azure

 

& sometimes

 

white

 

 

V.

Heavy colors

on the

horizon

 

& nearer

 

Volcanic mounds

gouging the earth

into dunes

blue opaline ocean

 

 

VI.

Descending

smothering clouds

above us

 

Azure below

rippling between

heaving clouds

 

nearer

 

Crushed marine silo

splashed with

white dissolving

 

Muddy patches

 

nearer

 

clearer

 

Then below us

rough, dry

lava red, ashen grey

 

nearer

clearer

 

Beneath our wings…

 

nearer

clearer

nearer

 

…beneath our feet

 

 

published in:

Topology Magazine (May 2017), theme: Borders & Boundaries.

 

 

A golden dawn in the Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

GALAPAGOS DAWN

 

A predawn shower has ceased.

Now sun twines ipomoea

& purslane, cordia through a

nebulous gate—blossoms

across an aqua-grey bay.

 

The sea then dulls, sunrise

dissolves in a rising tide

of clouds—the breeze leaps, breaks,

spraying a new morning

shower across my back.

 

 

published in:

Ivy Review (volume V, Spring 2007)

 

 

Galapagos Giant Tortoise on Isabela Island. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

CHI

(Five Animal Frolics)

 

A young Island youth

wants to create a

new style beyond this

Yang we flow…

a Galapagueño tai chi

 

of iguana & heron

of sea lion, of giant tortoise

perhaps

of zayapa, boobie or albatross

 

or the penguin

or the flightless

cormorant—

 

five sacred animals

of these Enchanted Isles

to remind us of our

place on this

 

Mother Earth

 

 

published in:

The MOON Magazine (June 2013)

 

Marine iguana and sea lion. Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Stay tuned for further news on my upcoming collection of poems from the Enchanted Isles, On Galápagos Shores, to be published the end of 2019 by dancing girl press.

 

Galapagos full moon, seen through espino brush and spiderweb. photo © Lorraine Caputo

ADVENTURE ON RAILS (Aventura sobre Rieles)

Mexico, Chihuahua, train

My worn Guía Roji map of Mexico showing not only the country’ highways and roads – but also its once-extensive rail system. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

(Note: This story is based on my journey on “Aventura sobre rieles” on 21 August 2003. If anyone knows whether this train service is still in operation, please tell us in the comments below. Thank you.)

 

Ay, the hundreds of sepia photographs of the Mexican revolutionaries. Men in white peasant clothes, large sombreros and bandoliers across chests, riding atop massive steam Iron Horses. The revolucionarias in long simple dresses, a small bundle of belongings bound to their backs with their shawls, perhaps a rifle in hand, hanging out the door of a vestibule.

In that era, foreign companies were the owners of the railroad. In 1880, the Porfirio Díaz government granted them favorable concessions to build this grid of tracks. In 1910, the people had enough of 40 years of Díaz rule, 40 years of foreign appropriations of lands, industries and natural resources. The people arose to reclaim their wealth, so that the majority poor might have. And that Revolution, which lasted until 1917 and had costs 1.4 million lives, was carried upon these rails.

Now, in a pocket of northern Chihuahua state, not too far from where Pancho Villa had invaded the US, a new revolution is happening – and it is carrying the rails.

 


 

After checking into a hotel in Nuevo Casas Grandes, I set out to explore the town on foot. Within a block, I encounter tracks paralleling Avenida Constitución. One set is intact. The adobe station, built in 1898, is being renovated. On display is an orange and black Chihuahua-Pacific locomotive. A swiftly running Rarámuri is painted between the CH and the P.

I approach two men sitting on a green bench in front of the station. “Are there still trains running from here?” They motion to another seated in the door of a white boxcar.

That man, don Carlos, and I spend until well after dark talking about this line, which once operated from Ciudad Juárez to here, on to Madera and La Junta. All service – cargo and passenger – ceased in 1996. He’s decided to save at least part of the route, from Nuevo Casas Grandes to as far as Cumbres, 100 kilometers towards Madera. They receive no funds from the federal or municipal governments. When at least ten are traveling, they do special excursions to Mata Ortiz, famous for pottery, and to Cumbres. These runs help to cover maintenance expenses. Also, they run cargo and passenger service for the inhabitants of Ejido Heroínas. No, not all of them used to work for the railroad; some are only now learning the trade.

A young mother and her son walk up to us. A possibility of a train? Indeed, tomorrow, at seven a.m.

They use old, small transport locomotives and open-sided cars with benches. On the side of one of the vagones is painted: Aventura Sobre Rieles. “That’s the name of our company,” don Carlos affirms.

I bid him good night. I feel uncertain about taking this train. An excursion, a tourist train. But he said Mexican families would be riding. Should I go, if for nothing else than the adventure?

I still do not know when I fall into fitful sleep.

 

Mexico, Chihuahua, train

The rail line from Nuevo Casas Grandes to Cumbres and Madera. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

I awaken to my alarm a bit after six a.m. Without thinking, I tie down my pack.

The sky is still pink when I walk to the station. I ask don Mario, the guard, if there is a train this morning. Yes, at seven. I run back to get my Rocinante.

And so we wait. The sun is higher. Church bells ring for mass.

Near their pick-up, Ramiro González, his wife, their grown children and spouses mill. Cookout supplies and coolers mound around them. The four-year-old grandson plays on a yellow vagón. León Barriga Ortiz, who worked over 30 years on this line, his wife and their oldest grandson, thirteen years old, stand near the tracks. Both families want the children to experience a train journey.

Soon, young Ramón, our engineer, arrives in a transport máquina attached to a carriage. We load our belongings. He looks back at us with his clear hazel eyes. Just before eight, we are off in two small cars: a green engine and a blue passenger.

 

Feeling every vibration

through these wooden floors

the open sides

Rattle? Clunk? Clatter?

 

Clamor!

 

Through the old rail yards, bodegas and locomotive sheds empty, decaying. We slow for intersections, waving at those automobiles stopped.

Then we gain speed, rocking and jolting past adobe homes, past their apple orchards and cornfields surviving – somehow – in this eleventh year of drought. A man hoes a campo of beans. We slow over a bridge spanning a cracked-mud arroyo.

 

The Sierra Madre surrounds this

broad plain we

shudder across

Jackrabbits flee into brush

a correcamino hops atop

a fencepost

A cow, an ancient

álamo rot

into the earth

 

Everyone we pass greets us, from pickups or milpas, from porches. Dogs run barking towards our trenecito. Dairy cattle water at a green pond or graze along the tracks, lazily moving away from our approach.

In the front car, the González family chats, pointing at the passing countryside: Buttes towering above us. Trees full of black birds. The bitter smell of crushed herbs swells around us.

Into Mata Ortiz. A quick beak to allow us to buy supplies, as there is nothing ahead – no shops, no restaurants, no vendors. When I come back with my meager purchase, Señora González offers me soda and burrito after burrito – tres de frijol, dos de huevo.

On we go, rattling, swaying. The earth ripples around us. Through Santa Rosa, a dozen or so adobe huts, a school and a small church.

The land becomes rockier. We begin to ascend. To our left, smooth-topped hills meet rugged cerros.

 

Suddenly our solitary rail splits. A tanker rests on that right spur and to the left, boxcars. Here there are a half-dozen or more empty white-washed houses, their windows torn out. Graffiti cover the walls.

This sluice we’ve been traveling along since Mata Ortiz widens to a river, its banks heavy with poplars and willows. We wind now at the base of a cliff.

We stop a ways from a ranch. Ramón calls to someone up there and climbs over the barbed-wire fence. The González family poses for photos. The desert hills are greened and dotted with wild white poppies. We see our maquinista returning. Quickly we reboard as to lose no time.

We rattle further into these mountains. The heat of day grows. That río still rushes and pools to our side.

 

Slicing through a canyon

wending among trees & boulders

through tunnels

Always that sierra landscape

as we emerge, the wind

whipping our hair

 

A squirrel runs to a hidden crevice. A mother and child wade the creek to their small earthen home, a tethered buckboard wagon in the yard. Winding. Adobe houses seep into the soil. Zopilotes feast on a dead calf. Bleached bones scatter a pasture. Three great blue herons fly upstream. Through an unposted former stop, boxcars stripped of wood, down to rusting skeletons.

Miles upon miles of this landscape. Boulders and trees, mountains and thin pastos. Birds and butterflies and anthills. Over a river, through a tunnel. That same landscape.

We pause a few moments at a rancho. Ramón’s uncle greets us. His silver pup follows down. As we depart, tío Poncho reads the message delivered to him.

Another trio of garzas cenizas. Two fly off. The other remains, statuesque in the shallow water of that now-weaker stream. Over bridges. Slowing once and again for colts and horses, calves to clear the tracks.

We stop to move another vagón out of our way. A short break to drop off a package of medicine. On that siding, more Aventure sobre Rieles cars. Past houses of adobe, cabins of logs, into Bella Vista.

Further into the sierra we climb, we twist. An almost dry arroyo flows at our side.

 

The wind-eroded crags

of Las Gallinas

tower into the clouding sky

Wheels upon rails

squeal with

each curve

Pine scent teems

in this

late morning

 

A sheer drop-off, then the last long climb to Cumbres. Don León points out our vía on the other side of the dried river. Deafening clatter, through a tunnel, climbing, winding. Through the sparse forest on these mountainsides we see our tracks further below. Another tunnel. An adobe station melts. Into one tunnel and then a second over 900 meters long.

 

The total blackness

our headlight

sporadically flashing

A toot of horn

the smell of

damp stone

 

Then we back out, to the Cumbres patio.

 

We walk up the torn vía to the old tunnel, over one kilometer long. Don León says he has newspaper clippings of what had happened one fateful day in 1914, during the Mexican Revolution.

The guerrilleros assaulted a carguero and it derailed inside here. It began  to burn and fill the tunnel with smoke when …

A passenger train came from behind. Its engineer noticed the smoke billowing out and tried to halt …

But hit the other train and caught fire also.

Over 50 persons died.

Yes, some people still leave offerings.

We enter the black passage, the other mouth small and far away. Our flashlights prance off the still-smoke-charred walls, off the heat-blistered rails. Midways, near the ladder to the upper level, is an altar. Paintings of Niño Jesús, an infant’s boots. Multitudes of broken glass of ofrenda candles, faded flowers. Cigarettes, Vick’s Vapor Rub, a calendar from January – February 1995.

 

And once we somberly return to our trenecito, Ramón creates a portable roundtable. Don León pulls out his leather work gloves to add his expertise of years on the railroad. The other men soon join in the turning of our cars.

The women watch. Daughters-in-law pick a bouquet of wildflowers for abuelita González.

Before we leave, Ramón tears off limbs of a manzanilla bush. Don León gathers té de milagro (good for the kidneys, he tells me) for a friend. El señor of the other family offers me a pony beer, “Now you don’t have to write.”

I sip that cervecita, watching our descent. Midways, I begin scrawling these words.

 

Through tunnels, over

orange bridges

descending, bending

The aroma of pine

the clatter of these rails

sun bright off stone walls

A lizard crawls up

moss-edged crags

speckled with amanita

 

The sky becomes more overcast as we descend. Along that arroyo, shaded by cedars and álamos, where horses graze and cows laze. Over a bridge, into Bella Vista. Wild ducks bathe in the new-born brook bedded with rocks and plants. A blue heron soars.

At last we stop along the stream’s edge, at Ejido Heroínas. Beneath these poplars, blankets are spread, the grill is fired, lawn chairs set up.

 

And nothing to do but

feel the breeze

climb the boulders

watch the fish & dragonflies

share food

share stories

 

Ramón leaves a way up to the Aventura taller. After a while he returns with another máquinita, this one magenta, and a compañero. The González family invites them to eat.

Soon we all carry the grill, chairs and coolers up to that trenecito, stowing everything in its place. A white camioneta pulls up, and a woman with two suitcases boards. At four p.m. we depart, the new locomotive in the lead.

Down by the creek, two muchachos search among the stones. In the pastures between there and these rails, horses and burros run. We pause to allow calves to cross. The passing clouds cool this afternoon.

 

We halt. The engineer has heard something fall – perhaps a piece from the fleche of the magenta máquina. Don León and his grandson, Ramón and another walk the track until it is found. The green locomotive will now take us home.

A quick stop to pick up a shipment of chicken from tío Poncho.

Through a tunnel, the mouth we entered reflecting off the rear window of the wagon in front. A shorter tunnel and over a trestle bridge, along the bluffs. Past a side-less boxcar turned into a pigpen.

 

A pair of startled garzas

cenizas flies away

an eagle atop a tree

The earth scattered with

rocks & stark bones

a pond’s shores raku

The zopilotes have

for now

abandoned the calf

 

Through the canyon, along the broadening stream. From stone house to tree laundry dries on a line. Two boys wave at us clattering by. Into a tighter gorge, eroding cliffs rasping the bright blue sky, the sun sinking lower. We are cast into shadow. Slowing for more cows, more horses to leave the vía.

Through Rocío, populated by cast-off railroad vagones and buildings, by a half-dozen and so cattle carcasses.

Those smooth hills roll pale beige, tan, sage towards the brush-dappled mountains of rough jades and rust. To the west, the clouds are thick and grey.

Three vaqueros salute us. Their hound attentively watches us, ears and tail erect.

The land here is dryer, the plants a worn green. Trees become sparser and smaller. Those clouds shield the sun. Nopales, heavy with fruit, are common now.

 

Santa Rosa.  dog chases the trenecito. Shuddering, jerking. The sun breaks free from the clouds – burning hot, bright. Cardenche cactus now frequent.

We pause to siphon gasoline from one to the main engine. Ramón says we are still over an hour from Nuevo Casas Grandes. The González family cracks open their watermelon and shares it with all around. We leave behind seeds that perhaps will take root in this desert.

 

Back in the country of doves, black birds and roadrunners. Mata Ortiz. Penned sheep and goats, free-roaming burros, pottery workshops. Two boys with bicycles in hand greet us.

Across the broad plain flanked by browned hills. Tumbleweed catch in barbed wire. The clouds still try to corral the sun. The green fragrance of irrigated fields and of herb crushed on rail. On the shores of an irrigation ditch, a mother watches her sun practice his letters.

The sun has escaped, the clouds fall into shadows. Mesquite outlines those sluices and streams. Newly planted orchards. The mountains turn deep grey-purple. A veil of rain falls in the distance. A mutt yaps at our heels, a jackrabbit flees. In the dirt road beside the track, muchachos play soccer. Dust billows with the cooling dusk. A truckload of soldiers wave as we clear the crossroads.

Two kilometers now from Nuevo Casas Grandes. The streets are damp, the air smells of earth. The old locomotive shed, roof caving in. Broken-glass warehouses. Rail yard families sit in doorways. Their dogs bark.

 

We are home at 7:30 p.m. For almost twelve hours we have enjoyed our adventure upon these rails wending through desert and mountains, through this poetic landscape. The grandchildren have gotten to experience a train journey.

But this was much more than a mere excursion for our pleasure. We have gotten to witness the service of this trenecito to the settlements. No road goes there. Only this rail line. Those people, those families would otherwise be abandoned. They would have no way to receive messages or medicines. Tío Poncho could not get his poultry to market. The woman of Ejido Heroínas wouldn’t have been able to arrive to town.

All of these villages – Santa Rosa, Rocío, Bella Vista, Ejido Heroínas – would be ghost towns, like so many others along so many routes suspended by companies in the push for privatization.

The Mexican government long ago abandoned the ideals of the 1910 Revolution. It adopted free trade policies, giving preferences to capitalists and foreigners over small, local producers and campesinos. Once more foreigners can own expanses of land in Mexico and control more than 49 percent interest in a company. The ejido system is being dismantled. State holdings – not only the railroad, but also mines, telephone, electricity and petroleum – have to be privatized according to the terms of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by the US, Canada and Mexico and which went into effect 1 January 1994).

However, in different parts of Mexico – as in this desert pocket in Chihuahua – the Revolution continues to survive within the blood coursing through the descendants of those guerrilleros and guerrilleras. The rail lines are being appropriated – by the people, for the pueblo. Like the rain that fell that day of our journey, these actions of people’s power are refreshing their lives, surviving the economic drought produced by neo-liberal policies. And if the children, the grandchildren can learn the necessity of these trains, perhaps they can continue for many generations more.

¡Qué viva this new Revolution!

 

 

WITNESSING : Journeys in Central America

The National Geographic map that has accompanied me on many journeys to the region.

 

Recently, journalist Tracy Barnett wrote an article about the current human rights crisis in Central America that is fueling mass migrations to the US border. She spent three months in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador investigating and speaking with the people, to see what is causing this.

 

When I shared her article, I wrote:

(This powerful article by Tracy L. Barnett reminds me of things I could recount — and have recounted — that I learned in my journeys in Central America, which began in the late 80s ….)

One response was:

Please do, Lorraine. This would be a very good time for people to read some of your powerful work on this subject.

 

And so I take up the challenge …

 

= = = = = = =

 

My first trip to Central America was in 1988. For several years, I heard other people’s testimonies of what was occurring in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. For even more years, I had read about the history and politics of the region. And of course, there was what was being reported in the media and said by US politicians.

 

I determined I had to witness it for myself – and to bring those lessons back to my community.

 

For over a decade, I traveled in those countries. When I had the money, I would return to learn more about the pueblos’ experiences, their histories and cultures. I documented what I was taught in poetry and travelogues.

 

= = = = = = =

 

Dozens upon dozens of books have been written about the United States’ involvement in Central America. Many fine investigative works were published in the 1980s and 1990s. (I encourage you to browse through your public library’s stacks for them, and take them home to read. Also, Please share titles in the comments below that you recommend.)

 

In a nutshell, US involvement in the region began with Manifest Destiny, a doctrine proclaimed by President John Tyler in 1845. It declared to European powers that the US had the right to dictate the fates of Western Hemispheric countries in order to preserve US economic and political interests.

 

Since the mid-19th century, the United States has intervened over 100 times in Latin America’s affairs, installing governments that would protect its interests – especially economic and those of US corporations in the region. These interventions continue to this millennium, with such actions as those of the ouster of the democratically elected Honduran president in 2009. There are many other factors (such as the US market for drugs) that add to the region’s instability.

 

= = = = = = = =

 

This is not meant to be a political piece. It is intended to share the lessons Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans taught me. I have penned dozens upon dozens of works – but today, I shall share only a few with you.

 

I now invite you to join me on a journey through the history and lives of the people of Central America. We begin with two visits to Honduras, then continue to Guatemala and El Salvador.

 

Safe Journeys!

 


 

MANIFEST DESTINY

 

Our manifest destiny is to overspread

                the continent allotted by Providence for

                the free development of our yearly multiplying

                millions.

                        —John L. O’Sullivan, The United States

Magazine and Democratic Review,

                                July 1845

 

                        America will be found fighting where

                she has always been morally—at the head

                of the column of Progress and Democracy.

                        —William Walker, New Orleans Crescent,

                                1849

 

Beyond the arch & its wrought iron gate left ajar

beyond that cross & weathervane atop

beyond the undulating white plastered wall

 

Through the waist-high weeds strewn with listing headstones & crypts

their stones blackened with age, marble plaques still bright

among rusting crosses reaching towards the clouded sky

 

I follow a well-beaten path, then the

flagstone walk crowded with weeds

I stop before a three-foot-high iron fence

its peeling white paint spotted with rusty blood

 

To the back hangs a skeleton

of a long-decayed wreath

Faded white & yellow plastic tassels

flutter in the approaching rain

 

The original stone slab bed of the grave lies heavily on the earth

the name deeply chiseled, date lightly scratched

A newer bronze plaque catches a moment of weak sun

 

William Walker

Fusilado

12 septiembre 1860

 

In a gust of wind, my sky blue poncho wraps around

my wiry body

My mind sinks into the weight of my late afternoon

losing       loosing itself to your time       to your

 

Dreams of conquering this narrow waist of the Americas

Golden dreams of Sonora

for Arizona

spinning into a Mexican dust devil

routing you back to California

 

Verdant Nicaraguan dreams

for Commodore Vanderbilt

shuttling 49ers across

Plush Nicaraguan dreams

for the US

desiring a canal

Luscious Nicaraguan dreams

for you, Walker

president-imposed of an English-

speaking slave state

These dreams wind into a green hurricane

unleashed by moneyed powers

blowing you North to New Orleans

 

Oh, but you still dream of your

Five or None banner

fluttering in those tropical breezes

 

On your Manifest Destiny dreams you sail

from Mobile to here, Trujillo

 

& the heavy silence before the storm settles

before me       before you

 

                        After many days of battling jungle & the British,

                you hand your pistol & your sword to Captain Salmon

                on these pestilent banks of the Río Negro.

                        But as the Icarus flies back to Truxillo, your fate

                melts into the waiting arms of the Hondurans.

 

                        Flanked by priests, through jeering masses, you

                face your firing squad.

                        You fall from the volley of the first squad.

                        Your dead body jumps on the stony ground, pounded

                by the second squad’s shots.

                        The officer walks up to your body lying still, facing

                the morning. He puts his pistol to your head & blasts

                your face skyward.

 

Skyward whips the dirt around my feet

Thunder blasts the heavy silence before this storm

 

I stare at the bronze plaque

wondering who placed it, who placed the wreath

Admiring Contras who had trained so near here?

The US Air Force, honoring its dead shot down in 1985?

The CIA or Ollie North, sipping rum

in the bar of their posh Christopher Columbus resort?

 

My brown eyes look coldly at your slab

more steely than your grey eyes ever could

I think of Manifest Destiny as the phlegm rises

to my mouth

& I fire a long stream upon your name

 

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

The complete manuscript of my works about the United and Standard Fruit Companies. photo © Lorraine Caputo

In 1993, I embarked on a walking journey through the banana plantations, from Guatemala to Honduras.(This adventure is documented in my story “The Jungle Trail.” What I witnessed provoked me to spend nearly a decade learning about the history of the US-based Banana Companies in the region, and interviewing people there.

 

ANOTHER MAN WHO REMEMBERS

As the old school bus stops at the central park, I look at my watch. I’ve got an hour to catch the Chiquita train. But where’s the station?

The driver suggests I ask the ice cream vendor. He pulls the bill of his ball cap up. “Pues, at the traffic light, take a right. About ten blocks, then. Just past the bridge.”

I hop back on the bus. “Oh, I’ll be going right by there,” responds the driver. I know we are getting close: up on that water tower is the familiar blue seal.

I’m off and I’m hustling, bowed under the weight of my knapsack. “Where are you going?” people call out. “To catch a train.” “But it didn’t come today.”

It didn’t come today? Will it run tomorrow, as scheduled? There’s no-one at the station. Well, there isn’t a station, really. Just a platform.

 

I return to the gate I’d passed, across from the gridded and blockaded streets of the Company town. A sign says COBALISA. I hesitantly enter.

“Excuse me, señor,” I say to the man at the office. “The train didn’t come today?”

“It appears not. Go up to the dispatch and ask.”

I walk to the building he points out. It is the color of banana flesh turning I the air. There’s no answer and no-one around. I return.

“Well?” the man says.

I shrug.

“Look, take a load off. I’ll give a call over.”

I put my pack in the shade and sit on the curb.

 

“Umph. No answer. I tell you, the Company isn’t like it used to be. No, señora. He tips his chair against the wall. “ – Chiquita – because it is so small now. Used to have tens of thousands of workers. Even on a Sunday like this, this place would be crawling with people. Now there’s lucky to be 8,000 total.” He motions to a building near us. The wood is rotting away. “See that, the shape it’s in? And empty. It’s not being used. No. The Company isn’t what it used to be.”

He introduces himself: Juan García. (1) His father worked for the Company, too. Bored? Yeh, a bit.

“The problem is …” A silver pick-up stops. It shines bright in this early afternoon sun. Juan checks the man’s papers, then waves him through. Once it drives off, and no-one else is around, he begins again. “The problem is that the paternalistic US management pulled out and put Honduras in charge.” Paternalistic? I raise a brow. “But they are inefficient and corrupt. So, there’s less work. But now the Company is going through a restructuring, bringing in management even from Costa Rica. Those ticos are surprised the Company here still has an operating railroad. They say it should be gotten back into shape – why spend money on trucks? But the others had let it go….”

Juan sees some men enter the gate and near us on their bicycles. He waves to me to be still. He walks up to them. I hear him ask if they know anything about today’s train. They shake their heads.

He wags his head, taking his seat again. Once the bicyclists have locked up and walked into the compound, Juan directs his attention to me. “Before there was certainty in the Company. I could say with complete faith, Yes, there will be a train today at exactly this time,” he says, stabbing the air with a finger. Then he looks away. “But not any longer. They’re not taking care of any of it.”

A moment of silence falls between us. Then Juan turns to me, “Gee, good material for your book. Great impression this has made about the Tela Railroad Company.” That is, the book I’m writing about train journeys. This would be an interesting addition.

He falls into the topic of his family and childhood. Many more people come and go. He asks them all about the train. We finally piece the information together: It did leave from El Progreso, but it only got as far as one of the campos: Las Flores. It had mechanical problems. Juan says to me in a low voice, “This never would have happened in the past. They would have sent another locomotive in. The trains just aren’t what they used to be.” He slaps his knees. “Well, tomorrow there definitely should be a train. They have to take the workers to the hospital.”

 

I wait until we are alone again. “Don Juan – you said your father had also worked for the Company. How was it then?”

“It was tough, for sure.” He shakes his head at a memory. “It was in his time that the big strike happened.”

The big strike? I widen my eyes. “What year was that, don Juan?”

He sighs. “1954. The police – the military opened fire on the crowd with machine guns.” He closes his eyes for a moment. “My father was there. I was with him.”

I breathe deep, exhale slowly. “Were any killed?”

“Many.” He glances away. Silence. A slow movement of head back and forth. “I don’t know how many. But there was so much blood, it flowed.”

Juan gazes at me, “I was young” – he was only five years old – “but I remember.”

I look down at my hands.

“The unions don’t want us to remember. They’re in the pocket of the Company. And the Company doesn’t want us workers to celebrate May First.”

Of course not.

 

Juan continues, “I have no faith in unions.” He watches a man approaching on bicycle. “I prefer to work hard. And if I have any problems, I go to management itself.”

That man arrives. I look at the clock in the office: 3 p.m. “Well, it’s the end of my shift.”

“Thank you, señor García.” I hoist my pack onto my back and walk off to catch a bus for El Progreso. I’ll catch the morning train from there tomorrow.

 

(1) Name changed to protect the identity of this worker.

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 


 

My first journeys to Guatemala were when the Civil War was still raging there. Some nights, I would listen to the rocket fire in the hills surrounded the villages. I spent several spells in San Juan Cotzal, Nebaj and  Chajul, the three main villages of the Ixil Triangle, deep in the Cuchumatanes Mountains of Guatemala. This was one of the hardest-hit areas of the country during its 35-year Civil War. The atrocities committed by the US-backed governments and their paramilitary groups were astounded. I spent many evenings in shuttered rooms, away from earshot of others, listening to the testimonies of those who lived through – and survived – those horrors.

 

SILENT COURAGE

San Juan Cotzal

The Saturday market streets are full of the

bargaining for housewares & chickens

in the sh-shs & clicks of Ixil

 

I wind past the crowded stalls to the church

Stone dust drifts through the nave

from a scaffold in the apse

It glitters in the filtered sunlight

 

On the left wall, Christ slumps upon a large crucifix

Small even-armed wooden crosses surround him,

names engraved of those victims

of the government abuses here

the disappeared, the kidnapped

the tortured, the assassinated

 

I sit on a nearby bench

studying their lives

Seventeen years of documentation

from 1974 to 91

many from 80, 81, 82

 

The clang of hammer upon rock

reverberates through this sanctuary

 

I mentally count the crosses, row upon row

like a halo around the Savior

Now & again I look furtively over to those workers

One, two, three hundred

four hundred     & seventy     four

crosses     474 lives       474

victims       martyrs

474 deaths

 

published in :

In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights (London, UK: Human Rights Consortium of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, October 2013)

 


 

During my first trip to El Salvador shortly after the peace accords were signed, I spent time in Morazán Department. I interviewed people in several villages – including Perquín, Segundo Montes and, yes, El Mozote – about their experiences during the civil war.

I was one of the first to reveal that El Mozote was being repopulated. In fact, I arrived on foot to that village just as the returnees were cleaning the ruins, to begin anew.

This is the poem I was compelled to write at that moment, sitting in the scant shade of the silhouette statue.

 

NUNCA MÁS

 

A village deserted for so long

after such a horror:

Battalion Atlacatl, armed & trained in

                torture & so-called low-intensity warfare

                by the US of A, killed 1000people here &

                in neighboring villages in Operación

                Rescate

 

One December night in ’81, the soldiers arrived and stayed.

The people of the village were forbidden to leave their homes.

 

The next morning, the soldiers gathered the people:

the men in one place…

the women in another…

the children in the convent.

First they interrogated / tortured / shot the men…

then they shot the women…

then the children…

The soldiers left their boasts on the walls of the now-empty homes

& laid torch to it all.

 

The campesinos & guerrilleros near saw the columns of smoke arising.

Some had heard the shots & shouts, the screams.

When they arrived all that was left was the bodies of 1000 people

being eaten by buzzards & dogs.

 

 

And now the air is disturbed

only by a slight breeze through the long-needled pines.

A silhouette sculpture of a family

man / woman / children holding hands

stands in the center of the village.

Roofless buildings – some with bullet & shell holes,

all with charred beams.

 

And from these ashes, from the debris of fallen roof tiles

you, the few survivors of that massacre

only six, with your new families]

arise like a Phoenix

to rebuild your homes & your community

still called El Mozote.

 

        published in :

Red River Review (August 2001)

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend this December solstice browsing through the list (with links) below, journeying to Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and other destinations between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

…. and until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

Storm a-brewing over Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Depths” in Poppy Road Review (18 September 2018)

 

“Leaving Only …”, “Translucense,” “Awaiting El Niño,”  “A Visitor Arrived One Stormy Afternoon” and “Spirit Suite – Une Autre Étude” in The Writers’ Café Magazine (UK) (October 2018)

 

“South of the Río Loa” in the Aurorean (Fall/Winter 2018–2019)

 

“Deeply I” in Manzano Mountain Review (Issue Nº 3)

 

“Fishing for Magic” in The Drabble (13 November 2018)

 

“Spirit Suite – Étude Nº 8” in Night Garden Journal (3 December 2018)

 

“Day of the Dead Rain,” “Quebrada de Humahuaca,” and “Awaiting the Storm,” in Mojave River Review (Fall/Winter 2018-2019)

 

Three Christmas lunes, in River Poets Journal (December 2018)

 

And – something a bit different … my translation of :

“The Unproductive” by Cristián Londoño Proaño on Ecuador Fiction

 

Magellanic Penguins at Caleta Valdés on Península Valdés in Argentina’s Patagonian coast. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            AndesTransit

Go Wild in Argentina

 


 

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me.

I am also available to participate in literary events.