Santiago Atitlàn, Guatemala, 2005

El Hospitalito.

El Hospitalito.

Fifteen hundred people buried alive,
& I stood over their bodies through
five feet of displaced earth, judging—
no, measuring—by how high soil
crept up still standing buildings,
hiding doorknobs on el hospitalito.

I can’t say the things they needed
to live were what killed them, only
their method of acquiring; I heard
about the planting style—shotgun—
tear out trees & mercilessly shoot,
sinking seeds into mountainside.

When ground, that new ground, broke
loose from the slope, swept down,
carving a fissure in the peak, roaring—
funny to live so close to a volcano
& die by gushing mud—flowing from
hand-planted crops of beans & corn.

Like snow, which never falls so close
to the equator, white lime powder
coated the ground—a swaddling cloth
to smother the rot, the stench we all
become—still, the smell woke every
day, rose up, higher than the sun.

Two days we spent across the lake,
spilling Quetzales & mispronunciations,
while our gringo doctors blessed locals
with packs of pills—ibuprofen all day
for post partum depression & for aches,
for cancer & for some escaping reason.

During el culto at la iglesia, I spoke,
stood on pine needles spread like carpet
as a royal welcome, stated the few things
that still seemed true—me llamo Jaime,
soy de Indiana, y yo tengo dieci siete años
then choked up & then flipped my script.

What could I say? I’m no solution; no one
is & next day we left the village, returned
to Guatemala City with its black halo hung
above—coal fires, carbon bonded with one
or two oxygen atoms, all burnt—buried us,
prophesied: this life we built will kill us all.

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