Coming into Cuzco


                 "Being born is going blind and bowing down a thousand times."
                                                                  --Townes Van Zandt

We woke early and found the streets already crowded
with taxis, travelers, Indians loading yams.
At the airport we waited for the plane that would lift us
out of those mountains and I was a broken jug,
nothing could fill me. I wandered among the Europeans
in their new alpaca sweaters, thinking, everyone has a sweater,
this is Peru. You stood with hands sunk in your pockets,
your brown hat tipped back on your head.
How easily you joined the ticket line, how easily you mentioned coffee,
but I was watching a funeral, black-cloaked Indians
comforting an old man with white hair
who had just stepped off the plane followed by a casket.
I was listening to the herd of them wailing on the runway,
thinking this man in the center was the same shape as my father,
thinking, this is Peru, this is more than Peru.
I could not speak it. That morning my mouth was a buried spoon.
I wanted to throw my life down in front of me
and rear up straight like an animal before he gallops into the woods.
But the plane rose and we were riding it.
They gave us sugar candies because we were so high, so high.
I looked down on that land I was beginning to recognize
and wondered at all the grief I have not yet experienced,
how it would be to be riding next to the body of the one you have loved
on the day it no longer carries a breath, and I said to myself,
you know nothing, you are your own dead weight.

When we landed I was still dragging the sack of stones,
unable to joke or focus on the guidebook.
"Finding Your Way," it said, and I thought,
this will take more than a map.
We were riding a bus into the city.
A baby pressed among the passengers shouted Vamos! every time the bus paused.
Suddenly a laugh, a stranger, was sliding into my throat.
I thought how far we had come and finally we were coming into Cuzco.
A young girl pushed forward toward the door.
I saw the bright nosegay of flowers she guarded carefully.
Vamos! And she handed me one perfect pink rose,
because we had noticed each other, and that was all.
One rose coming into Cuzco and I was thinking
it should not be so difficult to be happy in this world.


Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, The Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.