Altos (III)
The sun hauled its cart across the sky—
not a god, a god’s weary ox. Summer 
had begun to hurt, and the forbidden river 
was too much for us, so we went to it.
The great stone stairway seemed to call 
with its lost grandeur for our hands and feet,
echo of the commerce it sustained when it
sustained the place. We had no history for it—
the stones each three feet deep and six 
feet wide, each perhaps a ton and like a tomb.
We started down them—scrambling with our hands, 
sitting to jump where one had crumbled clean 
away, our palms and bottoms chalk-white when 
three-hundred slabs later we reached the slow water. 
Our faces glistened like coins. A man approached 
in a wooden boat, as if he had expected us;
a small man, with a face like dried fruit. 
He offered us a ride. At the prow, 
a basket of slim silver fish, still breathing; 
a sac of mangoes hard as yellow stones.
The man pulled the boat, low with our 
weight, downriver with one warped oar. 
One of us laughed at the wretched cows
that called and grazed on the far, flat bank,
their hides hanging from their spines like rags.
A boy, the cowherd, slept against a tree.
Then we were quiet. Green became green. 
Nothing flickered. The light found all things
equally until we slowed under a grotto of leaves.
Home was legend then. We were this man’s 
children, almost grown, fanning flies off 
the day’s business, hungry for tostones, 
for slow-cooked frijoles, dreaming of—
A bright green and turquoise bird cried 
across the water, blurring its wings. 
As if it were a sign, the old man stirred 
the boat around, and then he sang. 
The voice stirred like the wings of birds, 
flocked with startling color from his throat—
it rose and deepened, now high, now clear, 
a woman’s voice, a boy’s. I couldn’t 
get all the words: arboles...ojos...
corazón...lejos.  He closed his eyes.
He sang into the sun. The music scaled 
the cliff, then fell again like leaves 
onto the water, or like tears. He held 
a cooling final note, then stopped
and dropped us at the riverbank. We paid 
him for a photo, slung our arms around 
his shoulders. We paid him for the ride. 
He thanked us, nodding, drew away 
toward home, his pockets full of coins. 
There were the stairs in front of us, like years.
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