Midnight Bus to Oaxaca
by Elaine Cohen
by Elaine Cohen
Midnight Bus to Oaxaca: An Introduction
The poems in the collection were written over the last two decades. Some came all at once, dropping like manna, others took years to finish and polish. Together they form a lyric memoir about a time in my life when I needed to reckon my losses and possibilities. Reading Jack Keruoac's On the Road at age thirteen set me on a restless path of traveling – by hitchhike, bus, car, train, subway, airplane – it didn't matter, as long as I got to where I was going. In retrospect I see that it was all about the journey. Slowing down in one place, such as Oaxaca, Mexico where many worlds mingle and collide, I began to gain enough perspective to envision this slim volume of poems.
She writes vividly about places from Oaxaca Mexico to Hyde Park in Chicago, New York, Berlin and Paris."
Night of the Radishes
Tonight the famed Oaxaca Zocalo with its arcaded cafés
and colonial building is awash in radish brilliance –
a competition of masterwork sculptures carved from giant
tusk-like radishes cultivated for just this purpose, bright
magenta on the outside, snow-white interiors.
Around the square's perimeter in 3D radish:
skeletons and mariachis, monkeys, angels, devils,
Zapatistas, dioramas of Don Quixote tilting windmills.
Radish shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, stark, post-modern
radish abstractions. Hail Radish glory for one-night-only!
After the judging, I stop at a club near my hotel
to hear an Argentine play tangos on bandoneon.
Return to my silent blue cell on the second floor,
switch off the solitary light. Tangos drift in on the air
and I think of you no matter how much
I want to forget.
How you would have loved those radish sculptures!
How your sudden death was like an amputation.
Where are you? In spirit, they say. Dead, they say.
Resurrected. Gone to hell. Let him go, they say.
The night deepens. Banana leaves rustle.
Dim lights glimmer.
For years I lost myself on those crowded streets,
Grant or Stockton, and all the narrow alleys
in between, elbowed by old women wearing
padded jackets, glaring at me as I gawked
displays of jade, or the doomed, crated ducks
soon to be roasted, glazed and hung
in shop windows. Sidewalks clogged with trucks
unloading chickens, frogs, turtles, clear-eyed fish
still flopping on ice, piled-up herbs, cress,
ginseng – I take in all the clatter and stink
of markets conducted in tongues I will never
understand, a tourist in my own city,
the city I kept faith with thirty years, until one day
I went out for cigarettes and never came back.