11 August · Afternoon · Nissan's back seat

Last night dinner when we got in late, the long drive up from Palenque. Twisty road & little dark cook fires telling of huts that dangle on precipices. An enormous jungle insect–mantis or hopper–rode like a hood ornament for hours as we cut and swerved through singing vegetation. Cooler the higher we went, up from wet heat into thinner air. We neared Ocosingo and slowed at a settlement for the blinking lantern. Our insect protector went into the darkness on whirring wings.

Once in town we found a room, then returned to the only eating place that had looked open–overlooking the sloping zocolo from Hotel Central's porch. Inside they'd cut the lights and now we thought the restaurant closed–out of luck–just a card game going on next to the window. But a boy saw us and brought tequila to an outside table. We sat for a quick meal–thin soup and tortillas. Fifty feet off the cement fountain where soldiers had tossed six thin boys on the pavement a year ago January–each with a single bullet in the back of his head. Ranking officer sweating as he led journalists over for photos–I saw them up north. And little threads of blood trailing downhill to the church.

Freshly painted Government Palace dominates the uphill end of the square–powder blue & ivory under the klieg lights. A Disneyland quality to its fanciful ornamented facade. You'd expect the sounds of an F. Scott Fitzgerald party but back of the windows sit uniformed gunmen. Caciques, local bosses, pick their teeth & idle about the doorway with pistols. The bullet holes patched. Zapatistas have gone who knows where. Tonight is quiet enough in town, just a few wooden booths waiting for market to open tomorrow. One last tequila, & back through streets dusted by rain, attractive smell of motor oil in the gutters. Jorge had warned, watch out for coletos here. And the big owners with their squads of gunmen. But a quiet bulb casting yellow off the ribbons of asphalt guides us–to our little posada–the one place in town with a room–four of us in three narrow beds–

nearly insoluble puzzle to which love is the answer–
companionable love–

    Skull crusted with turquoise mosaic chips
cranio humano con incrustaciones
      Monte Albán
    or Pacal's face
      1300 years the jade mask undisturbed
      thick stone sarcophagos at Palenque
      no one touching the lid

    I draw a finger along the ridge of your brow
      down the proud cheek curve
        same lines as the old mask held–
      eyes proud & unreadable through tough
        bone apertures
          homo sapiens

And south past the cattle barons & machineguns
past vaqueros driving their heifers
out past Toni-Na ruins
far-minded revolutionary women step through Lacondonia forests
    cartridge belts crossing their breasts

Through the black mask a
    row of broken teeth

Andrew Schelling | Ocosingo
Contents | Mudlark No. 9