Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Las Palmas Reales
Playa del Carmen, Mexico

The palm trees clustered together on this beach,
transplanted here almost fifty years ago,
require not even a single word of praise—
unfortunately, I am not like these palms.
The bluish green Caribbean creates no sense
of urgency for them, no sense of being
common or disadvantaged. One wants to find
a shark’s fin slicing clean the ocean’s surface
but finds, instead, the light of late afternoon
arriving. It has always been this way.
The tourists are captivated by a boy
who chops the head of a coconut clean off
and drinks the water hidden within its dark
and solid husk. Amazing, they say. But this,
this is as common as salt, as common as rain.

As common as salt, as common as rain, the girls
along the shore sell not beads but the idea that one
can own a part of this place, an idea as old
as Isabella, who needed to fill her coffers
with more than gold, who asked her maidens to sew
the bright and colorful feathers of birds brought back,
and offered as gifts to Spain, along the border
of her new dress. These things were easier then.
Los blancos now require more than beads.
They need the smile, the bow, the deference.
I wish I didn’t understand these things.
I never wanted to, but I have bowed
to men, have smiled and listened to compliments
about how well I speak their English. I have bowed.
The royal palms refuse to bow to men.

The royal palms bow only for the wind.
The coral keeps its many secrets hidden
from all except the fish that recognize
the rippling of the coral as their own.
Within an hour, the sun will set, and now
the tourists gather up their things and saunter
back to their well-appointed rooms and suites.
Tonight, at dinner, they will lament the sauce
they find too spicy, too foreign, too odd.
I need a drink. I order something cold.
Along the bar, two snails inching toward
a wilting potted plant. Los caracoles,
I say, betraying I am gente,too.
Even before the Spanish words, the barkeep knew.
Mestizo: even proper English could not hide me.  

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