Friday, May 29, 2009

Beneath the Surface

We chat at breakfast, our forks
move over scrambled eggs, bits
of ham, the fresh baked roll,
hot coffee with evaporated milk,
cafe con leche in a hotel lobby,
anonymous, and yet, in these moments,
morning begins, another day,
the headlines around us, sound bites rising
like birds to the sun,
hints of rosemary and the sea.

Later we walk where bones were tossed
down the mountain side,
Moche sacrifices made in another time
and at the proper season,
the mountains to the east,
the river below,
140 million bricks for the sacred place of the sun,
and for the Huaca de la Luna, the decapitator,
amid images of the sea, pelicans and cormorants,
a peace loving people, so it was said,
that is before the bones were found.

Yesterday we visited the Huacas (sacred places) of the Sun and the Moon to find the most marvelous freizes, a truly amazing temple, every bit as inspirational as any colonial Baroque church we've visited here in northern Peru. Excavation is slow, much has been lost to looters and the weather. Even photos do not do justice to this main plaza, about the size of two football fields, decorated with five levels of freizes, each level about 5 to 6 feet high, each with a different theme. I can shut my eyes and still see a line of warriors holding hands. Are they dancing? Are they singing? Archaeologists use pottery and painstakingly slow research to name these icons of Moche culture, and change their minds. Behind the temple, the Cerro Blanco, a singular mountain, rises, so named by the Spanish, yet the people here say White Hill Temple is not the proper name. This is the Temple of the Moon.

Additional pictures of the Huaca de la LunaƑ are at and

The prompt comes from Robert Lee Brewer's prompt 046 Beneath the Surface.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If I were on a ship . . .

If I were on a ship,
a clipper ship, with gray waves higher
than any seasoned traveller can imagine,
the ship rising and falling with the swells,
racing against the white caps that blow senseless
in the wind, and the crew, all barefoot,
pulling the ropes that lift the sails
so we could run before the wind. And
everyone suddenly burst out singing,
"Leave her, Johnny, leave her."
and I was filled with such delight
at that chanty call
that e'en the terror of the deep
stayed far below:
"Leave her, Johnny, leave her"
an' the first mate cried "Ho, boys,
Pull, ho!" The ship sailed to the far horizon
and back again, my motley crew around me,
the deep purple sea still
beneath us, no land, no land as far as
anyone could see, God's landscape
flat and infinite.

Drop by Carry on Tuesday to read more in response to this week's prompt.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peruvian cloudless night . . .

Here, the Pacific Ocean drifts in tide
along this gravel shore,
the waves undulating,
serpentine, infinite.

At night, the Southern Cross rises
low to the horizon, above mountains
as the earth rises and turns.
These fixed mountains remain;
the sun circles to the right, to the left,
months pass, another millenium.

The puma, the serpent, the condor,
transformed and transforming,
feathered serpent, feline jaws:
Incan icons tremble.

At night, the stars burn
an arc in the sky,
across the dark spaces,
the Milky Way splashes across the heavens.
A cloudless night like this
can set the spirit soaring.

One day too late, but still, a poem for Keith Ramblings´CARRY ON TUESDAY, pulling from my reading and study of Incan beliefs and artifacts here in Lima, Peru. His lines to prompt the poem come from Auden: "A cloudless night like this can set the spirit soaring." Very evocative. Thank you, Keith.

Friday, May 22, 2009

164 Worry . . .

Are my Chinese noodles cooked sufficiently?
Should I become a vegetarian?
Have I enough clean underwear?
How many overdue books can I have at one time
without losing my library card?

Will my flesh melt when I die,
or do I care, for then
my sightless eyes will not see,
my mouth will not laugh,
I will not worry about you.

How do we know when a poem works? This little poem started silly, then turned serious. Isn't the world full of worry. Don't we all worry, and only sometimes with reason?

Also, I did want to get on the list just a little ahead of Anthony North, who is always so prolific and prompt with his postings. This week I have access to a computer, so this week I am early, early, early! It's not a race at all. Being part of Sunday Scribblings is like a virtual home, and those who post (and read) (and even comment) seem almost like friends.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

162 Disconnecting . . .

It only took a moment. I looked down. My computer bag was gone. Yes, I lost my driver's license, some meds, but mostly I was stunned. Would all my backups function? Had I backed up my poetry as carefully as my fiction?

Only days later did I realize the extent of my loss, pictures of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, six months through South America. Yes, all my backups (flash drive, DVD/CD, e-mailed copies of current work to my yahoo account), all worked. But the biggest loss was being able to write easily, whenever and wherever I wished. Now, only 3-1/2 weeks from home and being able to replace my computer, I'm calmer. I can write in bits and pieces, but I lost truly this last month as well.

Tenacity remains. I scribble on scratches of paper, a new notebook and whenever I have access (internet cafes, hotel lobbies), I try to write something -- bits of scenes, parts of poems, and posts to my travel blog.

What I learned: Back on up i-Google documents, especially when writing on the road. That service is free, private, and accessible from any computer (tip thanks to Internet Writing Workshop, an online writing critique group that shall forever be appreciated for their prompt practical and thoughtful advice). Trust yourself to write, no matter what happens. New concepts, scenes, bits of dialogue, insights into characters, commitments to different strategies for research, all have come my way. Appreciate what you have. No matter what your workspace is, know it, appreciate it! It is your unique writing place, your refuge, your inspiration. That view out the window, the line of books in front of you, the stack of notes, the quiet at early morning. You have made this as surely as any written product. And, if you are traveling, Wrap your laptop in your arms, no matter where you are -- in a bus stop after 12 hours, on the airplane, on a train, sitting in a rstaurant, or even standing on a corner.

We are often told some experiences can never be taken from us. What remains for me is a commitment to writing. I lost a few poems. I lost some treasured photographs. And perhaps several hundred research files. I cannot replace some of the drawings or notes. But I still write.

Leaves quiver in morning sunlight.
A mysterious bird warbles,
and its call is answered by a passing train.
I sit in this garden and watch for the birds
as the sun shimmers on the leaves,
the train passes, the ground rumbles,
and the chip-chip-chip of hummingbirds
punctuates the garden.
Pale white trumpet flowers sway,
the train´s bell makes a harsh last call,
metal on metal clanging, the rails hum.
I sit under this mango tree,
looking up into its green leaves,
where buds hallow into fruit.
The past, the present, the future,
all fuse in the humming bird's call.
The mountains rise around me impossibly high,
but I remain at peace,

Monday, May 11, 2009

167 Healing

Tourists come here to Cusco
to Macchu Picchu, to marvel at
quaint colonial plazas with arched colonades
that rest on Incan stone.
They pass through churches
as lightly and quickly as hummingbirds.

I am walking in the great central
Plaza de las Armas, blue sky above me
marked by high white clouds.
Mountains surround me
for Cusco is the navel of the world.
I can see the great Cathedral, its
Baroque bell towers rest on
solid Incan stone.

Here in this, plaza, 500 years ago,
Incan leaders were put to death,
great fires consumed their cloths,
fine embroidered cottons embellished
with feathers,
their gold and silver from the temples
replated on Catholic altars,
each church racing to build the finest church,
Baroque serpentine columns
rise 50 and 60 feet high.
Even a statue of Christ turns black
in sorrow, Lord of Thunder.

I see the bronze cross Pizarro carried,
high on an altar,
read excerpts from old chronicles,
one a 1,200 page letter sent to Phillip the II
that most likely lay unread until found
in a Copenhagen warehouse in 1908.

Guaman Poma de Ayala wrote:
"Our Indians, who may have been barbarous
yet were still good creatures,
wept for their idols when these were broken up
at the time of the Conquest.
But it is the Christians
who still adore property,
gold and silver
as their idols."

How do we heal history?
How do we heal the world?

Peru remains an impoverished country, dependent on tourism, with 50% unemployment. The churches here are marvels of Baroque architecture and a style called Cusconesque Baroque. The Spaniards required the Incans to build churches out of the stones of their temples and taught them to paint and sculpt and carve. The result is subversive and somewhat hidden Incan symbols embedded with the icons of Christianity, the sun headdress adorning the Christian god. At first I wanted to write a personal response to Sunday Scribblings prompt 167 on healing, but this history is unfolding before me. Our world is much in need of healing.

Church of the Company of Jesus, Plaza Mayor, Cuzco
Church of the Company of Jesus, Plaza Mayor, Cusco (source Webshots)

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Today we hiked up to the top
of these sacred hills,
past round stone circles,
here for thousands of years,
where amid ruins,
these large round towers stand,
chullpas, just 500 years old,
as high as four men,
bones still inside. Tiny doors face east,
for from the east, life comes
to those who sit inside in a fetal position,
reborn into circular time that moves
with the sun and the moon.
We descend the stone stairway in silence,
facing east, always east,
a translucent moon rising before us;
a petroglyph shows our journey
and our return.

This ancient site of Sillustani, above Lake Umayo, has perhaps been used as a cemetary for 10,000 years. Petroglyphs (a journey circle, a lizard) have been dated to 8,000 BC, and subterranean tombs have been documented to around 500 AD (Tihuanaco), 1000-1440 AD (Colla), and 1440-1532 (Incan). Our guide told us that those buried inside these towers always face east because "we are beings of light, and from the east comes life." He also talked about the duality of life, a kind of tension between the sun and the moon, earth and sky, male and female, even water and plants. This separation continues: Even young men do not wear the hats of women, but wear the hats of men, peaked hats, shaped like mountains. Perhaps the women's hats, rounded bowler hats, symbolize the earth. In these sacred places, he said, any one can breathe in the spirit of the sacred mountains and the sacred lakes. We came here by tour, just outside of Puno, Peru. Read more about Sillustani at Wikipedia. Note the Wikipedia site says the towers (chullpas) were built by the Colla people: our guide told us the towers were Incan (typical large square stone blocks). Even today scholars have not replicated their building process. More photos at Andy's Sillustani page.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

To the Lady of Ampato

I'm high in the Andes Mountains.
The bus curves around foothills,
stark sand dunes lead to rocky cliffs,
salt crusted, and at the top, snow.

No one could live here.
Yet 500 years ago, people came,
wearing sandals woven of grass,
climbing up these mountains,
carrying what was most sacred
to the highest point of Mt. Ampato.

This ice princess began with unnamed
warm ocean currents.
The shells turned red and white, bad omens,
the elders said, the mountains,
talking gods, began to belch smoke and fire.

She was born in the most propitious time,
her auspicious umbilicus saved
against that day she would transform herself
withh sea eyes, to become protector of her people,
one who walks-with-gods,
the beautiful one, the pure one, perfect,
wrapped in sacred prayers.

Placed just so, wearing gold ornaments
and wrapped in red and white, she could see the future,
the deep black sky sparked with stars, ahead,
the curve of the earth. She was one with
the Apu, the spirit of the mountain, her
eyes open for all eternity, a bridge,
a song, prayers burned into her bones.

The bus moves down to Arequippa. We pass
a road side altar, a Christian cross
entwined with pink and white plastic flowers.
I remember the ice princess, Juanita,
a child among children.

Juanita (so nicknamed for her discoverer) was sacrificed to the mountain spirit of Mt. Ampato some 500 years ago. Her mummified remains were discovered by Johan Reinhard in September 1995, in a gully surrounded by ice. Recent volcanic activity and perhaps earthquakes had caused her body to be dislodged and fall down the side of the mountain, a trail of artifacts spreading behind her. Today she resides in the Museo de la Santary, in Arequipa, where she can be visited from May to September. Her offerings included three small hand-sized icons of copper and gold, dressed in exquisite textiles and adorned with feathers honoring the moon and earth, the water, and the sun. While we may remember the horrific human sacrifice of the Aztecs, both the Mayans and the Incans also sacrificed humans, but at a much lesser scale. Only 18 of these children have been found at the top of mountains throughout what was once the Incan Empire, spreading from Peru south through Chile.

Please visit the Museo de la Santury for some dazzling pictures of the Ice Princess, some of the artifacts she was found with, including her red and white huipil, and, of course, the mountain.