Sestina for Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Michael Bjork

Our ferry crosses Lake Atitlan, the calm plane of water, 
taking us to a shore of boats, peddlers, market stalls. 
On the lake-washed docks, watching and eager, children 
wave animal keychains of strung, colored beads, 
shapes of dolphins, parrots, and fish, bobbling in the air 
under a sky so blue save billowing clouds and volcanic smoke.

 

The sun's rays fall over lake and cloud-but it's the smoke 
I fear, its presence mirrored in heavy plumes on the watery 
surface, and I wonder if the volcanoes release in the air 
warnings of tragedy, a modern Pompeii. But the stalls 
remain tended, vendors watching-and the animal beads 
still wave, hop, dance from their chains in the hands of children.

 

The ferry docks, a gangway falls. We disembark, and children

press into us. They reach, keychains in hand, their hair smoke-

­black, eyes lit copper, brown, and hazel like polished beads, 
high-belted pants and t-shirts, color-faded dresses. Water 
shifts around me. I step among the kids, stalling 
with a raised hand, unaccustomed to their presence in the air.

 

I pull at a strap in my shorts, a money pouch, hold it in the air,

twist out blue and green quetzals for the children, 
keeping some tucked away, zipped, hidden for the stills. 

I push through the kids, enjoying myself now, fear of the smoke forgotten as I leave young peddlers by the water and 
enter the marketplace, holding an ark of animal beads.

 

I choose a parrot from my collection, rub its interwoven beads, pass tables of clothes, necklaces, toys. I test the heft, airiness

of the plastic, manufactured pearls-they move like water 
across my fingers. I squeeze the beaded parrot, look at the children

gathered at the docks, walking beneath blue sky and smoke, 
guiding tourists and money pouches from boats to stalls.

 

Do the children lose something in these stalls, 
their days spent on the shore, trading jewelry and beads, 
precious time exchanged for quetzals corporeal as the smoke 
in the sky-smoke to swirl and fade in the heated air 
alongside the hope of something more? Will the children 
remain, or ever escape to something beyond the water? 

A shore of trinkets and stalls, open to the air, 
filled with the fashioned beads and lives of children,

children of smoke from A titian waters.