Summer heat rises
Incoherent, winking, magical,
The road unfurling graciously
Across The Plain of Snakes.
A lonely stretch, the border towns,
Where shutters are closed and everyone warns,
Don’t go there—you’ll die!
The old man in the Nissan pays them little mind.
His journey is his own. Lines, real or imaginary, don’t frighten him.
He claims this adventure is wholly thanks to luck.
More likely, it was privilege.
But still he’s sure of one thing—
It’s two ends of the same road, Cape Cod all the way to Chiapas
A road to drive with the windows down
A wild wind whipping his hair, engine roar drowning the radio.
Locals notice the Massachusetts plates.
This ever-fortunate traveler, crazy or brave,
Or maybe a little of both, he’s bound for the interior.
Bound To look Mexico in the eye
And sum it all up (he thinks it can be done),
By writing the kind of book to persuade those
Who might not love Mexico, to care about its people.
Their stories, after all, could be yours or mine—
The skinny children chasing the stray dog, the Oaxacan women with baskets,
The artists, the cartels. The withered yuccas and breathtaking view.
Fate dictates all this, or Providence.
We all know luck (be it good or bad). It might’ve been privilege back in Cape Cod, but it’s sure enough luck by the time he gets to Chiapas.
Don’t go there, they warn. But to venture deep and look, that’s the yearning of seventy-some odd years, a drive he cannot ignore.
The long road back will be the writing of the book.
Blackout poem by Anne Ward
Inspired by Revealing journeys through Mexico’s ‘hard-up hinterland,’
A book review of ‘On the Plain of Snakes,’ by Paul Theroux, review by Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Washington Post, November 14, 2019.