A Writer Writes: Beautiful Stranger — a poem by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala)

“I’ve seen them from bus windows in Chimaltenango,
stepping out at dusk before the men come.
They aren’t pretty. Have you noticed how their waists
always look like they’re supporting gun belts
and their eyes always seem to be in shadow,
as if curtains had been pulled over them?

“Changing busses once in El Rancho,
I was walking across town,
if you want to call it a town —
it’s all dust and cashew stands —
and out of the back door of some building
stepped this woman, no, only a girl.
She was as tall as I was
and she didn’t have the gun-belt waist
and she didn’t have the shadowed eyes,
although I could tell she was going to get them one day, one day soon.
She smiled at me, a smile I bet she’d worn a thousand times already,
and she motioned to me like someone would wave at a fly,
but inviting me . . . you know . . .
inviting me inside with her.

“I forgot to mention I was in a cast,
my right ankle, I’d sprained it hiking down a switchback
in Momostenango,
and, as if it had called to her, she noticed it now,
and what I saw on her face
was something more than pity.
I felt this odd warmth come over me,
this sense she knew me, this part of me anyway,
this . . . wound,
and — I swear — she held out her arms to me
like she was trying to keep me from falling.

“I wanted to stop, to say,
‘Thank you, beautiful stranger,
sister, thank you,’
but I found myself still hobbling
toward the Pan-American Highway and my bus.
Her eyes moved past me, turning
toward where I’d come,
to what else might be
stumbling across the desert.

“You wouldn’t believe the nights I’ve spent
pacing my courtyard, wondering
what would have happened if . . .
But I guess it’s a blessing I didn’t stop
because I might be there still,
paying her all I could afford,
waiting for her to look at me the way she did,
waiting for her to find everywhere I hurt
and say, if only with her eyes,
‘I know. Yes, I know.’”

brazaitis-2016Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (1990–93) and technical trainer (1995–96) in Guatemala.


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