Honorable Mentions In the Chaco

In the Chaco

people send out messages

for the dead

on radio waves;

do they get radio pa’i puku

in heaven?

In the Chaco

owl throat calls

full yellow moon month night,

white shroud chrysalis

and soft candle light.

In the Chaco

spring is yellow

acacia sweet

buzzing day and new life waiting

for asôjná.

In the Chaco

your floor is never dirty

it is just dirt,

and when it rains

you make clay people and laugh.

In the Chaco

chickens chase dogs,

hoping for a peck

at the shiny blood-filled ticks

around their necks.

In the Chaco

green glint of parrots

on the wing;

world washed clean

after the noche tormentosa.

In the Chaco

dry bread

and hot sugar water

taste great.

In the Chaco

smooth skin bathed in

moonlight, curves

through fire-warm water

and the trees called

tujiñie and ají’ac.

In the Chaco

rattlesnakes walk at night,

when the north wind blows.

Leaving the Chaco

on a bus,

ghost palms in the headlights

wearing leaf skirts.

I lost track of time

or time lost track of me

and what was left of her was mostly

cheekbone, elbow,

knee.

In the Chaco

the world moved beneath

my pen,

describing itself

to me.

This poem was written in 1998 during my first field experience as an anthropologist, in the small Ayoreo community of Jesudi in the Paraguayan Chaco. I was turned inside out by the intense sociality and environmental sensuality of the place. As I struggled to write down everything my hosts (and adoptive clan relations) instructed me about their language, their stories and their landscapes, these poems also made their way to paper. After many years I remain profoundly grateful to my Ayoreo teachers who invited me into their lifeworlds, where everything relates: story, song, bird, tree, dream, thoughts, theory.

This poem was published as “In the Chaco” in Anthropology and Humanism Volume 34 (2) in 2009 as an honorable mention in a poetry contest. Search engines later parsed the publication as a run-on title ‘Honorable Mentions in the Chaco’, which I like better than the original.

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