THE AZTEC EAGLE El Águila Azteca – Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo 27 January 1997 South of Tula we finally begin to escape the clutches of Mexico City’s smog The mountains are clearer winter gold speckled with dull green brush & cactuses A red-tailed hawk perches atop a budding tree Canyons sculpt the leached sandstone where dry arroyos wind like rattlesnakes We slow for a stretch where a train has derailed Metal power lines lay twisted The ages lava rocks, pale soil are charred Our locomotive hums as we pass by the workers repairing that other pair of tracks Broad-leafed nopales play patty-cake in the climbing sun ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ La Guega, Querétaro is where our train meets the Juarez-bound train continuing on its north-bound journey & we wait here listening to a barrel-chested man sing He rests the accordion on his paunch It waves like the sea between his broad, longer-fingered hands ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ At Escobedo, a woman stands on the platform twisting on tiptoes looking for her husband who’s inside this crowded train car She at last finds him & waves I’ll return soon he calls to her through the open window leaning over seats She nods & wipes away a tear with the edge of their infant daughter’s blanket Call, she yells putting thumb to mouth little finger to ear She smiles fighting painful tears The wife stoops to their toddler & whispers in her ear Then lifting her onto the other hip they wave good-bye to father She turns away with the children to stand beneath the overhang of the station roof Again she wipes a tear turning a bit from her husband’s view As the train pulls away, she smiles We’ll be fine, love & I see her tears shadow her face ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ In a field dozens of men & women sow seeds Down a dirt path a woman balances a bundle of long-cut reeds atop her head ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ I stand in the vestibule watching three locomotives pull of a long string of cargo cars They click by just feet away Our brakes hiss as we stop Like an old-time movie frames clumsily flowing from one to another I can see the village on the other side of that passing train ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The sky is lightening with the coming of another morning overcast & dull Leaves dance in an approaching storm White stone crumbles off the eroding mountains outside Monterrey The sierra further north is fuzzed by fog - VOYAGING FROM VERACRUZ The rising sun goldens the open wooden doors of the station. In front is parked the old black & silver Engine Nº 9 with its coal car. The tarnished-brown station bell awaits to be clanged. Across the street, in the port, a large ship berths at a pier. Standing idle to one side, a leading crane flexes. Through this white & ochre cavern echoes the flight of two lost pigeons. On the other side of the gates separating lobby from tracks, a man sweeps the tiled platform with a wide push broom. People bound for Xalapa & Mexico City line up at Gate 5. Plastic tote bags, handles tied with a bit of string – large boxes carefully wrapped around & around with rope – small knapsacks all lie at feet. A mother holds her new-born child, covering its head with a thin flannel blanket. Next to her, on a duffel bag, sits her chubby-faced son. He stuffs a stick of gum into his mouth & another. His slightly slanted eyes squint at the pack in his hands. He stands up & offers a piece to his mother, then to abuelita. His tuft of black hair bobs as he chomps his gum. The boy walks away, pulling his sleeves over his hands & prances around the station. We are told to move to Gate Nº 4. Boxes & packs are shifted to the orders of the guard. & the young boy pulls his gum out of his mouth with plump fingers. El Jarocho arrives a half-hour late from Mexico City, amidst the blare of its locomotive’s horn. From its long line of cars – 2nd class, 1st class, sleeper & dining cars, its passengers rush towards the lobby. The young guard holds his automatic rifle off his right shoulder. His black pants are tucked into shiny black military boots, neatly laced. He commands us to form a single line, a single line. For the love of God, form a single line, I said. His hand rubs the stock. Suddenly he finds the gate opening out of his control, from the other side. He calls for our steady stream to have tickets in hand. The man before me shifts his box to one shoulder as he is stopped for his. Hurriedly I dig mine out of my pocket & the guard allows me to pass. People run the half-length of platform to where our cars await on Track Nº 5. They wobble under the weight of heavy bags & boxes, laughing at the insanity of the rush. & even I find myself picking up my gait to the closer car. Sunlight dodges the platform roofs & finds its way into my window open to the morning. In the engineless passenger cars on Track Nº 4, I see a man weeping the length, followed by another swaying a mop. On the other side of us clangs the bell of El Jarocho’s locomotive dieseling alone into the railyards, abandoning its red-striped blue cars. & on the platform between, a young cat ochre & white sits alone. - GHOST TRAIN (Santa Cruz to Yacuiba, Bolivia) I. Late afternoon I float on this train’s requiem Brush scrapes the sides of the car & occasionally reaches through my open window to quickly tap my shoulder II. From the vestibule steps I watch the twilight countryside blur by & listen to the swooshing of wheels But soon I must leave Death has taken a seat next to me in a toothless man chewing coca leaves III. In my hazed sleep ghostly history whorls in the dust of our journey Río Grande clatters by & the guerrilleros with Che Guevara watch my shadow head bob in rhythm of this train Spider-web curtains drape from electrical poles to the thick vegetation IV. In the new dawn a white calf bounds into an emerald forest powdered by our passage Within the billowing storm we raise the spirits of a hundred thousand soldiers still roam this bloodied soil of the Chaco V. We are nearing the end of our journey The bright seven-a.m. sun glints off a blue- graved cemetery nestled atop a hill
Lorraine Caputo is a wandering troubadour whose poetry appear in over 250 journals on six continents, and 18 collections – including On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019) and Escape to the Sea (Origami Poems Project, 2021). She also authors travel narratives, with works in the anthologies Drive: Women’s True Stories from the Open Road (Seal Press, 2002) and V!VA List Latin America (Viva Travel Guides, 2007), as well as articles and guidebooks. In 2011, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada honored her verse. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She journeys through Latin America with her faithful knapsack Rocinante, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her adventures at facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer or latinamericawanderer.wordpress.com.