Stepping down to the tarmac,
I can't believe the heat
lifting in clear waves from the desert,
the ghost of a lake glistering over the dust.
The light is rarefied in this part of Mexico,
an honest light,
a naked hundred-watt bulb.
The terminal is small, many of the vinyl seats
collapsed or sagging. The swept tile shines.
A family sits in a line facing the coming plane,
suitcases around their shy feet.
I stutter through what I can remember
from that single years-ago semester,
calling back flashcards and conjugations
of a Spanish quick and musical
on every mouth but mine.
I'm abroad for the first time,
awed as always by travelers.
When a friend returned from Europe,
I searched her face for wisdom
from those old churches, expecting
her to carry the long Atlantic miles
in her hands like rosary beads.
I walk out to the road,
smelling eucalyptus, acrid dirt,
and the exhaust of old cars, the airport
humming behind me. Stretching
my legs between flights, I tell myself.
Curiosity-driven, I squat among cheap
metal crosses winking above bare dust
in a cemetery by the school, conscious
of the staring children beyond the fence,
their neat uniforms blazing
like white orchids.
In the airport bar, Ted Lopez sat beside me.
"I bet you feel out of place," he said.
"You see it too?" I asked. He only laughed.
A brown man from Phoenix,
visiting distant family, he bought
my Coke when he saw I had no pesos.