for my daughter, on her birthday
You and I shared the taxi’s narrow seat with the driver
and his sweetheart.
Crates of bread packed the back.
Beyond the highway, the hills were parched and bare,
and in the little town, arched doorways
lined a crowded, endless street.
Stalks of gladioli. Brilliant pyramids of peppers, limes.
Women in aprons graced with machine-stitched blooms
squatted among a clutch of hens, squawking golds
and speckled browns. Down a cobbled lane, a rooster crowed.
The village church rose above a sun-carved square.
Garlands of beads and flowers flew down from the roof like prayer,
and, inside the chapel,
parents, each holding a child by hand,
each on a necessary errand, waiting to touch the hem
of this saint’s gown, that saint’s outstretched palm.
As if it had been planned, we saw, in the corner,
a wooden burro, unassuming as a shadow,
its glass eyes alert, its bristled lashes stiff and black.
I remember how we joined the line,
the faithful who imagined this animal on some lopsided road,
some precipitous path, holding on its back a mother and her child:
woman wrapped in her uncertainty, mind heavy with the future,
pockets weighed down with the mysteries of the poor,
father directing his family toward an unknown land.
And how they must have talked together in the dark
of small things. The sounds of their laughter.
Pondering whether they’d last the night.
Smoke from votive candles filtered that day’s fading light,
the noisy world reduced to this one space.
And on your birthday, I touched the creature’s sturdy hoof.
And then (and now) I touch your face.