In the Land of Green Fire

At last, in Chiquinquirá, we find a shop
where guitars hang in waiting for animation.
The instruments are not costly. We play—

Ted’s new guitar, my flute—on radio
for a producer who interviews us afterward
about Catholicism. I don’t convince him

with Cleveland as an answer to ¿Which
is your country’s most Catholic city?…¿Not Boston?! 
Now the hotelier questions our religion— 

says she doesn’t believe we’re really Catholics. 
I don’t admit to anything. Nor does Ted, in this city,
the holiest in Colombia. Among the basilica's pilgrims

we view a 1500’s painting they say a humble woman's
prayer restored, Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá, 
framed in gold inlaid with emeralds, rubies, sapphires.  

Outside, we meet two workers who dig emeralds
from the nearby mountain mines. Prized among the rarest
in the world, these jewels flash with a pure green fire. 

Men work 16-hour shifts to pay with their bodies
what it costs to live here, and retire. After every shift
armed guards examine shoes, clothing, body cavities.

Paramilitary squads patrol the town. The miners
say we shouldn’t be found talking together. 
It could be difficult for all of us. They melt away. 

On cue, three men in uniforms cross the street,
accost us. They shot four smugglers Sunday. ¿Do you
gringos plan to take possession of hot emeralds

to assist the FARC? They question us so long
all the restaurants have closed when they let us go.
Chiquinquirá is a pretty place. Its guitars

sing with angelic voices. Its white string
cheese is savory with fresh-baked bread. We board
a bus to Bogotá next morning, just the same.

 

 

 

About the Author: Kathleen S. Burgess, poet, senior editor at Pudding Magazine: the Journal of Applied Poetry, retired public music teacher, videographer, hitchhiker and traveler through North, Central, and South America, has poetry in, or forthcoming from, North American Review, Sou’wester, The Examined Life, Evening Street Review, Malpaís Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Mudfish, Atticus Review, other journals and anthologies. She authored the chapbook Shaping What Was Left and edited the anthology Reeds and Rushes—Pitch, Buzz, and Hum. Two new collections Hitchhiking Through Ruins and The Wonder Cupboard are forthcoming. You're invited to her website www.kathleensburgess.com.