“Educate your children against HIV and AIDS”
reads a sign outside the village.
Toes deep in red mud,
a mahogany-skinned woman of Mayan descent
bathes her naked toddler
from a bucket, singing a Creole love song.
Her house sits on stilts
eight feet tall to discourage deadly snakes.
Built from mismatched pieces of lumber,
painted in faded shades of lavender and green,
its corrugated metal roof droops
from rot. A ramshackle outhouse
leans to the left,
one crooked step off the ground.
Beneath a grove of date palm trees,
in a fresh-mown clearing on the hill in back,
a solitary wooden cross
marks the grave of her first-born son.
Plastic soda bottles melt in a smoldering
pile of trash, its faint stench masking
the sweet fragrance of a pastel
rainbow of wildflowers. Rusted cars,
parted out and discarded,
now garden art and planters
for watermelon hibiscus and purple-leafed crotons.
Tied to a dying tree,
a scrawny dog stretches
to gobble crumbs from last night’s meal.
Behind a barbed-wire fence, its wooden gate
held together with twine,
Angus cattle, skin on bones,
wander an overgrazed field of grass.
Safe in the comfort of an air-conditioned tour bus,
I wonder about the toddler’s fate,
if he will survive, choose to cross
the cultural chasm, leave the squalor behind.
Or will he become another HIV victim?
She will then trudge each day
up the narrow dirt path,
to place a single hibiscus flower
on two graves instead of one.
© Susan Parker
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s written permission.