Adios Puerto Lempira
By Peter Vilbig.
After Miles Davis’s Spanish Key
This happened yesterday. Or maybe a long time ago. No, it’s happening right now. The sky is the colour of blister water, and the abandoned refinery is burning in the distance. This spit of land is spit into the warm waters of the green sea is shining in the beach roil like camel’s hair and here we stand at the edge of all things. Puerto Lempira. This has happened before. It’s happening right now.
Somewhere along the way trust was broken, bargain became knife fight, mistakes laced in like homemade stitches. You glance at the others, the guy they call Celestino Pedrazo, though that may not be his real name, and Two-fisted Joe and his wife Marie Les-Yeux-Sont-Belles, who’s cursing him under her breath. The skiff’s cutting away into open water. And though you’re absolutely certain that Little Emerald is at the helm, wearing his ruby ring, you understand that betrayal means nothing. The story is so old and has fixed its plumb weights on us, pulling us forever out of reach of the words to tell it.
A sound comes our way, and we look back at the refinery. Maybe one of the fuel tanks has gone up. A boiling plume of black smoke gyres back on itself. Pedrazo says: They cleared out all the salvageable fuel years ago. And Two-fisted Joe suddenly sits down. He’s overweight, and the heat even in the morning is hard on him. You look away from the refinery, but all you can see is the sea, and this little curved thread of sand, the harmony you once dreamed of broken, and the sea birds cascading down the beach.
And this is the truth: you saw the world’s light through the sparkling tendrils of a spider’s web, the web ingenious and always you the spider, maker, knower, but then knowing turned into fathoming: it was we the spider, the universal spider, always weaving over or into your nets, and Lao Tze born under the plum tree saw this and welcomed this, just as you were crushed under its plum blossom weight. But you were not drunk, you were rational — you made the words drunk, broken heaps of nothing that shone like oil in water. You know how deep this is: Pedrazo has no idea. And then Pedrazo says, the soldiers will come first to the refinery, and then they will see us. Two-fisted Joe’s wife begins crying, and we apologise to her.
And then you think you’ll write a poem to the soldiers, but you remember that you gave up poetry even before you gave up childhood, and besides the only poem a soldier knows is the poem of a bed offering sleep. And then you think, what is all this for anyway, the incandescence and phosphor light within, the unquenchable macabre inventory of entangling urgency, and you remember a woman dancing last night on the Rio Coco, drinking from the can and spitting every third gulp into the fire, like an offering to the god, the flames flaring up, her eyes nearly insensate with the pure joy of being alive. A sweet recovered entelechy ran like lightning through your nerve core. Those dream hoops dangled like the earrings of bazaar girls as they wash the dirty minds of the world in the ancient Biblical river.
And yet you know too that the soldiers will bring their brass cartridges with them to litter the beach, and this you understand because you have drilled deep into the trenches of time and all the mad ignored suffering it encloses, deep as the trenches in this becalmed sea where the dying drift and fall of bones goes on for eons through clear water. And Pedrazo says listen. And you listen with your diamond ears and in the distance you hear the sound of the coastal trawler carrying the soldiers.
Everything becomes electric then, pulled together in tight bands so that really there is only one sound, and it goes to the deep of your own thoracic cavity, as though the what-you-were is fractured into the graceful movement of time itself within you, subtle and textured, not your story, but your story’s time key and signature and tonal shifts, this the only true knowing, and you here especially, and the others on the beach, the quarter tones in blue.
And then you sit on the beach, just like crazy Two-fisted Joe and his wife, who are leaning into each other like broken statues, and you see how you too could become a sand monument, and now whole new registers are coming your way, caught in the wave purls, the holy noise of your childhood with its bebop and jaunty clatter of glasses at the cafeteria where you washed dishes and also that diving bell-shaped echo chamber inside you when the poet kissed your mouth, while your heart ran in spondees and amphibrachs, and finally afterwards the broken rhythms that are beaten on an empty cooking oil can.
And so now you are hearing only pure and original sounds, disconnected from source, raw, un-tempered, tuned in paradise — waves thus holding within them refractions or cascading scales that implicate your brother’s voice when you were kids playing on dirt piles on construction sites, or the men’s voices in the café your dad took you to, early mornings, while it was still dark, and the waitresses looked beautiful and sleepy, and even the righteous bass clarinet of your dad’s actual voice, ordering pancakes, and you sure at that age that there was some final mystery in this.
Of course you were wrong. And you glance once again toward the refinery, and the smoke still billowing. The skiff’s long gone, Little Emerald long gone, and only the long green-blue of the water remains, the sun glaring as though in competition. And you suddenly feel compassion for all of them, for Little Emerald, for the soldiers coming toward us, still invisible but for the deep low chug at the edge of perception. Because you see finally how trapped we are in the story — or you, really, more than trapped, because you, not anyone else — and how to get this across — you alone, and we as you are, simple as the sky of white embers bending to touch the phosphor green and pale flotsam of the sea, the you-story, the us-story and what you might imagine ourselves to be, or even the possibilities of freedom (and recall how you wrote in your schoolbook: we is the other before I are the ones), absorbed into this endlessly repeated narration, with its endlessly repeatable integers, no less the cartridge cases that will soon litter the beach than the soldiers, no less Pedrazo and Two-fisted Joe and Marie Les-Yeux-Sont-Belles than the luff of small waves, and all of this, the shining web you invented but were instead caught in and then required endlessly to invent anew and then be caught in anew, and no chance of words bringing you to a we-beyond-the-us, and so here you are on this spit of sand, the sun with you, and everything ending in silence. Ha, ha. It all seems funny at the same time sad. Even your refusal to speak does nothing against the endless weight of this version, which drags you down into bone water, and endless trench fall to unfathomed hollow plummet base-note and cave-dark water. And not even possessing the grace of adequately offering its own ending.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Vilbig is a writer in Brooklyn, New York. He has lived in and travelled extensively in the United States, and as a reporter covered politics, crime, and culture in Central America, Miami, and Washington, D.C. His short fiction has appeared in the Baltimore Review, Drunken Boat, Fleeting, the Horizon Review, The Ledge Poetry and Fiction Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, the Review, and Tin House, among other publications. In addition to writing, he teaches in his home borough.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, December 18th, 2012.