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Rafael Guillen Poems
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El Cafetal by Rafael Guillen
I came with the rising sun and I've brought
nothing but two eyes, all I have,
simply two eyes, for the harvest
of grief that's hidden in this jungle
like the coffee shrubs. Fewer,
but they fling themselves upwards, untouchable,
are the trees that invidiously shut out
the light from this overwhelming indigence.
With my machete I go through the paths
of the cafetal.

Intricate paths
where the tamags lies in wait, sunk
in the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics,
the carnal luxury that gleams
in the eyes of the Creole overseer; sinuous
paths between junipers and avocados
where human thought, cowed
since before the white man, has never
found any other light than the well
of Quich; blind; drowning in itself.
Picking berries, the guanacos
hope only for a snort to free them
from the cafetal.

Through the humid shade beneath
the giant ceibas, Indian women
in all colors crawl like ants, one
behind the other, with the load balanced
on a waking sleep. They don't exist. They've never been born
and still they are dying daily, rubbed raw,
turned to wet earth with the plantation,
hunkered for days in the road to watch over the man
eternally blasted on booze, as good as dead
from one rain to the next, under the shrubs
of the cafetal.

The population has disappeared
into the coffee bean, and a tide of white lightning
seeps in to cover them. I stretch out a hand, pluck
the red berry, submit it to the test
of water, scrub it, wait for the fermentation
of the sweet pulp to release the bean.
How many centuries, now? How much misery
does it cost to become a man? How much mourning?
With a few strokes of the rake, the stripped bean
dries in the sun. It crackles, and I feel it
under my feet. Eternal drying shed
of the cafetal!

Backwash of consciousness,
soul sown with corn-mush and corn cobs,
blood stained with the black native dye.
Man below. Above, the volcanos.
Guatemala throws me to my knees
while every afternoon, with rain and thunder,
Tohil the Powerful lashes
this newly-arrived back. Lamentation
is the vegetal murmur, tender
of the cafetal.


Cafetal: a coffee plantation
tamagбs: a venomous serpent
guanaco: a pack animal, used insultingly to indicate the native laborers
ceiba: a tall tropical hardwood tree
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