On Calle Murguia one man refused to fight the other.
So the guy punched him overhand in the face
and they go toe to toe a few minutes, scratching each
others’ faces and bloodying their noses, as if the main purpose
is to make each other uglier by degrees— hair disarrayed,
shirttails flapping, collars disheveled, grappling, flailing,
eyes red, choking each other till friends finally break it up.
Garrulous laughter out of the mezcal cantina eight blocks away,
somebody there can always use a drink. Green rubbery leaves growing
directly out of adobe walls, rooftops and balconies. An elderly
woman from Tlocolula sitting barefoot on the ground sifting rice
in the marketplace, removing maggots. Newspaper photos
of the man stabbed to death on the banks of the Rio Atoyac.
Mug shot of the suspect.

In the Museum of Contemporary Art the Shit Notebooks Francisco Toledo
turned over to the government in lieu of taxes, the pigs, dogs and men
defecating, centipedes and grasshoppers, stain the paper like old
bodily fluids. The lines nervous, reedlike, interwoven cross-hatching.
Unkempt self-portraits, including his genitalia dipped in ink
pressed on the page. A marvelous black cat. Masks of death.
I circled the flat, hot colonia beyond the university sports
field, went back and forth along the dusty unpaved lanes
for a student group who organized themselves
for survival in the city, to continue their secondary
studies and found none, just an empty shed, an older guy
who assured me they’d return in a month or so,
“They’re out working, trying to live, collecting money,
trying to collect enough to eat, really,” he said.
“These students are so incredibly poor you wouldn’t believe it.”
I thought of the boy in his school uniform, holding up
his shoes, wading the brown water of the Atoyac
on his way home. Mothers sitting in the abandoned
doorways picking lice out of children’s hair.

As usual, I dropped a few coins in the can of the blind guitarist
downtown, blue mucous glinting along the edges of his flat
eyelids. Fidencio told me he came into the city from Zaachila
every morning to play the istmeno 40s and 50s ballads and boleros
everyone liked. I didn’t ask him who the boys were who counted
his coins and looked out for him, sometimes leading him from place to place,
though I’d seen the boy with Fidencio’s hand on his shoulder leading him
down Calle Alcala, with the other blind guitarist I’d not spoken to yet,
but who was good, too,with his hand on Fidencio’s shoulder—both carried
their instruments in their left hands, walking that way together.

Oaxaca City 2003

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