Cozumel, Island of Swallows

By Pamela Mordecai

In Cozumel Island of Swallows tired
iguana lizards hang on dried-out trees
buff and burnt orange twists of citrus peel
festooned on knotty branches hoping time
will bring this dreary sentence to an end.
Their three eyes scour unblinking our two
as we click phones and snap them climbing stairs
where pilgrims gathered once. “Man things,” Guido
dismisses them. “This is a woman place.
From all part of this world the women came
to pray to goddess X’Chel for babies
to full their bellies and to beg good medicine —
and rain.” As we set sail, clear skies bent by
a rainbow bless the island with his afterthought.

Quintana Roo. The girl who’s cadged a ride
small sister at her side is red as blood. Perhaps
they scrape them raw with loofahs from the vines
along the shore and leave them tethered there
to burn who sin. “Pobrecita!” our driver sighs.
“In the midnight her papa tell her choose
between a hard thing here . . .” he pokes his heart
“or here . . .” patting his crotch. His tale whispers
down through the bus. “Sólo tenía diez!” He lets
the wheel go, lifts ten fingers up. Guido stares dead
ahead. We let her down dollars shoved at her fierce
dark-eyed Cuzam, then rush through limestone rocks
with cactus stars to find a forest of
earth mounds. “Behold!” swells Guido. “Roads and squares.

Great palaces! A marketplace!” He beams.
“We have unearthed intact a temple tomb untouched
for centuries.” I swallow his redundancy,
resist the urge to say human things must
be touched. “This other pyramid has been
polluted by continuous use . . .” he shakes
his head, “for everyday affairs: cookhouse,
saloon, small vendor’s shack. Such a pity!”
We climb the tainted monument ankles
turned out, look dizzy down thin steps, offer
an hour’s drunken worship bumping down
on our backsides. Below a bird wakes on a branch
erupting through new leaves to plunge into
an ebbing sky. Once more out of the blue it rains.


cuzam = swallow in Mayan


The Caribbean Review of Books, January 2011

Pamela Mordecai is a Jamaican writer and editor based in Canada. Her publications include several books of poetry, most recently The True Blue of Islands (2005); Pink Icing (2006), a collection of short stories; and (with her husband Martin) a reference work, Culture and Customs of Jamaica (2001). She is well known as a children’s writer, and her play El Numero Uno recently premiered in Toronto.