Los Encuentros

Highland Guatemala Town

I picked up a book from the library today by a Fulbright Scholar named Stephen Connely Benz entitled Guatemalan Journey and found the following poem entitled “Los Encuentros” in the front matter. I hope you like it as much as I did:

The phrase book tells me I’m at a crossroads,
I should expect encounters
in the vellum margins of this highway
where buses cough black clouds
and hanging men cry out destinations
I cannot find on the map.
I’ve heard rumors of what lies
ahead, the incidents hidden in hairpin
turns, dire straits for those who seek
passage through gullies, ravines, lava valleys.
The topography of this country,
an explorer said, is like a crumpled page:
palimpsest mountains, parchment plains,
hieroglyphic highlands awaiting interpretation.
Lexicographers take notes on each twisting
nuance in the road, turns of phrase promise
arrival or departure, movement along this text
I’m traveling. I read ahead
through the codex of curves
And straightaways to the congested towns
where babblers hail strangers
in unrelated vocables.
I study the morphemes in a parrot’s squawk,
signals sent up in volcano smoke,
stories revealed in aboriginal textile.
I skim long vistas of calligraphied macadam,
an endless panorama of road signs encoding
a traveler’s tale, a new message
But the phrase book’s no help now,
it all translates the same—
I’m at a crossroads,
expecting encounters, still waiting.

The book itself seems like an excellent introduction to Guatemala. I wonder if he wrote anything else.