Bumping the van, our holey road twists
onto the dark side of each mountain,
drawing us into night and the nervousness
of a stranger at the wheel in an unfamiliar place.
The stars are swallowed, the moon gone
from the rough highway and jagged peaks.
Suddenly, I see an orange glow in the black,
beside the pavement, illuminating a face.
In an instant, night gulps the figure.
In our vehicle we have sped past, safe.
But more flames are jotted in the inky blend
of land and sky,
bright flares calling.
They would pull us from a tourist’s wealthy comfort
to stand with them at the roadside,
huddled around trash heap fires,
watching heated cars pass as temperatures are falling.
We would learn that nights can still be cold
this far south.
We would learn the way hunger feels.
Our fingers would learn to stitch
brightly colored blouses, handbags, headbands, hats,
skirts, sashes, scarves;
To bead bracelets, keychains, earrings, necklaces;
to hold them out to Americans
to beg for one Quetzal, one-seventh of a dollar.
But we do not.
We ignore the firelit faces as best we can,
hoping to return to the gulping darkness
that scared us until we saw the lights.
We forget what we saw.
We drive away