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Bolivia

Gwen Head

(and her daughter)

I hate the sea. I've always hated water 
even as a baby, even in my bath,
or so my mama says. She likes it, herself. 
She goes in the sea like a mermaid, and comes out 
a monster, rubber fins slimy with eelgrass. 
The beach boys watch her. They're supposed to watch 
me, but I don't care, for I am queen
of an island state in the pool, where everything 
is blue, like my bathing suit. It is called Bolivia.

Outside Bolivia, things are mostly brown 
or green. Our little house by the lagoon 
has green reeds by it. brown ducks swimming under-- 
a mother, her six chicks, like fuzzy bows 
on a sleek kite tail. Mama duck wears blue 
chevrons on striped brown shoulders. She is a spy 
from my Bolivia. On the brown lava, wild 
peacocks strut on petroglyphs.
It wears their tails to shreds. That makes them shriek, 
tin whistles, from the tin that's mined in Bolivia. 
But mama says they sound like humans quarreling.

I sleep on the Hide-a-Bed. But we each have
our own bathroom. My shower takes five minutes.
Hers takes an hour, the water must get cold.
I think that's when she cries.

Some nights a beach boy comes to the door
to say she has a phone call in the office.
Each time I have to tell him she can't come.
That hateful noise of water crashing down-- 
I play with my hair until he goes away.

Tonight was luau night. We got dressed up. 
Mama bought me a muu-muu, blue hibiscus, 
ugly, but she meant well. The little orchid 
on my plate was smeared with pork fat. After dinner 
the beach boys put on skirts and leis and danced 
and played the ukulele. So did the maids,

and then we had to pack. We bought Bolivia 
here, so there wasn't room in any bag 
to take my island home.
We tried and tried to make the air bleed out, 
we even jumped on poor Bolivia, 
but couldn't make it fit. "A four-buck air mattress, 
I'll buy you another." I wanted to shriek and fly 
at mother. But I just said, "There isn't any 
other," and shrugged and turned my blue back on her.

Tomorrow morning we have to get up early 
to fly back--where?
Having the same address is not the same 
as home. I know Bolivia wasn't a real country
but pretend I don't. There are better things than real.

Bolivia was just blue plastic and air 
with a leaky valve. It smelled awful, like chlorine. 
But it sparkled, it stayed afloat. It was all mine.

From Fire Shadows by Gwen Head. Copyright © 2001 by Gwen Head. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

From Fire Shadows by Gwen Head. Copyright © 2001 by Gwen Head. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

Gwen Head

Gwen Head