Boarding an Overnight Bus - La Paz, Bolivia 

by Marty Saunders

City of the full moon & speckled dove, of breathlessness,
thin air spiked with smog & the clay-colored fingers
of La Cordillera Real cutting a serrated skyline
behind grey buildings. City of black-haired women,
stout cholas sharpening their eyes under the curled brim of a bowler hat
tipped to one side, their shoulders swimming in shawls,
hips wobbling the hem of a bell skirt. City
of open-air markets where chilies spill from burlap sacks
wrapped around the vendors like colors in a palette
running from rust to buttercup yellow.
Where crates are piled with yucca & plantains,
& potatoes divided over tarps into mountains
of purple, blue & black stones. City of Singhani
& Oracle’s Alley, of peddlers pushing loose cigarettes
in each square, it’s time. There is the ragged beat
of rebuilt diesels engines, brakes creek & the big, boxed bodies
of the buses lurch backwards when the driver
cuts the engine. With no ticket home & pinches
of sand from Atlantic settled to the bottoms of your pockets,
you’re alone as you’ll ever be, traveler. Watching
the buses nose into their stalls, their windshields holding the names
of cities you’ve never heard of — Antofagasta, Tucumán,
Cuiabá. People stream past with their scuffed duffle bags
& backpacks, the seams of their jeans are whiskered,
the heels of their shoes worn low. After all the miles
where do we go? The asphalt’s a night sky brimming
with dark whole moons & imploded stars, & we step
over constellations of stomped gum & crushed cigarette butts.
We climb up through the bus’s folded doors
& pass our tickets to the driver. And over his hands,
the broad veins cross briefly, like highways,
before breaking off in different directions.

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