Thursday, March 10, 2005

Travel notes--fragments recovered while cleaning out my garage

The River:

Quenched in the Macal River, the rainbow hisses in the rain receding into a remote dark wind. The bus is full of Americans. Stop, they say. Clowns spill out. Cameras click and whir. King Double Bird of Tikal may have seen this rainbow as the warriors of Caracol carried him trussed on a pole across this river in May of the European year 562, a captive on his way to the ceremony where he would sit for the stonecutter's flint knife cutting his memorial bas relief. These days King Double Bird sits graven in hard limestone, cross-legged and dour with his hands tied and his testicles draped by their cords around his neck.

In Caracol a sleek tropical fox materializes out of the shadow, disappears quickly as a politician's grin back into the understory, his afterimage lingering for a clown and his maiden daughter who look from the high terrace where King Double Bird lived his captivity. The king was brought down from the pyramid during ceremonies for public torture. A gleam of sharp teeth flashes this memory down the centuries.

Later, in granite, the Macal River runs down ceremonial pools. European women whose sunburnt bodies glow with a photonegative aura of fevers like dim prayers in the paralyzing light, swim in the blind water of the sun. The Macal river sometimes takes a tourist. The sign at the path down to the river says proceed at your own risk. It was put up after the river submerged and held a visitor to some cool underwater altarstone and fixed the fever on its film of remembrance. Dark forms move sleek as otters beneath the water.

The troupe of clowns sit on the rocks, cooling their bunions in the waters of forgotten gods. Dazzles of sunlight dance from the water to the eye, a choreography from the infrared spectrum that feels like amnesia. In the recovering shadows the shoes congregate apart like iguanas, scaly, rough and, to the casual observer, wily.

Lord Water was the name of the King of Caracol who vanquished Tikal.

The cave:

A deep clear green stream flows out of the dark cavern mouth under the jungle cliff. Clowns in a small flotilla of canoes crowd through the narrow entrance gash and disappear into the darkness. The cave widens into a ceremonial hall whose vaults disappear high over the transparent black water, mufflings and bad air. Blades push the bottomless water. The clowns are breathing hard.

Far into the cave a Mayan skull on a ledge above the clowns attracts and fastens the wandering search of flashlights. The glittering skull is riveted with encrusted calcite, in air thickened with carbon dioxide and silence. The cave wall contains boulders of cemented shards of breccia thought to be the remnants of the Yucatan asteroid impact 65 million years ago that was such bad luck for the dinosaurs. A clown chills his hand directly on the heat-drained broken stones of the Cretaceous world.

Farther into the cave, at the behest of their guide, the clowns extinguish their lights. They have never imagined such a darkness, and after a few seconds shafts of light leap from the canoes and rove the wall nervously and ceaselessly like captive animals. The clowns turn back.

At the sight of the entrance-- where karstic water rains from overhead and the blackness around the carnival of shining leaves merges into a velvet fern green framing a world the clowns now remember with relief--they cheer.

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