For Our Lady of Guadalupe
The taxi has a broken windscreen,
lightning-starred with a crack from one corner:
signature of a stone from the Oaxaca road.
It drops me by the shanty-town of stalls
where I will buy her plastic image later –
garish, I hope, and cheap,
for kitsch is authenticity.
A jagged rift of space
splits the old basilica’s perfect Baroque,
an intricately-cracked stone egg
atilt on sliding subsoil where the Aztec
city’s lake was carelessly filled in.
Crowds pass its listing shell without a glance,
heading for the concrete-and-stained-glass
swirl that mimics
Juan Diego’s cloak, where she appeared
and painted her own image on the fabric
to show sceptical bishops
how perfect love could visit a poor Indian
after the wars, and fill his cloak with roses.
Now the cloak’s under glass behind the altar.
A priest celebrates Mass,
but we walk round the side
to queue for the moving pavement that will take us closer,
its mechanical glide into the dark
floating us past the sacred cloth
and her miraculous, soft, downcast gaze:
not Spanish and not Indian but both,
lovely mestiza Virgin, reconciler
who stands against the flashbulbs’ irregular
pizzicato of exploding stars,
and while we slide on interlocking steel
opens for us her mantle, from which roses
pour and pour in torrents, like blood
from a wound that may never be healed.
This time the key comes down in a white sock
– small enough, it looks, for a child. Yesterday
it was a twist of paper, the day before
a spectacle-case, plastic. That’s how you visit
in this city. Expected, you squat
– hoping for shade – on a doorstep across the street
to squint up at the flaking elaborate
balconies – blistered shutters, washing, bicycles
– waiting for a familiar face to appear.
Arriving unexpectedly, you stand
on the pavement and yell, or whistle shrilly
with two fingers if you can, until the same face
peers down at you. Then she’ll disappear
to fetch the key, return to choose a gap
between infrequent cars, motorbikes, rickshaws,
and at the best moment toss it down
wrapped in something soft and conspicuous.
You run out like a cricketer to catch it
but never do, it skitters on the warm air,
pirouettes sideways. No, you will always
miss, it plunges to the dust while she leans
over to watch you pick it up and stroll
to the cracked, sun-pitted street door.
Turning the key
this moment, I step through and shut myself
in the cool musty dark by the electric
waterpump and the black serpent-coil
of cables writhing from the rusty fusebox.
I stand to breathe a moment, then start up
the twisting marble stairs, climb the five flights.
She will be waiting by the stairhead
to kiss – ‘¿Como estás?’ – and take the key,
then slam and bolt the door, slip off her trainers,
choose a CD. Now we shall dance and dance.