Featured Poet: William Cushing — CUSQUEÑOS

CUSQUEÑOS

Up where the mountains
curl like sleeping dragons,
peaks piercing
far above the clouds,
in another world
two miles
above sea level sits
the center of the Incan empire,
Cusco: a pupute,
bellybutton of the world.

Like a crouching panther
this place,
all diagonal
slopes, everything
hard stone: boulders, smooth squares
of grey granite the size
of a room; cobblestones,
loose ovals of softer pastels;
and of course, interrupting
the landscape is the weighted
masonry of churches with arches
lifting statues
promising spirituality
but instead
delivering conquest.

In the morning comes
the hammering from the town square:
a stonemason crouches amid
rocks, boulders, and stones.
His song rings out
with each ping of the steel
striking the rock
he works on. Not far,
the finisher chips
discretely on the rough work,
trimming the rock into shapes
that could easily
have come from a lathe.

Then there are the people,
the cusqueños:
Trudging along
the sloping roads and paths,
they carry belongings
or wares in the lliclla
colorful blankets sprouting
babies, flowers, hay,
or more stones,
the wraps that
wrap
around stooping shoulders
and seem to push the carriers
into their own incline
as they make their shuffling way
up these narrow and steep
streets while we tourists steep
coca tea in our rooms,
attempting to adjust
to the heights.

At midnight
we bolt awake, our bodies
gulping air to catch breath; feeling
a tingling in fingers,
we drown in thin air.

The cusqueños,
like the stones surrounding them,
are squat, browned,
with hearts enlarged
and noses slightly widened:
equipment for the altitude.
The old ones peer
through occidental eyes
cracked and peeling
from age and
knowledge,
knowledge ancient
and pure.

The look says:
Nokanchis ocmanta causanchis,
we will endure.”

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