Every weekday morning around 6:10 or so, I open my front gate and hand my things to José, my regular taxi driver for the past four years. The independent, headstrong part of me still finds his insistence on walking my bags the five measly feet from the gate to the car annoying and somewhat insulting. I pass him my bags with a “Buen día, José,” in any case — reminding myself that his insistence is more about his culture than it is about any weakness, real or perceived, of mine — and lock up while he loads the car with my lunch bag and messenger bag overburdened with the laptop and the student papers or administrative paperwork I brought home the previous workday.
I fold myself into the front passenger’s seat and buckle up. The morning is dark, that darkest moment just before the sun comes up behind the backs of the mountains all around, surprising them from their slumber. As we begin the twelve-minute drive toward the colegio, I look up to and count a remarkable number of stars for a city sky. Lately, what I assume to be Mars has loomed large, sharp and bright near the ragged, mountainous, eastern horizon.
José’s kids returned to classes nearly a full week after my students did, and he tells me of their various adventures. Their first day of classes, it rained, a frog-strangler that came just as José was dropping me off that lasted until right before the first bell rang an hour or so later. I stood in the hallway outside my classroom with the yearbook camera trying to capture the sheets of rain in the floodlights above the campus quad, while across town, José’s three kids offered to walk the last blocks to school because the line of cars was impossibly long. He made them stay in the car, and told me that he told them that being late on the first day wouldn’t be that big a deal, especially not in the rain.
After giving up my feeble photographic efforts, I walked down the hallway to the teachers’ room and made myself a cup of coffee, and returned to the open-air hallway to sip liquid wakefulness and absorb the rain with my senses. Later that day, I knew, when the rain had run out of the clouds, the sun would turn dampness into smothering humidity, but in that moment, with the sun barely peeking through the clouds over my shoulder, it was cool and there was time in the Chihuahuan desert morning to think, to feel and to breathe safe in the embrace of the Sierra Madre. I would deal with the heat when it came, and marvel in the sketch of my shadow on the damp sidewalk as I found myself home again, wishing we could have a little more rain. ~LD
from EL DESIERTO NO ES PARA COBARDES
by Carlos Reyes Avila
“En el desierto todo tiene el mismo nombre
Díos y el diablo viven juntos
y andan de puntillas correteándose las sombras…
…vivimos demasiado cerca de dios y del diablo
hay que echar solo un ojo a la laguna
para ver la forma en que se dibuja
tu sombra sobre la arena…”
from The Desert Isn’t for Cowards
rough translation (by me)
In the desert everything has the same name
God and the devil live together
And walk on tiptoe harassing the shade…
…We live too close to god and the devil
Just take one look at the Laguna
To see the way your shadow
Is sketched on the sand…
(Many thanks to Julio M. for the reminder about this poem, and the inspiration it brought today.)