half-block cobbled courtyard crowded with Catholic
school children, identical in sweat suit and stature.
Indigenous women pushing two-sol burnt peanuts, dried banana.
Pigeon flocks startle, settle, feathers float down
decorating all length of hair. Inside, the Monastery walls
in blue-glazed Moorish tiles, wooden stalls where Monks
stood for hours, leaned against carved heads
with crotch level tongues hanging, waiting. Two-story
fantasy library, twin spiral stairways leading to shelf
upon shelf of dust colored books, the DNA of centuries
crumbling their pages. Giant calligraphic music books
fonts to be read by cantors 20 feet away. De la Puente’s
Last Supper a table of guinea pig, potatoes and chilies
Bordered by apostles, innocent children, faithful canine.
I trip coming into every room, tiles, bricks and stones
uneven, deceive my feet. I am pushed against rope, against
plank, against glass surrounding exhibits. I breathe
centuries old air, while some wear masks. And then
the catacombs. I skipped them in Rome, but am inexplicably
drawn here in Peru to view what I think will be the remains
of saints. Stooping through an even smaller doorway,
we descend into a monochromatic world. Somewhere
between dusty gray and beige. The dirt, the stones, the bricks,
even the bones are shades of the same. We walk carefully
on the path between square graves, all crania, all long bones,
all pelvises separated and resting together. There is an ossuary
where a thousand bodies were tossed, but now bones
lay arranged like a giant sun, femurs and tibia the rays, skulls
creating geometric exclamation points. The bones are now
decorated for the church, our guide explains, but I see group
burial sites from concentration camps, find my steps slowing,
my own spirit belabored. I turn to see my daughter-in-law,
swollen with her first child, and worry about this cavernous air
carrying a millennium of disease, of despair, of religious rot
and deceit. She motions me over and takes my left hand in hers.
Placing it carefully on her abdomen, she whispers, “Wait.”
I feel a small pulse, a slight quiver. “He is happy,” she states
and at that moment, beneath a convent in Peru, so am I.