Bastica y Convento de San Francisco

I.

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.

 

II.

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.

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