We corner the seawall and before us
a stony minefield of shards, lances, knifepoints—
in my water shoes, I balance on the tips. Surely,
anyone would think us tourists, gringos,
but in El Salvador every pastoral landscape
is framed by a jagged blade.
We spy a man positioned on a cliff top, binoculars in hand,
and I wonder if we should turn around,
if he is waiting for a drop
because here, drug runners and fishing boats wear the same guise,
pockets of cocaine sewn into fish bellies,
the Gulf of Fonseca, portal to three countries, crooked hallway
between South America and USA. Or maybe
because it is the season of black-tipped terns,
the man on the cliff top is a hopeful birdwatcher;
gulls pluck at dragonflies threading the sky, pelicans dive-bomb fish,
but he gears his binoculars to the flashing colors of the fishing boats
as their wakes cut across the blue seam.
At the mud flats
clam diggers squat hip deep
in the tide pools,
one arm embraces the top
of a rock, as the other
rounds the bottom,
gloved fingers crab-like, walk the base
of the rocks, to pull the black
and white mollusks from their beds.
Children splash naked
in the shallows,
gaunt dogs patrol the hot sand.
I approach a woman in a desert-army cap
and ask if they eat them in soup,
or cooked with rice.
She looks up and her light green eyes
wrinkle, Asi hacemos nuestras vidas, this
is how we make our lives;
and crouching next to her, a boy
of three or four smashes a fat white clam
against a rock to suck it raw.
Each step shrugs off the water’s grip—
I search the tide pools for life, what is trapped
in this water-globe, this glass coffin—
and the needlefish flick, end to end.
Spiny sea urchins poke between crags
and the blue crabs bodies’
ombré sea meeting sky.
Those who managed to escape—
mangrove seedpods, headstrong
in their germination, unlaced, split
and ready to take root wherever they land.
A dog watches from his rocky perch:
a school of fish, a patch of silver
shoots, launches, and ricochets.
A fluted cone, a whorled peak,
the green of rusted copper—
the unmarred shells click together in my hand,
canticle of a perfect death.