Bio Note: I'm a former academic librarian who lives in the city of her birth, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. After four decades away, during which I lived in and fell in love with several geographies, my husband and I moved to live near four generations of my family. I have poems forthcoming in The Bramble and Better Than Starbucks; my chapbook, The Joy of Their Holiness, was published in 2020 by Kelsay Press.
I stand alone, holding my credentials at the congested crossing, the last one to board the second-class bus going from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. A stranger offers me the unfiltered Delicado he taps from a fresh pack. Bits of tobacco roll onto my lips. My throat burns. Uniformed officials squeeze sideways down the aisle, hips large with holstered guns. They point out la señora to each other. She sits behind us, enthroned among small boxes, agreeably peeling pesos off a thick roll. The men return for another and another handout. Finally, the bus lurches. We bump past stretches of sand, a green haze of sotol, spires of yucca. A long screech of brakes. Young men in soldier green hold automatic weapons diagonally across their bodies, block the highway. The driver leaves to greet them, sends one to la señora, who hands over her wad and implores the rest of us to contribute. In churchlike silence we pass small bills to him. Later, in fancy script, my seatmate writes his address on an envelope in case I ever need help, but I’m traveling west and lose it.
The Adobe Wall
The manager of the cheap and clean hotel where the cabbie dropped me offers me a windowless room. One of its adobe walls stops short of the ceiling, leaving a gap large enough for a human head. No one is there, he says. Not now. I undress in the bathroom just in case, then lie back in bed with my paperback dictionary, conjugating verbs. A light flicks on and two men enter next door. I stiffen and listen to their conversation, these strangers sharing air with me. Until one of the men tells the other he feels nervous that la norteamericana next door might hear his bathroom noises. I almost laugh. Then do what anyone would do. Turn off the bedside lamp and pretend to be asleep or not there at all. Soon after they turn off their light. Their snores fill the gap. I relax on my back in the earthen room, a room that smells of spring dampness, the earthiness of the mud and clay bricks that surround me. I am as happy as I’ve been in months. I am safe as any man might be. As safe as a woman alone could hope to be, next to two sleeping men, two late arriving men who must share a bed with each other and a wall with me.
©2021 Peggy Turnbull
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