Turnpike, Isthmus of

My 1984 Volvo on the Coastal Highway between Puerto Escondido and Salina Cruz. November 2005.


Objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear.
From the road already traveled I can still be hit,
or, perhaps, smash into someone from the past.
I constantly adjust my sideview mirrors
- and then forget to look -
as we weave along the interstate
keeping our distance
closer than we appear.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Town beach,
Puerto Escondido, January - 06

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. Downtown.


Lakes are cold and boring. 
Rivers would rather be elsewhere. 
Desire is the ocean as it lunges to the shore.

        Stern mistress moon,
        keep him on a short leash.
        Pull him back, let him go...
        not that far.

Fat men with hairy chests,
skinny men in undershirts, 
young women in bandeau
bathing suits built like Dior gowns,
and grannies with amazing
mottled flesh falling down. 
Big kids bob in black inner tubes.
I stand very small where the waves
bring the foaming water to my knees.

The lifeguard blows his whistle; who knows why?
You're not to play in the white rowboat
sandlocked beneath his tower.

The boardwalk through a child's eyes
is in the gaps between the slats
you push the sand through
ignorant of the lovers below,
while miles of mechanical rides  -
carousels and ferris wheels  -
chime the physics of the tide.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Crocodile, La Ventanilla, Tonameca, Oaxaca


In Guatemala, in Panajachal:
The waiters are holding up the wall.
Saturday night, as good as it gets,
and half the tables are not full;
someone's just left without paying the bill.

Meanwhile, across the sea, some time ago,
David, the cook, drinks absenta
from the fishermen's bar down the alley
I bring him for a taste of his sauces
and what is left on the plates
of gigot and florentine steaks.

Leo the waiter at El Olivo
brings home half-full bottles of Rioja
and Tonia rolls tobacco and kif
with Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the victrola.

Fortunately, we had the grace
to disappear without a trace,
and I'm as young as ever I was
wherever they are looking back.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Army Ants, San Gabriel, Oaxaca


It's always interesting to see how things play out. How people play out
their lives, as if they were musical scores - the notes are familiar, the
same even, but it's all in the interpretation, the riffs, the codas, the
bow work or the fingering.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca
October 2005

Santiago Yaitepec,
September 2005


They call it the doldrums, but what does she know about horse
latitudes. She's waiting for the wind, a good wind to blow her in the
right direction. If she consults the priests they might tell her to
sacrifice something, someone. It's called getting control of your life,
but she knows no one controls the wind.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.


Incapable even of forming a thought, I stood numb in the shower
tuned to the static, when out of nowhere appeared the scientists or lab
technicians, white gowned employees of the demiurge, who happened
to be making their erratic rounds. They noticed I was wilting and
transfused me with a controlled substance - like Miracle-Gro or
cocaine. I felt my spirit lift and shrewdly asked for more.

It was, of course, just the brain doing its job. Yet it seemed a portent,
as if I had a destiny for which I was being kept alive.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Eating turtle eggs is a crime, Ventanilla

My man doesn't need turtle eggs,
because he knows it doesn't make him more potent.


Like incest between twins,
or the Platonic other half,
I meet myself
exploring your body
as if it were mine.

Lightly you lie on me after
getting up, after
I watch the arch of your urine,
after the flushing of the condoms,
after a sip of wine and a cigarette,
you lie lightly on me
and tell me stories
of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Baby Turtles waiting to be released,
La Ventanilla, Tonameca, Oaxaca.
Turtle Running to the Sea


Beyond the moon
   I fall.
      You catch me.

Above the tree tops
   I fall.
      You catch me.

Rung by rung
   from moon to ground.
In the soft drizzle
by the light of a moon-dripped  puddle,
you stand by your ladder
watching me turn away.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.


Play me another way:
rocking gently
eyes on eyes.
The tide pulls out
beyond the waves;
steal away with me.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.


Bull fighter,
Tecate, January 2006


Earthen ramparts, land mines,
trenches, guard towers,
concertina razor wire --
the Berlin Wall.

But you are so disarming.

Even as they were shooting on the ground,
probes and feelers were put out,
antennae poised to each other's
codes, heart beats.
Spies passed back and forth
with impunity, winks and nods.

When it falls
into the rubble of
the modern era,
soon the arcane, there
will be discovered
the topography of love.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.


as a bird - or a bug come unstuck from a coupling.
"I cannot make you happy," you'll say
and break my heart.

Love is a sticky thing
a bramble, a briar;
torn feathers in squishy mud;
a nest of dropped inattentions.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

El Pedimento, Oaxaca
September 2005

El Pedimento, Oaxaca
September 2005


More mezcal and rum cokes than I could count,
(but the barman kept tabs), I was
anaesthetized but alert, while you
cauterized the heart wound
or maybe it was brain surgery.

Did you come clean or was it a strip show?
You have conquered my soul, you said.
Do you want to see me in chains?

Do angels mate in mid air?

You want to be understood;
I want to be loved.
I am dispossessed and you are free.

In the free market of love what is the exchange rate for tonight?

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Black Butterfly in my room


The night is razored concertina wire
and broken Coca Cola bottles
stuck on a white-washed wall
on any street in South "America

where the family endeavors
the dinner hour with starched napkins or
plastic plates in the kitchen
but always the abundant gustatory offering
which you, an orphan, can barely stomach.

When you leave the theater,
where do the characters go?

When you go into the melancholy
night mother is still mother
behind the white wall where
father putters with pipes and coins and
children sigh in dreams.
You might as well be the moon,
pale and transient on
their bedroom wall.

You go back to the room
only you have seen or a café
where between noisy tables
of people with friends
solitary men and women sit
like single stitches on a quilt.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.