Circus in Puerto Escondido

Olive Ridley Turtle
Olive Ridley Turtle
Photo: Ernesto J. Torres


Love: is it inside or out?
The alchemist’s gold or quicksilver?
The baseness of desire transformed.
A bell of such perfect pitch
I only imagine I hear it.

A gold drop
Or held aloft
with a breath.

Performance Artists

We dug a trench of
Distrust between us,
Then threw up a tight rope
or hanging bridge.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



A cloud opens up
Plush labial petals
On its cave mouth.

Sun beams strike
Like crusader knights
Or a division of warrior angels.
And the wind sails in
On golden blades.


From over the mountains
The cumulo-nimbus phalanx
Heads the storm bank
With the grayness of winter tanks.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Full moon, Escobilla
Full moon, Escobilla
Photo: Ernesto J. Torres



The scrim between the players and the wall,
the tinted window screen that dulls daylight,
the sac, the shroud, the aura, the vibe,
(I'm getting to whatever it is)
the protection,
the fall-back mode
I slip into
where you are
my intangible
and constraint.

The ritual reenactment —
the linking, joining
copula —
in silent, studied,
imperfect mimicry.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



I dreamed I was in Jonestown, a week before
They drank the Kool-aid
But that was years ago
And my friend Jo-Jo
Was telling me he’d lived there
For two years, didn’t I remember?

No, I didn’t. He said that was when I lived in Buenos Aires,
That we left Guyana and Argentina the same year.
He said he had a boyfriend there.
And then he took me back
To Jonestown, a week before
They drank the Kool-aid,
But not Jo-Jo because he was not
There then.

We leave the compound together
Walking on the rutted path, hot and sweaty.
Villagers squat on the roadside
Selling fruit drinks
To the foreign passers-by.
Then a herd of cattle crosses the road:
Short black furry cows, with small sharp horns
Pointed forward.
Still waiting for them to break ranks,
I awake.

Jo-Jo is long dead
And never in Guyana.
I open my eyes to sunshine
Safe in my bed, and then
The ceiling starts to spin
Like a game disk or wheel of fortune,
While I wait for the day to decide
Which way it is going.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Cow, Puerto Escondido
Cow, Puerto Escondido

"My man doesn't need turtle eggs"
Ventanilla Beach, Sta. María Tonameca, Oax.


The rhythmless dancer
catches the beat from her partner’s hips.

The colorblind driver
is never first at the light.

The closeted illiterate
orders the same as you.

The uncomprehending, smile.
The heartless, score.

Shot glass confidences
Spill out in extended metaphor.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



Do I care
if Paul’s so good at it
because he fancies himself a pro?

Once he had conquests,
now he has clients;
his ego is still intact.


Jonathan trained his big cock
to make women come.

Roger learned how to satisfy
with less equipment.

Louella has ruined her husband
for other women.
I think he’s almost forgotten how to fuck.

David says he rents, not owns.
But he keeps a framed photo of his “time-share”
next to his bed.

Granny, on new meds, remembers,
“Sex: when you stick it in, feels good.”

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Maya stele, Amparo Museum, Puebla

Church of the Monastery of Santa Clara, Querétaro


Fuck a god, there are no
Relationship issues,
Except for the kids who feel oddly entitled.
The surrogate dads never complain
And the moms just smile
When the topic comes up.
The mischief’s been done;
It’s out of their hands.
Troy, Rome, whatever,
Fall beyond human error.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



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 a sip of wine
and a cigarette,

you lie lightly on me
and tell me stories of
accomplishment and satisfaction.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Day of the Dead, Eternal Love: David Rangel & Guadalupe

Nopala, church, image of Santa Clara


Lacy panties on the bed sheet,
the arcane practice of the rite of sex.

The body mimics the mind:
crude, demanding, infantile.

What is as pure and copious
as the tears of the jilted lover?

Time measures the path
not limned on any map.
The distance between
too easily frustrated

and patience
has not been established.

To say we love for the wrong reason
denies the reason for love.
New love is rife with misconceptions;
the end of an affair, an abortion.

An accumulation of sparks,
a fire, a glow.
The happiness of others affirms
the possibility of fulfillment
no matter its transience.

Lacy panties on the bed sheet,
the arcane practice of the rite of sex.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



I’ve read it wrong before
Transposing the letters of love
Onto a night, too soon forgotten.

Though it hurts to say so
I’m a poet of and an expert on
The never will be, never was.

You, with your reading glasses,
And I, who can’t see far,
Never were in focus.

How easily you became
The repository of my dreams.
I am shamed by my innocence.

These verses to remember
Your unseeing eyes opened wide
As mine kept closing.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Mask by Gustavo Horta, Tócuaro, Patzcuaro, Michoacán

Huichol mask


My feelings were notably absent
When I called a meeting
In my semi-conscious state.
Having nothing to report
They had knocked off early
To run errands, go shopping,
Beat the traffic.

My emotions were a no-show,
I’d sent them out to play a friendly round of dominoes.
Games are what keep these malcontents
From fighting among themselves
Or ganging up against me.

To be alone sometimes feels like defeat,
A failure of empathy.
All efforts to please, to entertain,
Demand reciprocity
Of attention, attentiveness.
Some people would rather be left alone.

The over-valuation of thought:
Belief that the meeting of two bodies
Leaves one unique memory.

*       *        *       *       

A man entered the empty theatre
And left his silhouette on a scrim,
For a play in which he has no part.

I run the transparencies
From the projection booth
A lifetime collection
Of types and situations
But nothing sticks
To the woven screen.

I’m running with a skeletal crew.
Not budgeted for big productions,
The costumes got old, the props broke or got lost,
And who writes new material
For the theater these days?
Music is organized sound, that moves
Through empty space:
Globular, gelid, luminescent,
Untouchable waves.

He left me with his shadow on a scrim
On the stage without a speaking part.
On one side the projection booth
On the other a wall of brick.
Beyond the wall,
Beyond imagining,
Is where he lives.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.


LE JAZZ COOL: The Idiom of Men’s Tears

Gospel on the downlow,
Out of earshot of the blues,
In a smoky cellar extolling
The deviltry of despair.

The bass buzzles up
And a saxophone laments
The rising of desire.

An underground symposium
Of ivory, brass and drums.
The bitter sparkle on a head of beer
Where the jazzmen are
The last men standing.

The cool, buttoned up, unspeakable
We fought a revolution to free us of
Comes back like the Latin mass,
Its hoard of mysteries still unspent
And we the orphan heirs.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Proyecto Mandala with Noala Guerra

Temple of the Congregation, Querétaro


The Harmonica-con-virgins is the last first day
of that eternally postponed kiss of the epoxy-lips
when mercifully no one will tell you to get a life.

First time tragedy, second time farce.
The underground shelters, the shotguns,
the tingly fear of Monday Oct 23, 1962*
in the suburban synagogue parking lot
waiting for mothers to pick us up,
looking up at the sky for death
without angels of the rapture
just the end of homework.

The day of our collective death -
the day the music began.
No Beatles, No Stones, No Hendrix,
no nothing, without us knowing we were
already saved in another universe.

* Cuban missile crisis

Barbara Joan Schaffer.



I hooked up with a homeless band
of shopping mall nomads,
connoisseurs of furniture emporia
where we bed down in the glow of a security camera.

I joined a porous band, thick as thieves,
of harmless runaways and retirees
escaping into alley ways
from the armies of the occupied
disgorged from offices at last light.

Or, strangely, I sprout roots and leaves:
a non-native tree like the Indian neem
the birds decline to nest in nor the pests destroy.

Barbara Joan Schaffer.

Querétaro, main square

Festival, Puerto Escondido


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 theatre
where do the characters go?

When you do 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.