The Art of Exile

On the Pan American Highway, somewhere
between the north and south continent,
you come across a chain of volcanoes,
a coast with a thick growth of palm trees,
crunching waves of the sea; an isthmus
Neruda called “slender earth like a whip.”
When the road bends, turns into a street,
the walls splattered with “Yanqui Go Home!!!”
you see a boy fifteen years old,
barefoot, sniffing glue in a small plastic bag.
An old woman in an apron will step out,
say, “This is the right street.”
In the public square, there will be no friend
from school to welcome you, no drive
to Sonsonate, city of coconuts,
no one to order cold Pilseners, oyster
cocktails, or convince the waitress
into dancing a cumbia or two with you.
Instead, at the local bar, you’ll raise
a bottle next to strangers, stub
your cigarette out on the floor.
You’ll watch a country ten years
after the civil war: an old man sitting
on the curb, head between knees,
open hand stretched out.
Everything will hurt, your hair,
your toenails, even your shoes.
You’ll curse dusty streets, demented
sun slowly burning the nape of your neck,
stray dogs following you to the park.
By nightfall, you drag yourself back to the bars,
looking for a lost country in a shot of Tíc Táck.
Against the wall, three men with their guitars.
When you lie on a hotel bed,
too tired to sleep, when you feel torn,
twisted like an old newspaper, blown
from city to city, you have reached the place.
You have begun to speak like a man
by the side of the road, barefoot.

William Archila, "The Art of Exile" from The Art of Exile.  Copyright © 2009 by Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.  Reprinted by permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.