Max Heinegg


Between the Rocks

Strangers yet to sacrifice,
we hire a driver to reach The Castle
to hear tales of death by the limestone cliffs.
Jonathan asks, What song will you have, señor?
Born & raised in Tulum, he back-roads it to the ruins
from the strands of the Caribbean Sea, & its bohemian strip
of yoga, juice-bars, retirees, & families avoiding Cancun.
We’re teachers on break who want nothing but
what’s playing: cumbia & corrido, nimbly over speedbumps.
Men selling peeled oranges in plastic bags dodge cars
to tempt our eyes. Every storefront has sombreros,
worry dolls, & dreamcatchers. The buyers know
as little of Guatemala as of the Ojibwe. The gifts are
nearly endearing, no matter whose dreaming.
Nearly endearing, no matter whose dreaming,
the symbol’s noticed regardless. You have to
respect the Maya for selling a spider its web.
Their circle’s widening, reggaeton slips the border
& the web reveals itself. To Jonathan it’s catch
-as-catch-can. For his PayPal, each tourist’s peso
a drop of rain from the sky that abandoned an empire.
I bow to enter through the seven-meter wall to see
the way the guide instructs, the way the Spanish
came to the port city between the rocks, assuming
the temple a palace. Until Dawn fell. In the shadow
of the Diving God, survivors filled the cenotes
that once saved them. Droughts made them geniuses
at reading the stars’ will, the blood fair price.
To read the will of the sky, the blood fair price.
For now, we want safety. By twilight, Stella star-gazes.
Then we sleep, until a knock we don’t answer
strikes our door past midnight to lure us out.
By day, W. was sick along the highway, &
unfazed, Jonathan curled behind the strip.
On the back of a roughed-up moped,
through the slums, the policeman riding behind
fingers his automatic weapon. We both pass
cardboard hovels, kids playing soccer in school
whites next to trash heaps, boxes of Tecate.
Jonathan tells of one local who survived two hits
from the drug lords—now he says his god is Satan.
The road’s mired in shade. We listen to our guide.
The road’s mired in shade. We listen to our guide.
Down the road to Chichen Itza, in two languages,
Alan explains syncretism, the astronomic theocracy,
how the Mother of Guadalupe is accompanied
by the farming gods. He’ll show us the mouth of the well
of the magic water spirit
; we’ll walk the jaguar’s holy court
where the Hero Twins who became Sun & Moon played
pitz against the Lords of Death between the stone walls
to hear their father’s voice again, & we can buy souvenirs
from vendors (even in the rain) with our plastico-fantastico.
Buy what moves you, but you aren’t getting the genuine article.
Remember, he cautions, smell for gasoline in the woodwork-

if a quick blue emerges on the crucifix, that’s fake silver.
The genuine is still here in the longing.
The genuine is still here in the longing.
             It rankles Alan to speak of the Franciscans.
                          We were never defeated
by soldiers, only by religion. The razed serpent,
             & later the slash & burn of the difficult
                          ash for farming, they hewed the young trees,
cut the limestone with obsidian.
             The jade riveted into their teeth
                          came from Honduras, the skulls
shaped like cones to mimic corn,
             class asserted in the body. The rows of
                          skulls in the temple of Venus of infants,
& the altar where they carved the sacrifices, only every 52 years.
The rain mere boon, the dying dream they join the gods.
The rain mere boon, the dying dream they join the gods.
But when Chaac ignored the blood, & stayed his lightning axe,
did the priests still believe in the trade, or cling to advantage?
Today, the mestizos build homes out of cardboard & braided
wood gathered in a full moon tide, hardened against termites.
The beach is off-limits to the star charters’ descendants,
& the sons of the maize work the land. In the lobby, the well-dyed
martinet, cabled arms, is peeved the beach has no Wi-Fi.
She simmers for her room & adjusts her prescription sun-
glasses, calming after a lash at the lazy-eyed receptionist.
Ava’s brain also favored her stronger eye. We could afford
it to pass. On the ride to our flight, a young girl walks
along rows of marigolds, a ghostly amarillo.
From the window, I see winter where there’s none.
From the window, I see winter where there’s none.
On the flight home to Boston, a polished father
consumes a slick drama of the drug war. A man’s
knees kicked out—execution beneath palm trees.
Bulletproof vests for those who drag their victims.
On the runway, a co-worker texts, the school found casings
in the theater—a half-full clip.
For now, we assume
a church group. Maybe a concealed carry, or a student
trying to look cool. We’ll hold the news. Uneasy. Lie.
We walk from the terminal, but I’m still there. Between
the walls that failed & the walls that staged the contest
of the blood; between the godsends of collapsing stone,
the drought we’ve hit, unprepared, our empire ending—
strangers yet to sacrifice.

MAX HEINEGG’s poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and The Pushcart Prize. He’s been a finalist for the poetry prizes of Crab Creek Review, December Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Cutthroat, Rougarou, Asheville Poetry Review, and the Nazim Hikmet Prize.