On Acatenango

Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
I put the open bag to my nose and
Inhale deeply, eyes closed.
The memory of someone washes over me.
I breathe in again, my mind flies  to cool, sunlit slopes
Covered in jungle, the coffee trees planted in rows,
Under the high canopy.
Brilliantly-colored birds call and wheel,
Up there, at 6,000 feet, on Acatenango,
Antigua far, far below.
A family climbed all night from their village,
A winding trail, moving in single file in the dark.
Everything is on their backs, or on the donkeys.
A woman and a girl, a man and two young boys,
All nut-brown skinned, black hair and eyes.
Mayan-built, descendants of those who
Climbed these slopes for 15,000 years.
The crimson coffee seeds are the ripe ones,
Red pearls aching to be plucked.
The rains have been good, the volcanic soil rich
With hot minerals belched
From the ever-churning Earth.
But they must be picked one by one,
The ripe ones only.
Calloused fingers search, pluck,
Return for the next, there
At 6,000 feet on ancient
Acatenango, above the mist,
Near the sky where the birds twirl.
This is where the coffee grows,
Waiting for patient hands,
For legs that climb all night
Up narrow winding paths.
Hands that choose only those whose time has come,
Red with full promise,
Fertile and swollen, eager.
When the donkeys can carry no more,
The man and the woman, the girl and the two young boys,
Put everything on their backs and turn down the winding, stony trail,
Coffee cherries swaying in burlap on the backs
Of donkeys.
Up behind, brightly colored birds wheel and
Call among the tall trees,
There, high on Acatenango, sleeping Acatenango,
Looking down on Antigua far, far below.
The grinder is finished. I inhale the aroma of
Far-away places once more, and think of her
And of Acatenango.

10 Replies to “On Acatenango”

  1. I love so much of this poem – the connection between your coffee and the family in Antigua, the specific details that makes me highly suspect you have an intimate knowledge of the area, and the full-circle frame of the poem. A poem so well crafted is just a delight to so many of my senses. Thank you.

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