Some Thoughts on Birds and Trees…
“You are a guilty soul,” she says, “You gotta shake that.”
The tropics rustle above us, warm, leaves as big as our bodies flapping like vulture wings. Agata, the old, blue-kerchiefed waitress refills our mugs a third time, the wrinkles on her face deep enough to accommodate our fingers. The bread sloughs in our mouths, the hard crust still bearing fingerprints of flour. I try to decipher the tiny Spanish print on the back of the Golodrinas menu, am forced to return to our room to unearth my pocket dictionary from my backpack. These are a series of strange swallow facts and myths, communing with the actual birds above us, and the name of the hotel itself.
I try to translate for Louisa, feverishly flipping through the dictionary: Female swallows, immediately after giving birth, were often trapped and incinerated. Her ashes were mixed with avocado blossom honey and used as a liniment for disorders of the eye, from mild irritation to spicy blindness. If her ashes were mixed with her blood, and the saliva-moistened mud of her nest, the resulting poultice was used to treat burns. Legend dictates that one in every hundred swallows who has never touched earth conceals in its belly a tiny healing stone used to cure blindness, obliterate tumors, and soothe epilepsy. The stone was either pulverized and mixed with the warm blood still pumping from the extracted heart and imbibed, or wrapped in silk and held beneath the armpit until the ailment ceased. If an infant suffered from a convulsive croup, ancient physicians tied the
stone in raven-skin and strung it around the baby’s neck just so it rested over the tiny liver. The swallowwort herb with its small yellow blossoms was believed by the Spanish to be invisible to the human eye; visible only to the swallows who used this herb to soothe the blindness of their newborn chicks. Schoolchildren were routinely christened with swallow’s hearts pressed into wax to be worn as talismans against the evil spirits who sought to ruin their memories. Swallows were the first meteorologists, explaining forthcoming weather to humans in coded song and wingbeat. Swallows hibernate underwater during the winter beneath the thin ice of ponds, lakes and rivers, but somehow do not drown. Come spring, they shake the ice from their feathers, come back from what should have been a frozen death, and live to fly another day… They are believed to love humans so much, that here, at Los Golondrinas, they often follow woozy folks like Louisa and me into our rooms, and nestle with us into bed for the night. I can’t help but wonder if it was the swallow, in revenge for us eating its heart for so many years, who whispered the skull-splitting nightmare into my ears with a muffled teet, trrit.

Sailing the Unknown Sea, or, Title of the Otherers

We hope the bread will carry us, bushwhacking to the Zócalo where,