guatemalan chicken bus by susana h case

Two Poems by Susana H. Case

Guatemalan Chicken Bus
The woman next to me caresses her chicken;
it’s probably tomorrow’s dinner.
The bird shits in its basket, and she inspects
the product carefully on this rickety
former school bus. The driver’s going fast,
screeching around cliff curves, blasting his horn,
as a woman across the aisle yells out a prayer.
Next to her, a man starts to laugh and offers
the gringa a tamale. Many hands pass it to me.
We’re over maximum capacity and there’s nothing
to hold onto except a fellow passenger
or an animal wedged in the aisle.
The ayudante leans down from the roof
to collect fares through the windows—speakers
blasting the beat of the rock band Santa Fe.
Che Guevara looks down from a photograph
mounted among the tassels and Christmas lights.
We are lucky so far—no road robbers
or wheels falling off.
As the bus stops for more people, then speeds
off again, smoke billows from the back.
A man standing in the aisle crosses himself
when we reach Lake Atitlán after hours of potholes,
the woman and the chicken asleep in the heat.
I’m pushed out quickly with other passengers
as new ones shove their way in. The ayudante
unstraps a goat from the roof rack, throws down
packages and backpacks, including mine.
Vamos vacios—we go empty—he yells at anyone
who looks in his direction. I see Jesus on the cross
painted on the rear as the bus speeds away,
two more goats strapped to the top.
Ode to Something, but It’s Not High School
To the boy whose father
bought him a red Corvette
his senior year, who drove
up to the high school, blond
and improbably tan, doing loops
instead of going to class,
then, after a day of too much jug wine,
totaled himself and the car,
and to the skinny, hyper boy
the girls all liked who walked
out of a tenth-story window,
the acid causing him to believe
he could soar over the city,
because that was the legend—
that you’d fly—and to the one
I crushed on who, at one of my Friday
night basement doo-wop/make-out
parties, stole my copy
of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs’
“Stay,” but didn’t stay, coming back
from Vietnam in a body bag,
and the one who was a walking ad
for keeping away from heroin,
to all those who OD’d anyway, and
to the one who died from leukemia—
not everyone just being
stupid, some really trying hard
to live—and then, after all the funerals,
even then, to the one who swallowed
a bottle of aspirin and a can of Pepsi
when his girlfriend dumped him,
she, sitting on a curb outside school
sobbing we shouldn’t blame her,
every single kid staying away, he
returning to classes two weeks later,
with his same weird gait, lopsided smile.
SUSANA H. CASE is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Dead Shark on the N Train, from Broadstone Books, 2020, which won a Pinnacle Book Award for Best Poetry Book, a NYC Big Book Award Distinguished Favorite, and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. She is also the author of five chapbooks. The Damage Done is forthcoming in 2022 from Broadstone Books. She has co-edited, with Margo Taft Stever, the anthology I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, forthcoming in 2022 from Milk and Cake Press.