On the (Panamanian) Road


It’s a whistle. Not like a steam train, more like a person whistling. But not like a person whistling to a dog. More like a guy whistling at a girl, but without the second… would you call it a refrain? The part that calls for your attention, but not the part that suggests an appreciation? It’s not a mating call. It’s more like a firework that’s been launched but never detonates. It just swerves and flaccidly drops into the sea, or a parking lot. Only it’s a whistle.

That’s what I’m hearing anyway, underneath this tree with these drooping flowers that are called Angel’s Trumpets or Devil’s Teardrops or something. That’s what the Panamanian cab driver called them as we drove by this morning. We have these in Los Angeles, I think, but the ones here are supposed to make you hallucinate.

So I hiked up this mountain road with my shorts chaffing my thighs and my shirt melting into the blades of my back. Which is how I arrived here, sweating underneath these flowers, trying to get fucked up, but only hearing the sound of a whistle that I can’t place.

I wish the wind would blow, but the air and the trees are too thick so everything must stay as it is. If a car drives by going down the hill, I might try to hitch a ride back to town. But it’s tough to make promises in this heat. Plus, it’s Christmas and I haven’t seen anyone the whole time I’ve been under this plant. This whole time meaning the last twenty minutes, or maybe two hours. I don’t have my watch, well, because I don’t wear a watch. What I mean is that I don’t have my phone. And time moves slowly out here. Everything does. It’s the humidity.

I lay back, or maybe I lie back. Really what I do is fall back. The blades of grass are sharp and ants crawl into my ears and up my hands and ankles. I wonder if I should be worried about snakes or sloths or coyotes. Maybe it’s just something they tell tourists – it’s just something to say on a long boring drive in the rainforest other than, “That’s a tree, which is old and interesting.” Or, “That’s a waterfall, which is probably prehistoric.” Or, “That’s a house that a tycoon from Canada bought and then left for his two sons who divided it in half, never spoke to each other and have since died.” They’re just filling the dead air. Panama is not Rome. There isn’t a coliseum, or a plaza, or a river, or Vatican City. I guess Vatican City is a different place since it has the word “city” in its name, but to me, it’s Rome.

There might not be a pope around here but there are, however, indigenous people who do not speak Spanish. They pick coffee beans and when they’re not, they get black-out drunk and fight for each other’s wives. I want to be the type of guy who sees some nobility in this, but unfortunately I don’t. Though I’m thankful for their efforts with the coffee, without which these words would not have been written and I’d still be in bed. The indigenous people in this province supposedly walked here all the way from Alaska. That’s what a white guy who owns a coffee plantation told me. Why they stopped, we’ll never know. The white guy didn’t say that. I was just thinking it.

I think a car may have driven by, but I missed it. My abdomen isn’t working so I can’t sit up. I try to use other muscles, namely my brain to communicate with my back or my arms to aid in the rising of my supine body to a position so I might wave down a ride, but to no avail. I guess I’ll just enjoy this day Christ was born in the position that he assumed in the manger, although he didn’t assume it. I mean, I assume someone put him in there like that, on his back. Probably his back. I don’t think you leave babies face down in their cribs. Or in his case, the manger.

I feel the weight of the clouds, the rainforest, and the water that has formed into individual drops and taken to pelting me. And like the birthday boy himself, I maybe even feel humanity pushing me into the dirt. As rain starts to fall harder, I seep deeper into the soil and it occurs to me that I might drown. To save myself I have no choice but to exhale very quickly through my mouth so as to free the surrounding area of rain, then quickly inhale through my mouth, as you do when snorkeling in the rain. My breath is getting shorter and shorter, but the system is sound. Now I just have to wait out the rain.

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