Site hosted by Build your free website today!

"The Riverman" [A man in a remote Amazonian village decides to become a sacaca, a witch doctor who works with water spirits. The river dolphin is believed to have supernatural powers; Luandinha is a river spirit associated with the moon; and the piraruc˙ is a fish weighing up to four hundred pounds. These and other details on which this poem is based are from "Amazon Town" by Charles Wagley]

I got up in the night for the Dolphin spoke to me. He grunted beneath my window, hid by the river mist, but I glimpsed him--a man like myself. I threw off my blanket, sweating; I even tore off my shirt. I got out of my hammock and went through the window naked. My wife slept and snored. Hearing the Dolphin ahead, I went down to the river and the moon was burning bright as the gasoline-lamp mantle with the flame turned up too high, just before it begins to scorch. I went down to the river. I heard the Dolphin sigh as he slid into the water. I stood there listening till he called from far outstream. I waded into the river and suddenly a door in the water opened inward, groaning a little, with water bulging above the lintel. I looked back at my house, white as a piece of washing forgotten on the bank, and I thought once of my wife, but I knew what I was doing. They gave me a shell of cachaša and decorated cigars. The smoke rose like mist through the water, and our breaths didn't make any bubbles. We drank cachaša and smoked the green cheroot. The room filled with grey-green smoke and my head couldn't have been dizzier. Then a tall, beautiful serpent in elegant white satin, with her big eyes green and gold like the lights on the river steamers-- yes, Luandinha, none other-- entered and greeted me. She complimented me in a language I didn't know; but when she blew cigar smoke into my ears and nostrils I understood, like a dog, although I can't speak it yet. They showed me room after room and took me from here to BelÚm and back again in a minute. In fact, I'm not sure where I went, but miles, under the river. Three times now I've been there. I don't eat fish any more. There is fine mud on my scalp and I know from smelling my comb that the river smells in my hair. My hands and feet are cold. I look yellow, my wife says, and she brews me stinking teas I throw out, behind her back. Every moonlit night I'm to go back again. I know some things already, but it will take years of study, it is all so difficult. They gave me a mottled rattle and a pale-green coral twig and some special weeds like smoke. (They're under my canoe.) When the moon shines on the river, oh, faster than you can think it we travel upstream and downstream, we journey from here to there, under the floating canoes, right through the wicker traps, when the moon shines on the river and Luandinha gives a party. Three times now I've attended. Her rooms shine like silver with the light from overhead, a steady stream of light like at the cinema. I need a virgin mirror no one's ever looked at, that's never looked back at anyone, to flash up the spirit's eyes and help me to recognize them. The storekeeper offered me a box of little mirrors, but each time I picked one up a neighbor looked over my shoulder and then that one was spoiled-- spoiled, that is, for anything but the girls to look at their mouths in, to examine their teeth and smiles. Why shouldn't I be ambitious? I sincerely desire to be a serious sacaca like Fortunato Pombo, or L˙cio, or even the great Joaquim Sacaca. Look, it stands to reason that everything we need can be obtained from the river. It drains the jungles; it draws from the trees and plants and rocks from half around the world, it draws from the very heart of the earth the remedy for each of the diseases-- one just has to know how to find it. But everything must be there in that magic mud, beneath the multitudes of fish, deadly or innocent, the giant piraruc˙s, the turtles and crocodiles, tree trunks and sunk canoes, with the crayfish and the worms with tiny electric eyes turning on and off and on. The river breathes in salt and breathes it out again, and all is sweetness there in the deep, enchanted silt. When the moon burns white and the river makes that sound like a primus pumped up high-- that fast, high whispering like a hundred people at once-- I'll be there below, as the turtle rattle hisses and the coral gives the sign, travelling fast as a wish, with my magic cloak of fish swerving as I swerve, following the veins, the river's long, long veins, to find the pure elixirs. Godfathers and cousins, your canoes are over my head; I hear your voices talking. You can peer down and down or dredge the river bottom but never, never catch me. When the moon shines and the river lies across the earth and sucks it like a child, then I will go to work to get you health and money. The Dolphin singled me out; Luandinha seconded it.

My cousin sent this to my in the email. I did not write this, nor did he.