It is altogether familiar and like nothing I have ever known. The shuttle, the bright day, the trees that are like pines or redwoods but are not pines nor redwoods. The dog with the lame foot wandering between the people, taxis, motorcycles and old cars, eating scraps off the ground. The people gathered at the fence to watch the planes take off, or wandering the dirt paths carved into the hillsides alongside the highway, or riding in the backs of trucks.
As I leave the airport in Guatemala City, I see the booth offering shuttles to Antigua for $12 a person. My trajectory is not a strange one. Many travelers wait outside the next shuttle out of the city. Guatemala City is a sprawling, busy mess. I imagine it would make a great location for a movie- a detective story, or a drama thriller, perhaps, but it is no place for the uninformed, lone tourist. Between street markets and adobe apartment buildings there are warehouses and box stores. Street dogs periodically lounge in front of car repair shops or taquerias, or galavant up and down the street.
The shuttle driver wastes no time, cutting across parking lots and side alleys until we reach the highway. I note the bright flowers, so exotic to me, and the signs I cannot read, writing down on a scrap of paper all the terms I don’t yet know. I listen to a Finnish woman who speaks perfect Spanish explain to the driver where all of our hotels in Antigua are, and trusting her confidence and flawless accent, no one interjects. We have all been sitting in near silence, which is almost terse but in truth seems more fueled by shock than any tension. I feel vaguely surprised that I have made it to this place but otherwise seem unable to form any opinion or strong emotion, so I simply observe. It seems to be the common feeling throughout the car.
It is Christmas Day. When we pull into Antigua there are a lot of cars honking and rolling slowly over the cobblestone streets, alongside motorcyclists, dogs, three-wheeled taxis (called tuk tuks), bicycles and families who call up and down the street to each other. One gets the feeling they are all headed to a secret rendezvous point.
I am one of the last to be dropped at my hostel, and as I enter, the silence and polite distance I experienced on the drive over is broken by the receptionist
“Hola! Who are you?” Asks the person behind the desk. He is not so tall, thick but not fat, with an round face, tan skin, a backwards cap and spectacles with thick black frames.
“Annie Doran,” I say.
“You are new here, I can tell,” he says in English.
“I like your hairstyle.”
“Thank you,” I say.
He shows me to my room and points at the top bunk, and dismisses my worries when I try to wrestle open my locker.
“Do that after I give you the tour,” he says, “People don’t steal in here so much.”
He shows me around, The whole place is a series of rooms surrounding an outdoor courtyard and a off a corridor. It is decorated like a surf shop, and the Rolling Stones are playing over the speakers. In the courtyard there is a fountain, a simple bar with three stools, a hammock, some couches, plants, a single tree and two plastic lounge chairs. A sign says that the first beer is free, in honor of the holiday. Most of the people appear to be under 35, and most of them do not look Guatemalan. The bartender has a similar hairstyle as me.
Once I have locked my things away and let my family know that I made it safely, I ask the man at the front, who has introduced himself as Choco (A nickname he tells me means “blind”, because of his glasses) where I can get some dinner.
“Well, it’s Christmas,” he says, “So you can go to Dominos pizza.”
“What? But I could eat that at home!”
He shrugs, “It’s a holiday. Everywhere is closed.”
Hunger overtakes preference and I walk the block to Dominos, wait outside watching traffic and endless streams of local people go by as my pizza is warming. Again, I have this feeling that there is something happening that I cannot be privy to, as all the people of the town go by as if heading to a central meeting point. Fireworks go off in the distance. Cars and tuk tuks honk at one another in greeting. My pizza comes and I walk back to the hostel. I ask the bartender for my free beer.
As I sip my Cabral and eat my Dominos pizza, the bartender makes herself a tea and talks to a customer. I look around the hostel. It seems as if I could be at a friend’s beach house. I think to myself that this environment has been curated just for me. America and Europe has spread its influence far and wide. I sit in a hostel in a country where I have never been, but it feels as if it could be my best friend’s backyard.
When I am done I go out into the street, and this feeling of everything being prepared for me begins to fade with each step. Antigua is clearly a tourist town, and yet it certainly cannot be defined so simply. I pass doors with signs printed in English for photocopies, coffee, jewelry, massages and Italian food. I also pass closed doors with names I do not know written in small letters, and church entrances with groups of people with their backs to me and houses where I get only glimpses into the courtyards full of Guatemalans. The buildings are mostly one story, and each painted a different bright shade with the color faded and peeling in places, giving each the effect of a rippling sky at various times of the day. People are milling by, all on their way somewhere. Where, I am still not sure. Occasionally, fireworks go off in the distance.
Eventually, I duck into one of the only two story buildings in town so I can watch the sunset. The sign outside reads “Sky Cafe”. It is packed with people, mostly people from other countries, as far as I can tell. The view of the volcano over the houses and the streetlights that glimmer on one by one is amazing. I can’t find a seat anywhere.
The waiter sees me looking around and gestures to a table where two men are sitting. I point at the free chair and they nod. I sit and gaze out for a while, taking into my soul the place where I have arrived.
Finally, one speaks.
“Feliz Navidad,” he says, the one with the glasses, “Que tal?”
“Doing very well,” I answer in Spanish, “I arrived today.”
“Very good,” the other one continues, still speaking Spanish. He has a tan, wide face, “What a Christmas for you.”
We keep speaking in Spanish, although it becomes apparent through the conversation that both of them speak English fluently. They keep buying me beers and it helps the words to flow as I become less and less concerned with perfect grammar and conjugation. Both of them are from Guatemala, one of them lives in the states, the other, being well travelled, now lives in the capital city. They are having a reunion for the Holiday.
They tell me many things: what foods to try, how much is fair to pay for a tuk-tuk, where and when to drink the water, the signs of malaria, and they explain the timing of the fireworks which seem to go off all at once at random intervals.
“It’s because every six hours after Christmas eve is another six hours that Jesus has lived,” says the one with the open face.
I come to realize they are my first bridge into this world. Each of them at home in Guatemala and yet they appear as if they could have been born in the states. They carry the ease of knowing that they can pass through space, and I feel their ease rubbing off on me, and their information seems to inoculate me with the seed of knowledge that may come to bloom in this place.
It is dark now, and the enormous volcano that these men tell me occasionally sighs smoke over the town falls away into the darkness like a huge animal that has learned to hide in the night. Then, the man with the glasses points.
I turn, and see the candle lanterns drifting up out of the tree line. From here they look like stars that have broken free of the sky to wander on the wind. More and more emerge from the ground until it is as if the milky way itself has come loose in order to drift above the little city of Antigua. The light is within my vision, it enters me through these little portals of light in the sky, traveling through my eyes and into my mind and heart, but I cannot touch them, feel their warmth or see the hand that releases them. I wonder if I ever will, if I want to, if that closeness is meant for me or if it is something that must remain held apart, for others to touch and for me to bear witness.
26, in many traditions, is a loaded and complicated number.
In Numerology, the number 26 adds up to the number 8, which is a number often associated with being hard-working, ambitious and capable of leadership, yet strangely marked by a fatalistic pattern, as if something were conspiring to place obstacles at the feet of anyone marked by the number 8.
Perhaps this is why these people are born so adept and industrious: they must pick themselves up again and again. They must listen to their intuition or they might be lost.
This number also carries the dualistic, community-minded, artistic and emotionally intuitive influences of 2 and 6.
If we were to assign numbers to each letter of the English alphabet, the combined value of GOD would be 26.
In the Bible, the 26th generation to walk the earth was led into Israel by Moses and were chosen to receive sacred texts.
The number 26th is said to be a number of karmic fate, cause-and-effect. As many parables and crocheted wall hangings would remind us, "You Reap What You Sow".
I am 26 today and I was born on the 26th day of November. I sow and I shall reap.
This year my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, a day that, for me, is marked by abundance and conflict; abundance with its piles of food, illustrious table settings and crowds of people coming together, conflict due to its origins, due to its deep worship of consumerism, due to the stark contrast to those who do not have.
This year my mother picked me up at the airport and said, "For your birthday we extended your health insurance."
Straightforward, nothing flashy. Logic and practicality driven by compassion: this sums up what I think 26 will be all about.
This year, I want to learn to be industrious, constant, and slow, so I can stop looking at all the places where procrastination marred my efforts.
This year, I want to be my most ethical self.
This year, I will not allow myself so much pain over the unethical things that happen in this world, rendering me sad, immobile.
This year, I come to realize that hope is not something someone else can fully give me nor needs concrete results in order to be realized. Hope is a thing in and of itself.
This year, I want to be seen.
This year, I will hide nothing of myself.
This year, I will let nothing deprive me of joy.
This year, I will think logically and put plans into place and all the while release myself from attachment that anything will become what I tried to fashion into being.
This year, I will allow myself to be as powerful as I am.
This year, I will aim for results on the earth and in the recesses of the heart.
This year, I will ask for help.
This year, I will not assume anyone will think I'm crazy.
This year, if anyone thinks I'm crazy, I will not care.
I am here, in a velvet dress, waiting for my family. There is a meal being laid out on the tables on our nicest serving plates. There are two turkeys and a pile of beer and an endless universe of casseroles.
Some of the people in my family have not seen me in years and know very little about me, and suddenly I feel no need to reserve any of the parts of me that feel essential for the sake of politeness, of comfortable exchanges, of a "nice time". They will arrive soon. I will show them kindness.
I hope I never lose this feeling,
I'm coming out as myself. Happy birthday to me.
Photo Credit: Chris Carlone
Ever experienced a fever like a hallucinogenic drug? Like some inner demon being dragged out of you so that the morose and dangerous feelings you experience can leave you forever? Or your heart is pounding like you are about to have the best hookup of your life but then you realize you are actually alone in your room covered in snot with tea bags all over your floor?
Sick at home
on a thursday.
My fever elicits
a wisp of you
passing into the room.
You are here
and my body tastes
With your mouth on my body
you taste fever.
The flowers of me bloom
a wild, hysterical pink.
From between which breezes
do you emerge
and where in the world
have you been blown?
It has been a long time
and you are thin as a ghost.
Transparent as if you are not here.
Sick at home
on a Thursday.
My fever elicits
a wisp of you
but the true animal
in me knows.
The mother and sanity
in me knows
you are not with me
Hello, I am feeling a bit low today, which puts me in a perfect position to write about lonely people. And so, with that prelude, here is an excerpt from an upcoming essay about the night my little purple bus kicked the bucket for good:
The repair shop was closed until Monday. Remaining there without water, food or electricity felt like the last thing we should do.
And there was the tow truck driver, our unwilling ferryman. We stood aghast that he would rather leave us in the dark than drive us 15 minutes to the train station.
“You can’t leave us here.”
“I’m on call.”
He disappeared behind the tow truck. Victoria followed. From the way she described the interaction, I create the picture:
Her fox-like face and the hazel eyes boring into him, trying to find his eyes, trying to find the part of him that is like her. He avoids looking at her, his arms ever crossed like his last line of defense.
“Hey, man,” she says, “You got kids?”
“No, I don’t.”
Those eyes. Sometimes brown, sometimes green. I know those eyes. They are searching eyes, simultaneously soft and stabbing.
“We are really in trouble here, man,” I picture her saying with her mouth but more with her eyes, “We need your help.”
In imagining this moment I would like us all to imagine the life of the nameless, terse tow truck driver:
Everyday a series of tasks that are assigned to him but none that are a part of him; none of them emerge from his heart.
He works almost fifty hours a week, and then he goes home.
He has no wife, no girlfriend, boyfriend or satisfying lover and no children.
I picture his living space is a couch, a small, cluttered table and a television.
He regards his co-workers as his friends. Everyday, they exchange pleasantries and use playful nicknames for each other but no one invites anyone anywhere outside of their designated work hours.
He may think of himself as a solitary person. Truthfully, it is unknown to us and perhaps to him if there is anyone left on earth that wholly loves him.
The response to her plea? An instantaneous no.
Check in with the writing page in the next week or so for the full story <3
A call for names. Or, rather, a call for the stories behind chosen names.
I am principally interested in the ways that new names arise out of travel experiences or are taken on out of a desire for free movement. What does it say about us as a society that many of us are willing to change our names from the ones given to us by our families? How does that relate to places and the way we interact with them? Does it, in fact, relate at all?
I see many reasons for someone to change their own name. A break from a tumultuous family. A change in sexual expression or gender. A spiritual experience. Are these, too, related to a desire for movement? Does this name change serve as a tool in achieving freedom to move?
Sometimes names are changed only once. Sometimes a person will change their name as easily as they change their outfit. Some names are chosen for while "on the road" or in a temporary space, such as a festival (ie Burning Man, Radical Faery gatherings or Rainbow Gatherings would be just a few popular examples)
Does changing your name give you greater freedom and space to move (whether physically, mentally or emotionally)?
Does this phenomena say something about the ways in which we wish to make or unmake our family dynamics or our bonds to place?
Did the experience that led to this change relate to a desire or need for movement?
For you, is it about reforming new family bonds or casting family ties out of your life?
Write to me. I want to know.
Note: Any stories shared may be used for a published article. Please make it clear if there are any details you would prefer not to share with the public.
After two years of being on the back burner, I finally travelled up to Burlington, Vermont to work with Ben Aleshire of Honeybee Press to assemble my book. Thus, here it is: Dance the Spider Away, Poems by Annie Doran (!).
The book covers were made on letterpress, some of the covers are handmade paper Ben made at his residency in Saranac Lake, NY, and all books were hand bound (that's right: we're getting old school with this one).
It feels so immensely satisfying to have a collection of my poems arranged in one cohesive, attractive place. There are so many people to thank for this. To all my writing teachers (particularly Allan Reeder and Daniel Bosch of Walnut Hill School and Mrs. Pamela Gerald), to Ben Aleshire, to Addie Herbert for making the spider image, to the Barn Owl Collective, to my family, to every person who ever gave me feedback on my work, to every person who read one of my poems and told me something they loved about it, to every person who encouraged me, to every person, place, animal, moment, flash of light, season, object that inspired a poem: thank you, thank you, thank you.
The book is available for purchase at these NYC bookstores: Molasses Books, Human Relations and St. Mark's Bookstore. I hope to get more booksellers to carry them soon. For those of you who can't get to these locations that want to buy a book, I hope to have a link on the writing page of this site where you can place an order. In the meantime, contact me directly via email.
I will also be reading from the book alongside fellow writers and poets Estefania Puerta and Cristina Preda one week from today. The reading will take place Friday, September 12 at 8:30 PM. Molasses Books is located at 770 Hart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Just to tease you a little, here's a brief excerpt from the book:
I met the car in the road's center
as I dragged that tree to the beach
like a sacrificial body.
I gazed into the car where their era
could maintain itself, where time
wasn't stripped and re-threaded
by unnamed sound and the endless dark.
I saw the outline of bodies
and a single mouth gaping open
as if inviting me to fall into it.
-From Light Studies: Night
Thanks again to all my loved ones. I hope those of you that pick up a book enjoy it very much.