Heaven. I’m in heaven.
And my heart beats so
that I can hardly speak
and I seem to find the happiness I seek
when we're out together
dancing cheek to cheek.
—from "Cheek to Cheek" by Irving Berlin
heaven, sky, air
On a gray and grafitti'd street
in a town named for paradise,
three men in fluorescent jackets
take a bread and beer break.
With my Spanish limited to nouns,
I ask the way to Ascensor
Espiritu Santo—the funicular
named Holy Spirit.
The men smile, and one points
around the corner.
I thank them, walk five steps,
pay 100 pesos, and climb
into the square box
that will take me up the steep hill.
A man sits inside on the thin bench,
holding a plastic bag of fresh pan.
The funicular fills with the smell
of his bread. Another man enters,
then an old woman, also carrying
a bag of bread. Then one more woman
and a young man. We are six.
We smell like a panadaria.
We sit and stand in silence.
I want to ask how often these residents
ascend the oily-railed tracks, but I don't have
the words beyond bread and heaven.
The box lurches and we launch up,
the three of us on the bench shifting
into each other in a bodily kiss of greeting—
the three standing sway as if starting to dance.
Who extends the invitation?
And to what will we or they be invited?
We rise the mountainside without using
our own limbs. We have entered a body
beyond ourselves. We have been invited
to a communion of passage,
drinking height as we rise up the rails
to a different story. And though we don’t feel it,
we are being transformed in these loud
seconds of ascension, as gears sing
with practiced harmony, as the memory
of an oven sends the bread praying
to air, sky, heaven.
The Sunday before, I visited
a small church, knowing only the couple
who invited me but not their language.
All the small congregation kissed
my gringa cheek in greeting as they entered.
I waited for the six guitars to begin their praise,
my face raw with buenos dias.
Just before the music began,
a woman with a box of grape juice in her hand
and worry on her face, asked me a question
I could not unravel the words to.
Yet I knew what she asked.
Si, I answered...to belief. To being able
to eat the bread and drink the blood.
Yes to remembering a body beyond myself.
The funicular stubs to a stop.
We passengers look anywhere but into
each other’s eyes. Maybe one minute passed,
yet all of history has broken open among us.
The plastic bread bags rustle, announcing
the end of this brief service.
The door rattles open. We arrive
to El Museo de Cielo Abierto.
Choose your translation: The museum of
Open air? Open sky? Open heaven?
Here, the walls, the streets, the stairs
are covered in murals dark and light,
dull and bright. A sleeping dog
and stack of pink trash bags watch
over the entrance to this steep place,
filled with every art—to this steep life,
the Museum of Open Heavens.
Yes, I choose heaven.