Santa Cochinilla: I think


Santo Domingo – Oaxaca – Mexico


(Listen to the poem here)

Santo Domingo does what a church should do.
It makes you crane your neck to take it in.
It stares the neighbouring houses down
into a huddled single-storied squat.
It says, “The sky is mine and mine alone,
lift up your heads, then bow them down again.”
I think they ought to call it Santa Cochinilla
for it was built upon the riches
of the trade in Spanish Red,
a dye squeezed from
the body of the cochenille.
I sit and try to guess
how many mountain heaps
of cactus-eating beetles
could have sufficed
to make this master of the air.
And then I see the women from the villages.
They sit on the same wall as me.
I stare at the façade,
they have their backs to it
and gaze at something else
which isn’t there.
I listen for the sounds of Zapotec
but words for them are coins of
gold and on this day
there must be nothing
even worth a trip to market.

I think perhaps they’re waiting for
the evening mass to start,
but when the church bell peals
(a breeze begins to blow)
the city folk go filing in
and they still sit, wrapped up
unnerving in their silence.
And when the service ends
after the fancy ladies are
done with all their bubbling talk
and when their men in suits
have had their fill of standing to one side,
squeezing out loud faces which proclaim,
We do not go around comparing clothes,
we don’t demean ourselves:
we scowl.
That’s what men of our station
are supposed to do”-
the women are still there.
I stare at them, but they don’t look at me,
they gaze at mountains in their eyes
waiting for something
only they know is upon its way.
And yet, even as I entertain
this picture which I think.
I think I think too much, too lush.
The only mountains in their eyes
are ones which I have painted there,
and as for waiting, I think,
perhaps they’re in that state
I’ve only vaguely glimpsed
of being there (or here or who knows where)
without a thought of what comes next.
But then again perhaps they’re not.

They’re there- their eyes are open,
that’s all there is
which makes them all the more mysterious
to my impatient view.
The day drips slowly from the sky,
until I am waist-deep in night.
They sit,
I stand
and go.

And as I round the corner,
chatterish, gabbling and jabberoo –
my busy mind
jumps up and scurries
after me.

                                                        Phillip Hill 2007


(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

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