The Baja Odes

Verses from a road trip journal to Mexico more than a quarter-century ago

Photo by Marisol Benitez on Unsplash

I. Roadside

Lotta love lost
along this Mexican highway.

Tecate sundown.
More litter per square foot
than anywhere in the western wilds.
Dirty Baja desert fire, sand breath,
giant barrel cacti and elephant trees
arrayed like a Tijuana chess board.

Tacos for fifty cents every ninety yards.
Drinking a lavender-sweet cerveza
in a dusty roadside cantina,
and a slow-down Mexican waltz
on una-peseta jukebox.
Abuela slapping a red balloon
to a naked brown child laughing
in the doorway
of the kitchen
where spicy delights are steaming
on a platter with beans.

The roads are in a crisis.
Nobody can go too fast
here in slow-down
slow town
Baja California.

Reach for the beach,
garbage-strewn but all paradise
after sundown.
Moon up over barren volcano fields.
An old Chevy blazer kicking dust,
veins of off-roads––
barely roads at all––
tearing away transmissions
and mufflers and exhaust pipes.
Breathing soup.

Scored half an oh zee for ten bucks
in a San Quintín taquería.
Got us high,
got us high and driving
the broken highway.

II. Wine

We hobbled along each day
on these dirt roads.

Deep holes, traps,
little dirty seas.
Hanging cliffs enticing muddy autos.
Suns going down and coming up,
begging and following moons,
and clouds like chowdery heaps.

Today we entered wine country.
Fields with endless rows of
little wooden crosses,
casting no shadows
under this sunless sky,
and not the kind
of roadside shrine
that marks the death
of a motorist or rider.
Just crucifixes
carrying vines like veins
topped with occasional flower or grape.

Wine like this is soothing to the senses,
blood of the earth, familiar with sacrifice,
symbols rise to the surface in
these resolute Mexican fields.
Vineyards, volcano, rocks,
affirming sea.

III. La Muerte

This ground groans in its dead.

Flesh-raped and seeded,
conquistadors and bishops
named this land that
spirits had invented.

Near an old crumbling mission––
destroyed by disobedient natives
in the foregone century,
overgrown by Mexican soldiers later
and foregone conclusions later still––
a small encycopedia of cemetery plots.

We meandered through,
stopping to read the dates
and the names, marvel at
the sacristy of doodads,
photographs, charms,
personal relics.
A worthless parade of priceless nostalgia.
Plastic flowers and some
fresh, grasping ones, just picked,
a gaudy pastel art deco wreck
dedicated to nuestra madre con amor.

We backtrack twenty feet to listen:
the dead singing.
Beer-soaked colloquial bar toast,
señorita lullaby,
mariachi folktale inside a can
or a buttercup amplifier,
whatever that may be.

Then a closer look.

One of those musical greeting cards
taped to the face of a
handsome granite gravestone,
playing a Hallmark Christmas carol
endlessly, or until the battery runs out,
or until the rain kills it,
like it killed us.

–Somewhere in Baja, Mexico. Jan 1995
Edited for publication Dec. 2021

~Steve Spehar

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Writer, photographer, actor, poet, musings on life, philosophy, travel, culture, art, politics & zen. Based in New Orleans, living in a garage by the river.

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Steve Spehar

Steve Spehar

Writer, photographer, actor, poet, musings on life, philosophy, travel, culture, art, politics & zen. Based in New Orleans, living in a garage by the river.