Following are the three inaugural poems from Jacobo the Turko: A Novel in Verse, which recounts the misadventures of Jacobo Bitar, an Ecuadorian of indigenous and Lebanese parentage, who seeks the American Dream on the beaches and chicken houses of Delaware, only to be deported to Lebanon (where he has never been and just in time for the 2006 Hezbollah/Israel war), abducted to Bagram, and ultimately confined at Guantanamo Prison. The story is told mostly by implication, marked by poems in the minds of my hero Jacobo and other characters similarly swept in the roiled currents of our time.
In “2005: Registration Open”, our hero contemplates the braided rivers of his heritage and his plans to abandon Ecuador for the American Dream. From that contemplation we fast-forward to the American Nightmare of “Summer, 2006: Jacobo, Bound, Blinded, and Gagged Enroute to Gitmo”. Still enroute, in “Falling, Burning, Drowning: Our Lady of the Holy Waters, Save Me”, Jacobo reminisces about the legends portrayed in the church paintings of Baños, Ecuador, where his Lebanese father operates an inn. In this poem, Jacobo introduces the three emblems of what the U.S. experiences in the attacks of 9-11 and what it visits on putative enemies like himself.
2005: Registration Open
INSCRIPCION ABIERTA PROGRAMA DE WORK AND TRAVEL A ESTADOS UNIDOS
Work in the USA During the Summer Months!
Improve your English!
Gain Work Experience!
Meet people from all over the world!
Program for university or post-secondary students to work in the USA during summer vacation. Call 2-250-7144 to sign up for an informational session on Saturday, February 7, 13h00 at Escuela Politecnica Nacional, Ladron de Guevera E11-253, Quito.
- Very good English
- Regular post-secondary or university student
- Up to 28 years of age
- Available to travel to the United States from June to September of 2005.
“Registration Open” taped
upon the tapia of my mother’s birth-house wall between
a window on Peguche and my pealing scheme of Levittown, USA:
houses like rectangular beads woven
in the tapestry of my dreams.
Indio, Turko, or mono:
to soak in my Lebanese father’s medicinal pools
or bathe in womb waters braiding this town with
aquaducts, cascades, riverlets, and birthing stains in moonlight.
Hello Paccha, says moon, you are earth.
Hello Jacobo, you are your father’s bastard.
The midwives hung my mama Paccha in a blanket, rolled
her back and forth like a top,
strapped her arms to eucalyptus rafters in the old way,
let hers and the earth’s energy draw
me down ‘til I, like myriad kin, microbial
to mammal, was born
in an ocean of blood, shit, earth,
and my mother’s microbiome. Moonbeams.
she says, parted the clouds concealing Imbabura, poured
a blue prism through this window cut
in tapia, and—right here—gave me light.
A week later Paccha brought me
to my father, my un-named face
with breast-milk poo.
He did love me, right from Colegio Americano
to Pontificia Universidad Católica,
School of Tongues, Inglés.
Requirements: Muy buen inglés
Yes, sir, I am the man!
Good-bye trousers white and ponchos blue,
embroidered blouses and blue wool skirts,
Mamacita’s gold glass beads and wristlets coral incarnadine.
Good-bye, house of Mother Earth.
Hello, American Dream.
Summer, 2006: Jacobo, Bound, Blinded, and Gagged en Route to Gitmo
Land of the free and the square, America!
Oh, be, America.
Oh, that America be!
That I should be free
and this moment,
that I, chewing my blood,
and drowning in hallucinations,
the swarming bats of timeless night,
should be free.
That I, Jacobo,
whose name breathes from the heart—
jota of my Inca mothers (jatun, great),
of Arab fathers (habibi, darling)—
and this moment,
Falling Burning Drowning: Our Lady of the Holy Waters, Save Me
In Baños, Ecuador,
a silvery waterfall springs from the flanks
of smoldering Volcan Tunguragua,
divides into a rosary of mineral pools
clogged with tourists and pilgrims
(inmates of my father’s spa),
and empties with a host of other waters
into the thundering Pastaza
as it courses brown and boiling
down the mountains to the Mariñon that becomes the Amazon.
is a church,
the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Agua Santa,
of Our Lady’s miracles,
painted in the Italian style by Indios.
(Or at least I believe a world, a town, a church, murals, and Indios
exist beyond this box of pain;
I cannot know.)
A man’s car tumbles off the narrow road,
barely a path, high above the Rio Pastaza,
flinging him loose
to plummet before the tapestry of orchids
and bromeliads that drape the ledge.
He calls, “¡Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa, salvame!” And instantly,
opening the blue sky in a lacy oval, Our Lady
with a glance commands the epiphyte tendrils
to lasso his ankle at the last impending second
and yank him from the unforgiving boulders along the riverbank
Or when the whole town of Baños is shrouded in falling ash
and pounded by burning stones
vomited by angry Tunguragua,
until the infallible prayer of townsfolk,
“¡Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa, salvame!”
clears the blackened sky,
and the final pebbles
fecklessly pelt the ground like dropping goat turds
as Our Lady smiles upon her grateful flock.
Or the woven bridge suspended mountain to mountain
and a dozen homeward travelers grasping the handlines
cry ecstatically, “¡Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa, salvame!”
And Our Lady steels the threads of that
until her children safely gain the nearer shore.
She does not hear me now,
falling, burning, drowning.
Mamacita, save me.
Dear little mother, earth, spring,
Paccha, Otavalo nation,
for Paccha, Shyri queen,
Mother of Inca Atahuallpa,
Huayna Capac’s bivouac-ripened Ecuador son,
who vanquished court-loving brother Huascar,
was betrayed by Pizarro conquistador,
imprisoned in a box like mine,
promised burial so christened Francisco
Juan Bautista de Atavalivia (Otavalo,
once letters licked by many tongues),
garroted, and burned.
About the author:
Phillip Bannowsky is a retired autoworker, international educator, and human rights activist. Published works include The Milk of Human Kindness (poetry), Autoplant: a Poetic Monologue,and The Mother Earth Inn (novel). Having spent 31 years chasing the assembly line at Chrysler’s now shuttered and razed Newark (Delaware) Assembly Plant, he taught Secondary English in Ecuador and Lebanon and now teaches The Poetry of Empowerment at the University of Delaware. In 2017, the Delaware Division of the Arts awarded him an Establish Artist Fellowship in Literature: Poetry.