Portobelo, Panama (2009)

Unlike the artesanías peddling
wooden signs, painted magnets, t-shirts,
jewel-toned beach towels
manufactured in China—
the Canoe Man is unaware
of the tourists collected
on the ramparts of Fort San Jeronimo,
watching him work.
He straddles a hand-hollowed canoe,
barefoot, toes hugging the rocky shore,
faded jeans rolled to mid-calf,
knees white and worn smooth.
Sweat beads along his brow,
and he stops to drag
a wrist across his forehead,
to stretch his bare arms
over head, to readjust
his grip on the hand planer
he uses to smooth the belly
of the vessel. Wood shavings curl
away from the blade, pale
fibrous skins that slide
to the bottom of the hull,
making the boat lighter,
more sea-worthy.

On the ramparts, camera shutters
whine and hum, white tourists
murmur and exclaim over this chance
to see a “native” in his element,
working, building, creating.
The Canon Man glances
up, sees the spectacle
he has become. He is not
smiling as he gathers his tools,
retreats behind his shed
of corrugated tin. The knot
of tourists shakes
loose, and the people go back
to photographing the horizon,
the tree-line, the breakers
in Portobelo Bay. They ignore
the bromidic shed, unattractive
as it is, its bottom rusted
through, revealing
dirt floor, sunbeams, and a pair
of naked brown feet standing
on the other side,
not moving, not knowing
where to go.


Lacy Marschalk

Lacy Marschalk

Lacy Marschalk holds a PhD from Auburn University, where she wrote her dissertation about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Anglo-Indian women’s travel writing. Her creative work has appeared in The Vehicle, The Citron Review, and The Prose-Poem Project, among other places. When she isn’t teaching literature and writing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, she enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and any other activity that gives her an excuse to travel.