Soroche

Susana Case

USA

What is the calculus of altitude and allure
in this place where, until the volcano
spewed ash and covered it, the old lake
of the Cotocollaos travelled so far to sea level?

In Quito, The Bullfighter’s ghost has
slipped from the asylum to wander
streets full of guinea pigs grilled
on skewers jutting through their mouths,

and corn: dried, ground, fried, and roasted.
She eyes the food, but ghosts don’t eat.
She walks miles each day,
but ghosts don’t wear out their slippers.

With her carved walking stick, she rails
against symbols of greed, the fancy
stucco buildings, the gilt churches. Once,
she bandaged her eyes so as not to see.

Then, in a city so lovely, she willed herself
blind. She carries her rage in a large purse.
In the past, she, too, had money,
still wears a ratty fox coat and a fedora.

Accustomed to the altitude, she doesn’t
get dizzy. Only tourists do, from
so much beauty and soroche
I feel I’ll never again catch my breath.

 

Susana Case is a Guest Writer for Panorama.