Death Is Not a 5-Star Hotel


That was it. I wasn’t able to be free,
wasn’t prepared to carry the load, not entirely.
I was too young. And nobody took up the slack.
Absolutely not, so I drifted away. I paddled away,
down to a less vibrant part of the river and dropped my line
where there were no fish.

This can happen. One is left to fish without bait.
The water is torn by passing boats. The noise scares
some, but not the piranha. They’re not so easily
fooled. They take the bait but not the hook. They bite with care.
They eat around the hook. And you wait in the black water
all day or for years, hoping for a break. You sit in a boat
that’s not moving. You sit in the shade with the jungle behind you.

You watch the toucan flying above. You whistle.
You wave and the people wave back. “I have friends.”
You wait. You watch. You look. You listen, with the piranha
churning beneath you. The water is not green or brown like mud.
The water is black like a samurai’s topknot or a hearse at an
Italian funeral. It reminds me of the entrance to the Baglioni
in Rome, only you won’t find a hotel like that where I am.

One learns to survive. The tiny flesh-eaters feast without anger.
Their desperation is instinctive. Their motivation is survival.
One is taught to prepare. My guide reminds me to stay alert.
Hemingway wanted to get things right. He had an obsession
with accurate observation. The imagination can create
distractions. He preferred despair to fantasy.

I am floating on water that is still. The sun doesn’t have much longer.
There are no stars in the sky, no moon in the river. The water
is black like an open grave. I can imagine the fury beneath. I can
feel the anticipation. It reminds me of Rothko’s Chapel. It has
no flowers. My guide laughs. We haven’t had a bite. We should have
made a move. Now it’s too late. Even the toucan stop flying.