Lorette Luzajic

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Paint By Number

In the Candelaria, the fog tumbles in from the mountain, weights down the day. Bogota is blue-gray with shifting shadows and angular sunstreaks in yellow. The locals say the light is always like this, sectioned off like a paint by number. I'm looking for words to go with these pictures, so in a biblioteca near my hostel, I ask in sad Spanish for La Poesia, Colombianos? The clerk is delighted, recounts in broken English something of the writers he most admires. What brings you to Bogota? he asks politely as he makes the change. How to answer this question? How do you say, I have come far away to forget that my father is dead, that I have come to lose myself, or find myself, or both? So I tell him the truth, in fewer words. That I am making my way across the whole  world. I take the treasury of poems, opaque emeralds like the veins of the earth in this place, and head off in search of pizza. I read on Lonely Planet about the place with Kerouac poems on the walls and when I enter their humid lair, the beautiful brown boys are playing Bob Dylan. There are all these little bottles of wine, from Chile. I point at one, drain it, write down a few words, tease stringmelt cheese from tooth to pan. A slow mule pulls past, misty with warm rain.


There were no witnesses to what happened inside of me while we walked through the ravine woods, stopping in a clearing to kiss hungrily. Those hours bruised me, even as sutures and wounds  dissolved at your touch. I loved the proud badge of black and blue that rose, subtle but swollen, later on my lips. I pawed at you with a hunger I’d long forgotten, if I’d known it at all. Besides us, the autumn birds  and the scarlet maples were the only ones privy to whatever it was that was taking place. You were awkward and strange, and how you took my mouth was almost desperate and so beautiful. I’d been holding and holding and holding back, so used to the wall I always left between myself and my lovers. It was a barrier I found useful and comforting. But just like that, I couldn’t control the space between me and another. I went with the tides, I had no choice, and fall’s red sunset soaked the forest where we embraced. The moon was yellow and huge but we couldn’t see it through the trees until we climbed back up into the city. I couldn’t know what was ahead, and didn’t care. The softening had already been done.


I’d already decided I would try grasshoppers while I was there. If ever I would take such a leap, it would be to eat the real thing, in its context by people who made it delicious, not in those novelty insect eating kits I bought for my nephews on their birthdays. They could gnaw on stale scorpions if they wanted to, but if I was going to put a grub in my mouth, it had to come via someone’s abuelita, someone who knew what they were doing.

We pass markets with green chorizo sausage and crates of tomatillos. Boars’ heads split asunder and spread-eagled on ice. And mountains of dried peppers piled high, anchos and guajillos. Mole poblano, whole and powdered, as well as something else that you can’t eat, to be sprinkled in the path, for hope, for good luck.

But no crickets or beetles, not yet. Just pretzels and puffy cheezies in bright green, fiery red, and classic orange. Here, they sell cigarettes by the single. The lighter is tied to a clothesline, and you can tip a peso or two into a jar for using it.

We turn to the music. Something forlorn and moonlit, but there’s a house beat underneath it somewhere. My friend has brought me to the Zona Rosa, Mexico City’s Pink Zone. Two pretty young queens are necking on top of an old barrel. A little bowl of spicy beans lands in front of us. There’s a table of five in the front window, heads thrown back to the night, laughing, free.

The waiter brings a tray of elegant little glasses, with limes and a bowl of crushed chili and salt.

This is worm salt, my friend explains, showing me how to lick my fingers. It is delicious.

You don’t just swig this booze back the way Americans like tequila, he says. Mezcal is more spiritual. You savour it. It’s made from roasted maguey. He shows me how to pace the spicy salt, the lime, and the Mezcal sipping. It tastes similar to its cousin, tequila, but with depth and heat, like chipotle struck by lightning.

We take three rounds before getting up. The couple on the wooden barrel is still entwined, before twilight, in an almost empty bar. Something slides down inside of me, something melts, something light as a feather, heavy as loneliness.


Lorette C. Luzajic is a visual artist and a writer living in Toronto, Canada. She is at work on her fifth collection of poetry, this time a book of ekphrastic prose poems. Her writing has also appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including many anthologies. Recent credits include Indelible (Dubai), Wild Word (Berlin), Nine Muses Poetry, Los Angeles Cultural Weekly, Heart of Flesh, and Black Coffee Review. Lorette has been nominated twice each for Best of the Net and the Pushcart, three of those this past year. She is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted entirely to writing inspired by art.