Lolita’s hands are soft, brown, and clean,
carrying the knife with such ease in the chopping
that the blade melts the cebolla into fine minced white,
like the crushed ice in last night’s curated cocktail.
“Puedo ayudar?” The words sputter from my tourist lips;
still squinting, my eye stays twelve inches behind
the image of her hands frozen on my lens.
Lolita nods and I try
trading my Sony for her blade,
shocked as it shapeshifts into a block, a club, an axe
unwieldly in my own hand. I am a hack,
shredding the pimienta to shards.
Lolita speaks to me in Spanish.
It is not her mother tongue. It’s not mine, too.
She proffers common words: pollo, arroz, grosella, tomate
and calls me mi hija, my daughter.
Lolita’s kitchen warms with onions, McCormick garlic, and her sons
waft in, float out,
¡Hello, encantado de conocerte!
from work, to work, in jeans they say it’s easier
to pass as Ladino.
I nod, as if I could understand.
I’m here to make pictures.
We set plates at the Formica counter,
beneath a fluorescent bulb,
next to the gas stove, next to the brick oven,
where a kettle boils.
Downstairs, in the cement basement, there’s Lolita’s Panadería
where red wood stokes orange and white, hot enough now
to receive the dough that will become the morning’s bread,
sold for a few quetzales by Lolita herself,
who will rise before dawn, to open the shutters
to a laughing girl in leather,
to a shrinking woman who lost her teeth,
to the Maya weave in flip-flops,
who climbed the stairs to the street,
a blue basket snubbing gravity atop her head,
and hid her face from my lens.
Lo siento. Lo siento.
After dinner, Lolita invites me on a walk
through the narrow cobblestone streets of Santiago Atitlán,
her youngest child—still a schoolboy—leaps and darts ahead
until Lolita pulls him back, her hand hovering like heat at his neck.
Neighbors sit on their stoops, talking in the dim,
some just watching the cars, and watching
people like us
climb and wind through the city, until we arrive
at Café Lolita, where tortes y dulces shimmer inside brilliant bakery glass,
and where Lolita takes a seat at her own counter,
her dark hair curling at her temples, ready to uncoil,
in this moment,
her solemn upper lip now wears a foamy white mustache,
surely the mark of the best cappuccino in all of Guatemala.
Lolita shows me my room, a rooftop palace:
a twin bed, a thin blue blanket, a lamp, and a plastic sink,
where I can brush my teeth alone before falling asleep
to the scent of wood baking bread three floors below.
The morning comes with rooster calls,
the sun painting orange on purple hills
distant, outside the city.
There’ll be a party soon and Lolita,
with her lips pursed in focus,
is decorating a quinceañera cake
with flowers so pretty I want to eat them.
Lolita opens drawer after drawer, a cabinet of wonders,
filled with her creations of steam and sugar,
an illusion: black-tipped stamens climbing out
of curling petals of purple and pink.
She hands me one blossom. A parting gift.
I crack a thin, delicate petal free and
let it melt on my tongue.
las flores de lolita