Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ascending by Conrad Tuerk

Watching the World Cup has transported me back to Brazil, where my wife and I visited last April.  What we saw was spectacular.  “God is Brazilian,” the natives proclaim, and at times their hyperbole seemed justified. 

In Rio de Janeiro I woke early and wandered the streets of Santa Teresa, a charming, colonial neighborhood high on a hillside overlooking the city.  It made for ideal exploration.  I could follow the steep streets down to the city, descending by stairs in spots, or climb into the lush rain forest along winding roads.  No matter the route, the views were stunning.  Through broken clouds, I caught glimpses of Christ the Redeemer, atop Corcovado, his outstretched arms reaching to embrace the city.

But many in Rio clamored for survival.  Each morning I encountered scenes of human deprivation, both heroic and dispiriting.  The city’s squalor stood in stark contrast to her natural beauty. Rio’s slums, known as favelas, clung to steep hillsides.  They were never far from view.  In an intimate square, in the heart of Santa Teresa, a family slept on boxes under a wooden cart.  Flies swarmed the barefoot children.  Their condition disturbed me.  How can life be so unjust? 

As always answers proved elusive.  The more I pondered, the more befuddled I became.


You turn a corner and
        below you
lies the open bay:
no sailboats, no puffy clouds,
only a boy
  in rags
straggling up a steep road.  

He picks through piles of trash.

When he nears you
he holds out his palm.
Feed me, his eyes plead,
I need to eat.
You pull a coin from your
pocket as a plane rumbles above.

His hand shakes now.

The plane curves away
and you wonder:
Why him and not me?
What is it worth?
Will he inherit what
is his, as proclaimed,
or is it all for naught
         a cruel  game?

You place the coin in his hand;
he swells with joy.

Conrad Tuerk is a teacher and writer living in Rutland, Vermont.


Peter Hogenkamp said...

I am glad you gave him the coin.

Sue Coletta said...

How sad, surrounded by such beauty. Sorry, Conrad, I just saw this today.