Lovely señoritas would lean against barred windows
above the cobbled streets of Santo Domingo,
coyly smiling at the young caballeros
pleading audience from down below,
poetry dropping from their rosy lips
like pearls in the cool Caribbean autumn.

At siesta time Father John and I walk to the pump
to see the children gathered with tin water drums,
and over the splashing and laughing come prison shouts,
shirtless shadows behind barred windows and under guns
screaming “Gringo! Gringo!” and angry Spanish
in the dusty border summer.

On the edge of our village was a small prison on a hill; we walked by it sometimes to visit the water pump, and often elicited angry yells that we (at least Father John and I) could barely understand, probably for the best. I was raised on Kingston Trio songs like “Señora” and “El Matador” that painted a romantic picture of colonial New Spain, a world still visible in parts of Santo Domingo, which made a strange contrast with the realities of the modern Dominican Republic. “Reja” is a kind of ornamental ironwork originating in Spain in the 16th century.

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