“(A+B+C)” by Charlotte Pence

Charlotte Pence


All month in Ecuador I’d been waiting for it.
So, when I found myself on all fours circled by
eight policeman, guns pointing at my spine,
left kidney, shoulder, it was something of a relief.

I’m not saying Ecuador’s that third-world
gang-rape-a-girl place. I’d been there
six times before, never felt nervous,
but I’d noticed a change this last visit.

Longer stares not at my ass or tits or hair,
but at my jacket pockets, my hands. We’d become
drug runners. “We,” I’d learn later, blonde
Americans in their twenties, in search of life

experiences. So, I was separated from my husband,
taken across the tarmac to an empty airport hanger.
But nothing’s ever empty: jumbled engine parts,
some mattress pads, dried palm leaf.

Los perros huelen las drogas, one said, and pointed
to my suitcase on the concrete floor
where I was ordered to get down, unpack it.
So there I was on all fours, circled by them,

thinking how my body is just a body.
I began yanking everything out, shaking the panties
and polka-dot bra. Two guys turned away. I started
yelling, Do you know who I am?, although the answer

is nobody. Nobody in the same way no place
is ever empty. And then I found it,
a three-pound bag of animal crackers in shapes
of the blue-footed booby, lava lizards,

Galapagos sea turtle and cormorant.
I could have had a dick in mouth, pussy, ass
because of cookies drug dogs craved.
The flightless cormorant knows how one event

leads to the next—like how a MasterCard expiring
on the trip led to less money to buy 8 nephews
a gift, which led to the 3 pound bag of cookies,
too bulky for my carry-on—how all that can end up

resulting in something. Just basic math:
a country’s lack of money equaling young men
with guns, drug-running girls, and tourists
in need of “exotic” gifts. And I knew

it was nothing to rage against, but I had to keep
yelling to hold them back, any silence an opening.
I thought of how a+b+c leads to birds too fat to fly
and girls on all fours waiting for one man

to decide restraint has no benefit and take that first
step closer. One man plus one step would equal
a second man and wrenching back
of one arm. Simple arithmetic the thing between us.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009


Charlotte Pence: “This narrative poem about being accused of drug smuggling was inspired not by the immediacy of the event, but by a couple of fiction writers who were taking a poetry workshop with me. I tend to write lyric poetry and had never allowed myself to tell a story straight, feeling that was cheating, too easy. Reading some of their work, however, convinced me to try—and this poem is the result. And was far from easy.” (website)

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