The Pilgrim's Diary
the shadow

the shadow follows me
matches my steps
whispers advice
not at all well-meaning
it wells up inside
it turns off the lights
thickens the air
leaves me nothing
but the weight of a pulse
it’s full of bad ideas
i listen close
i consider
plot the routes
it won’t be ignored
it lies with me
won’t let me rest
it never disappears
won’t be drowned
won’t wash off
it’s all that i have left

It’s quiet here

nobody reads me any more
but it’s ok
nobody stops by any more
not so ok
they’ve wandered away
just like me
lured by the new
or bored by the old
so no more comments 
no more saucy quips
it’s quiet here
we had something we all enjoyed
but it’s faded 
and I miss those days
miss them 
miss you 


your skin sings to me
smooth and warm
brown and soft
it slides under my hands
all my efforts
and all my restraint
can’t keep me away

she crossed my path today
on her way to somewhere else
time stood still for that moment
i saw her hair catch a flash of gold
i saw her blue crystals
i saw the crimson on her lips
it all came tumbling back
my heart rose for her

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hotel tequendama
you rise elegant
you soar above the city of gold
over tiny crowds
stellar venus in my dark sky
goddess above them all

I never knew such a place
far beyond my means
never saw such beauty
but by sheer luck
here on the top floor
Hanan Pacha lies before me

que bonita

fine room service


hotel tequendama
you rise elegant
you soar above the city of gold
over tiny crowds
stellar venus in my dark sky
goddess above them all

I never knew such a place
far beyond my means
never saw such beauty
but by sheer luck
here on the top floor
Hanan Pacha lies before me

que bonita

fine room service
who could eat
lovely pillows
who could sleep
breathless in the opulence
on the top floor
such heights
eight thousand feet and

I can’t



pale and delicate
this moonlit luminescence
who outshines mere electric glitter
tan exquisita

if these walls could talk
there’d be plenty to say
some lost in translation
some with me today

too good to be true
but all true

i can never forget you
and i owe what i am to you
delicate majesty
princesa de los andes
siempre puedo esperar
i’ll return in my dreams

hotel tequendama

Next Morning in Bogota’

The next morning, the first rays of early autumn sun and street noises wake me up. I was dreaming and the street noises came through the open window and into my dream. I can’t remember where I am for a moment so I try to put it back together. The sounds on the street are noticeably different from what I’m used to. Sounds of vendors selling newspapers, yelling “El Tiempo! El Tiempo!” as they make their way through the neighborhood. Unfamiliar birds calling. Street peddlers yelling “Pinas! Mangos!”

And a sound I can’t put a finger on, a persistent low rattling screech of something being dragged slowly down the street. 

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Spring Break

The flight attendant’s announcement is lost on me. My Spanish isn’t good enough to understand a word of what she’s said for the past 4 hours. I have no idea we’re on the approach to the airport. To my extreme and unpleasant surprise, the plane lands while I’m half asleep. It comes in fast, like it’s accidentally touched down on top of a mountain while at cruising altitude. And that’s not far from the truth. The airport is up in the Andes and the plane is going fast. The bump of the wheels on the runway bolts me upright in my seat and I look out the window in a panic. I’m relieved to see runway lights passing by and know the plane’s where it belongs, on the ground.

The airport looks strange from the plane’s window. There’s none of the usual activity you’d expect to see. No tugs pulling luggage carts, no other planes taxiing to their gates, and no ground crew to be seen. There’s a few soldiers on the ground holding rifles. 

Inside the plane, the groggy passengers I’ve been sharing the plane with since Miami gather their belongings. We line up in both aisles. I step out of the 747 and see the terminal’s darkened. It looks like the airport is closed. A tight group of about twenty soldiers is waiting just outside. They all have ruddy brown faces. They’re armed with what are obviously automatic rifles, serious weapons for an airport. Most are held at waist level and are pointed casually at us. And the soldiers have their hands on the grips with trigger fingers ready. 

They take charge of us and divide the passengers into two groups. Everyone on the plane that I’ve guessed to be Americans seem to be going into one group, and the returning locals in the other. I’m a college student, alone in a foreign country, I’ve been on the ground ten minutes and I’m already starting to regret being here.

Our group remains surrounded by soldiers as we walk through the airport. There are no passengers at the other gates, none anywhere. It’s silent. My mind races through various scenarios to explain the military escort. Maybe there’s been a takeover, and they’re rounding up all the Americans to take us to jail. But who’s taken over? The Shining Path? The M-19 guerrillas? The military itself? Maybe we’re going to be hostages. Between overwhelming waves of fear and anxiety, I give myself reassurances that everything is going to be OK, that there’s some reasonable explanation for the special reception. 

We’re collected in a small drab room. Our passports and immigration documents are taken. Each of us is led behind a grey partition to be searched. An intense looking soldier stares at me while a man in civilian clothes pats me down. I’m sweating. He runs his hands over every square inch of my clothing, then pauses and does it again, this time poking and squeezing in areas where he thinks I might be hiding something. He runs a couple fingers inside the waistband of my pants and pushes the cuffs up to my calves. As he frisks me I look over his shoulder at a soldier who is intently examining my shoes at a nearby table.  

Then another man asks me in perfect English why I’m here, what I do for a living, who I’ve planned to visit, a long list of personal questions that don’t help put me at ease. I wish I had better answers. I’m here for a woman I met four months ago in the USA, I’ve never been here or any other country outside of the US, I have a lousy job not worth telling him about, and I’m staying as long as my money lasts. After that, who knows what happens.   

Without any explanation, I’m handed my papers and told I can go through a door at the rear of the room. When I step through it, I find myself in the baggage claim area. There’s a handful of people looking for their bags. I see mine on the floor among a large pile of suitcases.   The zippers are all open and I can see some of my clothes hanging out a little. I’m not sure why someone went through my bags, and what that personal examination was all about, and why the airport was empty, and why it takes 20 soldiers to take 40 people off a nearly empty 747, but I’m just happy to be free. 

I pick up my gear and walk past the security gates through the mass of people waiting outside. Their faces are excited, expectant, hopeful, happy, concerned… just what you’d expect from people waiting to pick someone up at an airport. It’s a reassuring sight, seems normal. Then there’s Maria Clara, moving through the crowd to me. We meet, kiss, crush our bodies together. Everything’s better now.   Turns out the airport is locked down because there’s an election in a couple days. There are hundreds of people out celebrating. Maria wants to know if Americans celebrate in the streets before their elections. I just shake my head. 

She’s seen small parts of the US, and I’ve never seen Colombia. We’d only met four months before while she was on a long holiday in my home town.   She had a boyfriend back in Colombia, I had a casual girlfriend in the US who was away on a family vacation. Somehow, when we met by chance, we saw something in each other in an instant. Meeting Maria made my head spin. She changed the way I looked at my life. I suddenly cared about my life, my career and my future. Maria invited me to visit to meet her parents. I impulsively accepted.  

It seemed like Maria’s time in the US had been over in moments. The wait for this trip seemed like years, even though I only had to wait until Spring Break. Now I’m standing here two thousand miles from home, and I don’t care if I ever go back. I’m with an unbelievably beautiful woman I hardly know, who has me spellbound. Maria Clara takes my hand like she means it and leans close to me. The feel of her body pressed against mine is pure pleasure. We walk out into the warm Bogota night, the air scented with anticipation, mystery, questions, and a hint of promise. 


The trial is in progress and it’s anybody’s guess how it will turn out.   But I will be very, very sad if the result turns out to be it’s OK for a grown man in a car to stalk a child who is doing nothing more than walking down a street, then get out and pick a fight with that child, and when it looks like his white ass is going to take a beating, kill that child with a handgun.  

If I am living in a world where that’s OK, it’s actually hell, a place that doesn’t exist except where we create it, and I’m sorry to be here.

The Bible is Not a Good Source For Morality or Our Laws

I very much want to send this to my dear brother Tom, who is adamant the Earth is 6000 years old because it says so in the Bible and the Bible must always be taken literally and at face value. I seriously doubt it is a “real” letter, because, with all her faults, I don’t recall Dr. Laura quoting Leviticus and taking a holier-than-thou stance on gay people. What she did say was bad enough. But this letter is wonderful, regardless.

"In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, she understands homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

PS It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.”