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Antonio in Tijuca.

Striking from the road, Antonio tracked the snaking rumor of brush-sunk trail that scaled Tijuca's jungled slopes, taking hand holds and foot holds in the banyon roots fat with the hot day's tireless drippings, slipping in sandals over mossed-slick ruts and a mat of curled leaves like dashed canoe hulls. He listened as the diving roar of river grew louder, and hacked on toward the sound until at last he came into the treeless hollow boxed on one side by a sheer cliff wall where a waterfall thundering and roiling, gathered to follow the course of one vertical trough set like a doorway into the rock-- a quarried-out block channeling all the mountain's torrent through its sluice. At its base, the water whorling, slackened out into a broad shallow basin before racing down again, slivered and fingering, purling round the chunks and boulders ranked to check the rain-bloated river's cleaving rush. Leaving clothes piled on a sun-scrubbed bank, Antonio muscled through the thigh-low flood splashing toward the cataract that whacked his hunching shoulders as he stood shivering in its glacial chill, raw and bludgeoned, haunches tensed, elbows pressed tight to ribs, chest in heaves, neck curled shrimp-like, jaws gaped and sucking like a hooked eel for what air might fill the space hollowed by his bowed head, reeling until it seemed he could no longer feel his lungs' ache or blanched ankles, his heart's rave, but felt in the rhythmic pulse, saw in the bleary white flash the weary axes, picks, and ringing spikes of the slaves who carved this rift a century ago, heard the pie-dog talk, the song of hammers, the throng of chiseling bodies moving through him in the flow as they nicked and clacked into the cliff's steep crop crimsoning the basin with the bed's roughed dregs until his legs nearly buckled and his whole body flopped. Stumblingly, he staggered out, knuckling away a flurry in his eyes, when all at once he noticed-- how in the mist the soft fern fans whispered and swayed, how insects dartled, starred in what light the shifting leaves allowed, while rain birds with maws bright like crab claws hiccoughed, hidden in the canopy's jade heights. And how, as he moved through the silt-flushed currents, himself a music of riddling gleams, the stream seemed all both to pause and rush upon a lower slope's brink before spattering down to a second shallow basin far below in a wider hollow flanked by a brown footpath, where platters of cooked beans and ripe citrus wedges static with wasps or a fiery colony of savage ants lined with slag-gravelly banks like barges docked beside the dew-snuffed candles lodged in bottle necks, the whittlings, of Virgin Marys bound in rosaries nipped by the frittering wobble and dodge of fruit-green moths. And how the whole glade ringing with the pulse of the river pounding across the stones could not drown the loudening hum of his own hands' wild singing.
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Author:Spera, Gabriel
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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