Bananera (United Fruit Company)

Saturday, July 15, 2023

I’d gone there years before not meaning to stop from the capital north
to the lowlands where the small highway joins the narrow-gauge rail

that runs from the plantations to Puerto Barrios where bananas meet
the ships and flow as though on plates into their holds as Neruda wrote

in 1948. Then two days northward to their destined cities then outward
by boxcar and semi to the warehouses the markets the homes the tables

the bodies.  But I did stop, it was still early evening and I walked
the grounds and found a shop to have some beans and rice and a Fanta. 

They called the company “Mamita Yunay” (pronounced “You ‘n I” en 
inglés), something like “ Little Mama the Company”— vast its

tax-exempt dominion with its own ports its private army its railroads
from Guatemala to Honduras and here was its flagship halfway

between the capital and the Caribbean.  First came the compound
itself like a military base with groomed lawns Levittown homes

sidewalks and streetlights, and then the unlit town where I found amid
closed shops a metal chair on a concrete slab to rest and watch families

stroll after dinner as if circling a plaza. But here was no plaza—just
a grid of deep dirt streets from which one could hear now the loud pop

of a pistol shot and its aftermath:  people milling around, a man face down
on the floor of a tiny bar, in the bulb glare his black blood seeping over

the tiles.  If he’d had friends they’d left him.  Some with machetes still
dressed for the fields looked in, others drunk on aguardiente waited

for the police to come if they could have made it up the gouged and
river-rutted street. The dead lie vacant as a burned field the jukebox

plays “Que Le Maten Pollo” absurd cumbia of the 1970s, it rings
through the sugar cane and no one thinks to turn it off.


Bananera, 1974—Guatemala City, 2014

Saturday, July 15, 2023