The Spirit Weavers
by Nancy Lubarsky
The woman sits on a stool outside the local tourist
shop. She splits the dried and bleached palm leaves
into thin strands. She blends dyes from complex
recipes of flowers, roots, and berries to interweave
tribal tales, wildlife, or patterns from the earth’s
geometry. She begins the basket at the base, in a spiral.
She bends the reeds, loops, and tightens—one row over
another. This basket may take months or years to finish.
We had just a week with you, our guide. We are on your
journey—your tightly woven story. Not the city where
you were born, not the tall skyscrapers, or the locks of
the canal, but the countryside. You want us to know real
Panamanian life: a one-hotel town with only the day’s
catch on the menu; the force of a waterfall we push against
just to stay upright; the tree frog’s green shimmer in the
rainforest after dark; a steep sunset hike, not to see the sun,
but the breadth of the valley; the still Caribbean waters
above, the coral and sea life metropolis below. For just a
brief time you unravel these fibers for us—the ones in
your heart, the ones that protect your country’s spirit.
Previously published in the author’s poetry collection The Only Proof (Kelsay Books, a Division of Aldrich Press, 2017).
PHOTO: Clouds dropping over mountains of Cordillera Central and Santa Fe National Park, north of Santa Fe, Panama. Photo by Mark Poplawski, used by permission.
NOTE: The Wounaan Indians of the Darien Rainforest in Panama are some of the finest basket weavers in the world. Using the Chunga palm and other plant materials, they weave utilitarian baskets, ceremonial pieces, and the most beautiful and intricate basketry depicting plants and animals, fish and flowers, insects and geometric patterns. The Wounaan translate their belief in the harmony in nature by transforming organic materials into baskets. They see “spirit” and “nature” as inseparable. (Source: Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art)
PHOTO: A basket the author obtained during her visit to Panama.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was written about my trip to Panama several years ago. While most people just see the canal and move on to other places, our guide showed us another side of Panama (really several sides) that were unique and beautiful. This picture depicts a sunset hike in Santa Fe, Panama.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nancy Lubarsky writes from Cranford, New Jersey. An educator for over 35 years, Nancy has been published in various journals, including Exit 13, Lips, Tiferet, Poetic, Stillwater Review, and Paterson Literary Review. Nancy received honorable mention in the 2014 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards and again in 2016 and 2018. She is the author of two books—Tattoos (Finishing Line Press) and The Only Proof (Kelsay Books, a Division of Aldrich Press). Nancy received honorable mention from The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Contest (2018). She has also been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize.