"Whitman can sing confidently and in blithe
innocence about democracy militant because
American Utopia is confused with and
indistinguishable from American reality."
—Octavio Paz, Walt Whitman
As we left for Ayacucho, Lucho Monasi Cockburn took out his machete from under his car seat and put it between the two of us. "It's a bad road," he said and looked at me. His eyes were blue, almost lost between the wrinkles of his smile. "One cholo less or more, who cares!"
I looked at his machete, in its tooled leather scabbard. "Permiso?" I said and took it out. It was dull and rusty.
"Señor," said Jorge, as we sat in an Ayacucho hotel bar. "What kind of a country are we, what kind of people?" Jorge was a cholo drinking his 15th bottle of beer. "To your health, Señor," he said, raising his glass.
"Salud compadre," I said. "I can see that you are not always happy."
Afterwards, I listened to Jorge caress his black, worn-out guitar, coaxing her to sound like a blind beggar's flute—the reed flute of the Andes, which the Indios play to tell the world of their existence.
Then Jorge sang some marineras from the coast, as sad as the mountain music. "Know any Mexican...