“Mucho Brillante” I said to my friend Luis
who shined boots, cleaned and starched uniforms
and mopped the floors of our barracks,
then returned to the tin shanty he lived in with his wife
and nine children on the edge of Panama City
where raw sewage ran in a ditch behind the house.
He sat on his wooden shine box popping and buffing
the tips of my army boots with a rag, spitting into the wax
as he polished until I could see my face in them.
When he was done he smiled a broad gap toothed smile
and snapped his index finger in the air crying out, “Que Chula.”
I laughed, sat down on the edge of my bunk bed
as we talked of Panamanian boxing champs
Ismael “El Tigre” Laguna and Roberto “Cholo” Duran,
of how good the Panamanian national baseball team
was doing, about last night’s shooting of local student
demonstrators protesting the United States occupation
of the Canal and about Colonel Manuel Noriega,
the head of the US trained and financed
“Guardia Nacionale” who did the shooting.
“El es un hombre muy malo” I said in the fledgling Spanish
Luis had taught me. He nodded and smiled again
when I thanked and gave him a two dollar tip.
Then I put on my freshly starched MP khakis, holstered
my forty five caliber Army issue pistol and went
to my guard duty post at the fort’s front gate overlooking
the canal with my boots shining like bullets.
About the author:
Steve Smith is a Poet/Artist from Pennington N.J. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, he is retired Theatrical Scenery Painter.