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No Translation Needed

My head...my heart...my stomach..."
from CUTTING FOR STONE, Abraham Verghese

He writes of Ethiopia,
and I also was high in mountains,
Peru at 13,000 ft.
There the same hand gestures
became laughable day after day after day.
"My head, my back, my stomach." 
My Quechua translator Paulino
taught me a little of his tongue,
but his beautiful, dark face only smiled,
for I knew the drill, could inform
our Icelandic doctor the symptoms
without intermediary Spanish. 
She, too,  knew, the familiar story,
and she had a tally in her head,
how many patients we could
fly through in a long day,
and though she spurned palliative care,
there usually was little to be done
but push our donated pain pills. 
She was impatient of my
unneeded English explication.
The hands danced in familiar patterns,
while the enormous loads toted
on petite shoulders for eons,
the parasites were there to stay. 
Occasional falls from rooftops or
gorings by free-roaming bulls
were the only pertinent changes
in the stories.  The fluttering hands,
the creviced skin of faces pleated
in pantomimed misery are archetypal.
We, in our Westernized distresses,
fine tune our tales of woe.
There the caregiver, all too often,
must only offer pills, and perhaps,
despite the lack of remedy,
learns to mutter, "I understand."


-- Carol Hamilton