A Big Cat Slinks: Poems on Cuzco

One of the world’s great tourist attractions, Cuzco is also a living city whose name has great resonance among indigenous peoples throughout the central Andes, the former domain of Tawantinsuyo. It also is a living city with a strong local culture and social life. Though tourism is the main industry it does not overwhelm the beat of this city’s heart. As this new year begins, Cuzco Eats presents three poems by David Knowlton that each engage the allure of a living Cuzco.


On Cuzco

Many people have never looked down
to see hills and fields, trees and tile roofs
as this city is born beneath them.

They have never walked a jet-way
to the cold room amidst music and porters
where suitcases and backpacks circle.

They have never felt small before
zigzagging stones and tales of thunder
and pumas marauding.

This is no Gangnam, no Wallstreet, no Berlin.
No Disney, no Mombay, no Hong Kong,
despite banks and small, circular disks.

No rows of glass towers grow skyward
while office men migrate in and out
each day to till them.

No trains rush underground,
corpuscles delivering air
and taking it back in a whoosh,

though there are holes in the ground
where Incas are said to dwell,
hidden well within.

People who will never come
say tunnels start in their town
and open again once here,

far beyond any subway’s reach,
where the past and future
live in the earth.

They know somewhere
at the tunnels’ end
the navel opens.

A different path
than the one
contrailed through the sky.

David Knowlton

Exiting a Cave into Cuzco
Exiting a Cave into Cuzco

Sunday Morning

My feet stepped
down stone clad steps,
an intersection ahead.

A scream.
A woman ran.

She crouched over
a child flat on the street,
a motorcycle stopped
in the middle.

“Help him breathe.”
“Why don’t you keep
better watch.”

Too many people.
My feet went on,
cobbles rough.

David Knowlton


Wall of the Archbishop's Palace in Cuzco
Wall of the Archbishop’s Palace in Cuzco


Shadows shift like voices on air
across the uneven wall of massive,
irregular, and tight stones.

“Did you see the puma? It appears only now
when the sun hits and rain clouds flee”,

he says– small orbs in his face.
As mountains frame shadow and light,
tourists huddle around him.

Like air they came seeking
mystery in a place not their’s where
darkness in motion illuminates meaning,
a monstrance of the absolute.

The stones stay, uneven yet brilliant,
a wall alive, visible and un-monstrated.

Beyond his eyes, his voice, they rise one
upon another, a bouldered hill growing
within which people lived

and once four sisters and four brothers came
out, though one returned to the dark.

Inside and outside became siblings. Only a boulder
shadowed like a big cat slinking through brush
stands between while looking to pounce
though visitors never hear its cough
or see its eyes, two orbs in the night.

David Knowlton

Inca Stone Wall in Cuzco
Inca Stone Wall in Cuzco


Red Flowers in Cuzco
Red Flowers in Cuzco

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