Progress, Mexico | Dustin King

Image: Josh Withers

Progress, Mexico


The stray dogs bite. There’s glass in the sand,
too worn to cut a toe. A toddler giggles
running from her family toward the
waves. They urge her back. On the beach
road, I can’t tell if the sound of a car
approaching from behind is the surf until
headlights flash. The gate of the abandoned
school for “incapacitados” is chained shut,
has been for months, sargassum and plastic
washing under. Classroom walls of cracked
concrete. Graffiti on graffiti. A phantom yell
of gringo! Spitting rain. It will pour any minute.
Then it doesn’t. The yacht club sells pizzas
to expats but no one is hungry tonight. Wind
scatters plastic chairs around tables as if
customers were full and anxious to get
home, then as if the patio were raided by
stray dogs. Each palm tree has a personal
hair dryer. The expats, like stray dogs,
growl at newcomers, bark at each other
into the night. The expats feed the stray dogs.
Cheapest alarm system I ever had, says
one to another. A pack gathers in front of
his second home like hyenas, vicious, grinning.
Testicles, teats, purpled, withered fruit clinging
to the vine. They shit where they want. A passerby
steps in it, curses. A passerby kicks out but
we see who is really afraid. A passing car
accelerates, achieves revenge. The corpse
of a stray dog in a ditch stinking until
it won’t anymore. Expats think the pandemic
a hoax or conspiracy initiated by Jews.
The expats are assholes, says an expat, but
they are old. They die quick. One, on his
moto, was run over by a microbus last week.
He exploded like a McDonalds ketchup package.


I speak to a loved one on the phone. She
insists, there is something you’re not telling me.
Twists and flecks of iridium, extraterrestrial
metal, shocked quartz and glass beads discovered
in the rock core. Water-winged children hurling
themselves into cenotes, earth’s empty eye sockets,
prehispanic graveyards, skeletons fished
out from 100 meters deep, bats zig-zagging
over water underground. I’m alone in the
port city of Progreso. Chicxclub, site of
climate disruption, mass extinction, ancient
rerouting of life. A meteor with the power of
1,000 atomic bombs. We won’t give the
universe time for another go. A seagull missing
a foot lands near my dinner, gingerly using the
stump for balance, swaying more than usual in
the breeze. A flamingo limping across a salty lake.
A stray dog hopping. An ex-pat in a wheelchair.
Landmine in Afghanistan. Crowded hovels
with no running water inland. Abandoned
mansions on the coast. Mold, erosion,
dilapidation. A hurricane isn’t at fault.
The money ran out or virus. Crackling bass
and reggaetón and shouts from inside one
shell of a building that isn’t theirs, the
windows boarded up and papered over.
From the terrace three floors up a young
Mexican points to the liter of beer in his hand
and yells, ¡Súbate, Güero! I pass through a door
with a busted lock.

A group of 20-somethings chugging beer
around an empty pool. Racing to
inebriation. Pulling ahead in the race to
elude annihilation. Assembled from various
regions of Mexico, here to construct a suburbia
of sorts outside the port city, an international
village. They pass me a joint, I bum them
English cigarettes too expensive for Mexico.
They push a phone with a PowerPoint
presentation in front of me. Condos with
rooftop gardens, windmills, and solar panels
resembling Mayan pyramids constructed over
the ruins of Mayan pyramids long ago
chewed, swallowed, and still being digested by
jungle. Graphene super metal and recycled
plastics. Bubble tech and defoaming. Optimum
insulation and acoustics, less CO2 release. Jargon,
gospel, babble of sustainability. New lingo for
the industry, the lexicon, the public imagination.
Off the grid. Supposedly free from the control
and corruption of government, of cartels. I say it
sounds like a cult and an interior designer giggles
wiggling her pointer finger up and down, says
sí, sí, como Charley Manson. Voice automated
everything—your entertainment, your coffee
pot, your bidet. All-inclusive. More amenities
promised than a liberal arts college. A Burger
King. Probably a mini-Target. The promise
of consumerism preserved amid the crash
of exterior markets. Top priority: Security.
AK-47s, M-16s, Uzis. Bulletproof vests and
jackets that look like you’re going to church
or brunch. Fences with barbed wire as tall
as border walls. Here in the shell of an ex-expat’s
vacation home the other American dream of
the gated community lifted, romanticized,
enhanced. Ultra-militarized. Elon Musk might
support the project,
claims an energy specialist.
Living there will be like working for Google,
boasts the jungle rave DJ. There is opportunity
in crisis,
they add. They have acquired the land.
Started construction. Convinced expats to invest,
possibly retire there. I jokingly ask the CEO, Who
will be eaten first when the apocalypse comes?

He nods toward a stray dog eying us from below
and as serious as climate change says,
could be any of us.

Dustin King teaches Spanish and runs a small organization that provides aide to undocumented community in Richmond, Va. His poems appear in Blood and Bourbon, Ligeia, Tilted House, Drunk Monkey and other magazines. He most recently made the longlist in the 2021 UK national poetry competition.

This poem is from South Broadway Press’ new anthology, 
Dwell: Poems About Home. Purchase here.

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