Sarah Ann Winn on Travel and Routines


I take the bus which only passes my house four times a day into the city. A bright tarp patchwork shades San Miguel de Allende’s huge Tuesday market. Very few stalls have the tourist souvenirs, the straw hats and wool hangings, the pottery from nearby towns. My bag is usually as empty when I leave here as when I arrive, since I’m gathering ideas for my next book. At the tienges, there is no such thing as writer’s block. I wonder if I’m going to be able to read my scribbled notes later, it’s all happening too quickly to be neat. Every sense clamors to be first.

The lavender lemongrass handmade soap, the gigantic sizzling griddle as carefully arranged as a mosaic, with its carefully arranged, hand painted bowls filled with steaming gordita fillings, the blankets with various tools poured out and sorted into piles by size and type, matchbox race cars lined up in a colossal traffic jam as big as a blanket, the tattooed man selling beans by the kilo beside a massive antique scale, the little boy who is all eyes and long legs, probably a tall six year old singing in a mariachi band.

His is the first child’s voice I’ve noticed here. His voice carries to the end of the market. Children are everywhere with their parents, but many have jobs to do, handing the bag filled with purchases to a nearby customer, or counting flowers to bundle. Brothers and sisters trail along in groups selling pumpkin seeds. There is no blending into the crowd anyway for a large, busty blonde, who clearly can’t say more than a few phrases in broken Spanish. I am obnoxiously foreign – I can’t tuck the fact of my out of place-ness into my bag when it chafes. I am the only American in this crowd, and my freckles must have rearranged themselves into the Spanish words for I am approachable! Sell me things! It’s hard to say no, especially to the kids, so sometimes I don’t. Instead I say ‘yes,’ and before I hand them the money, I ask if I can take their picture, how old they are.

Nearby stalls play pirated music, kids sit criss crossed, crowded around Frozen playing on a tiny television. Libre Soy gets stuck in my head.

Back in the US, I roam up and down farmer’s market aisles, trying to replicate the inspiration I found in the tienges, to open my senses. Everything feels sanitized, surfaceless. Corn on the cob poses awkwardly with its tassel around a neighbor. The tomatoes avoid eye contact.

At my cluttered desk in my cluttered office, in my convenient home, five minutes from three different grocery stores, ten from a twenty four hour Walmart, it’s a slower start than usual. My routine’s been disrupted by the trip. Twenty poetry strands tangle in a document, thousands of photos wait to be edited and sorted, and I’ve lost the day to day rhythm of my submission groove. I open my notebook. If I pretend not to look at the ideas, they’ll creep shyly up. Offer me a pack of gum for sale, hurry towards me when I turn my back, shoving images at me, trying to communicate what I’d nearly lost.

Sarah Ann Winn lives in Fairfax Virginia. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Apeiron Review, [d]ecember, Lunch Ticket, Massachusetts Review, Rappahannock Review, and Stirring, among others. Visit her at or follow her @blueaisling on Twitter.

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