Let me summarize the bare outlines of the plot: Yucatan tells the story of Stephanie, a young woman from an Italian immigrant family in Brooklyn who is working at a beauty parlor in Coconut Grove, Miami. In an experimental period, Stephanie seems to be living away from home for the first time, enjoying her freedom, and yet is, perhaps, far more the child of her traditional parents than she knows. The book is set in the late-60s, at a turning point in the culture, when new horizons have opened and many things seem possible. “I shall go hang on the Continent’s tail, beyond the Barfly at Sloppy Joe’s/ Heedless of his beard and belching, my oaths will be toes in the aimless water…/” For Stephanie, this moment of carefree floating is an evanescent one; soon, the spell cast by the wind and waves is broken. Unexpectedly, she discovers that she is pregnant, and this provokes not only a personal but also something of a metaphysical crisis. Due to fear of her father finding out, as much as anything else, she at first plans on having an abortion.
As if in a dream, Stephanie hitchhikes to an abortion clinic in a faceless suburb of New York, where the dream quickly turns into an eruption from the Underworld. A smokestack reminds her of Dachau. “Twenty two, buckle my shoe. That mini-brick incinerator ready for countdown?/ That ain’t nothing but a postal depot for unclaimed mail, sorted and stacked.” The abortionist and his assistants loom over her like the celebrants of a black mass. This is, so far as I can tell, not intended as a political statement, but rather as a personal turning point. Stephanie was brought up as a Catholic, and certain fears and attitudes have stayed with her, even if her orientation would appear to be mostly secular. At a minimum, there is a cautious sense of respect for the unknown. With this, comes a feeling that she must follow where she is led, and that the determining factor should not be that of convenience. It seems just possible that an accident should be read as an invitation.
After deciding to go forward with the pregnancy, Stephanie then returns home, where she is consoled by Mrs. Martins, her Jewish landlady, who possesses a kind of Sophianic presence and plays the role of a tribal elder. In Mrs. Martins, we can see how human frailty and deep knowledge can coexist. “Arthritic fingers fill the kettle./ The unswerving eye escapes the sockets of prejudice, and annotates with sympathy/ ‘And nu? To pull the sheet over your head I’m sure, but first coffee, and you eat a little something…’ Through the eyes of Mrs. Martins, Stephanie can begin to glimpse how her trials connect her to the human race as a whole, and in particular to the lineage of those who bring new life into the world. Here, the accident of pregnancy is re-imagined as an initiatory ordeal. As the child grows inside of her, so does Stephanie’s intuitive sense that she is engaged in a sacred act. “There is instantly all and endless time for the old woman, the young, and the obliging idiot clock./ Speech must now grow from silence, and the stones that cockle the black backs of women in prehistory, left alone with the consequence of men./ There will always be light on the sea;/ rocks to serve for washboards, and make wrecks./ Children to hide and seek through lives…/ Women remain, to spin the flax of deep unquestioning.”
After a brief stop at an adoption agency in Coral Gables, we next see Stephanie at a rustic retreat for unwed mothers—a “house in the hills,” with an orange orchard—where a kind of alchemical change is taking place. Stephanie seems to be a simple person, “not smart…but steady; plain, but clean,” as she is described in the first pages of the book. Here, at the retreat, however, we begin to see this simplicity in a very different light; she is Everywoman, the First Mother, the conscious vehicle of archetypal forces, the means by which new life will be brought into the world. So too, if her circumstances have not significantly changed, her capacity to work with and embrace them has. If her pregnancy is an inconvenience and an ordeal, it is, in spite of being one of the most normal of occurrences, also a great mystery, which tugs on her like the gravitational field of a slowly approaching comet. Like Inanna, from the Great Above, she has opened her ear to the Great Below. She has set foot on the road that does not turn back. A near apocalyptic storm scene precedes the act of delivery, and the whole of creation appears to be ripped apart at the seams. As in the forth movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the storm begins gradually, darkens, and then intensifies. “Pinned and poised on a vertical thread a dryad is drawn from the earth/ to spindle the light from the anxious trees, she begins to slowly rotate./ Flashing quick iridescence, she holds the prism of/ fear./ Eddied from greenwood, tossed, caught, thrown forward from branch to branch like a firework trailing smoke…” And then a bit later on, “The landscape lies down./ Spreads its limbs, and turns its head./ The cumulus mainsail darkens, lifts its scudding skirt, boils the seas in anger, braces a hidden keel…/ His teeth sink in earth’s jugular./ He swiftly snaps her back. Crack./ Wraps his thighs about her, and drenches with his seed.” For a timeless interval, Stephanie is able to enter into a depth of primal power, still, to some extent, hidden, but yet not entirely separate from her own.