Trailways, August 28, 1963
We crossed the exhilarating, high-pitched.
Passed the stench and glittering,
the amusement bright, the gradual,
box apartments by the tracks and stations
squatting like bored and patient orphans
waiting for a Sunday market to begin.
Then the green-bordered interstates.
Hay-bales scattered like formalist sculptures, cornfields
with their stiff stalks and rag-doll tassels
limp as puppets hung
in a storage closet.
Side woods snarled with briar and ivy.
Oaks and maples.
Then rummy and old maid
at the little table rearward and nearby
the cramped bathrooms
that stank of chemicals and soap and piss
splattered on the metal floor, flecks
of snow white shaving foam
clinging to the shadowy mirror.
Racks of bags and suitcases and light jackets
dreaming above our heads
like hibernating mammals.
The chrome bright
burnings of the little towns,
those signs for Burma Shave and Stuckeys and
The World’s Largest Rabbit
and men in large hats and fringed buckskin
wearing side-arms on the porch
of a mock saloon.
Birds scrolling the staves of the infrastructure.
Men outside a church
brushing ashes from their sleeves.
Wives and daughters and mothers touching their hair
as if to measure themselves,
waving little paper fans
stapled to paint-sticks
where Jesus kneels, alone
in the midst of his drowsy, sleeping disciples,
knowing the story his body will tell.
And then my grandfather
sitting on the back stoop with his .22
shooting sparrows, which dirty the sidewalk.
Dust blowing off the fields.
Small purple flowers
speckled with dew and foraging ants.
He’s dipping bread in a cup of milk, disregarding
the plate of tomatoes, red as transitions.
Crushing his Pall Mall in the drive.
Pulling two hot 7Ups from the trunk
of his Oldsmobile.
And those boys
in jeans-jackets who gather
the only women’s clothing store in town,
car hoods raised, adjusting
the air intake or idle, gunning
Wiping the oil-stick clean
with a slash of newsprint.
Attuned to the mechanical contrivance.
Discovering their blurred faces in the polished armature.
There near the geographical
heart of the country.
38 North by 97 West.
Entranced by the sheen.
For a month, now, I have been walking the city.
I like the way the girls rest their hands on their boyfriends’ shoulders
to adjust a shoe.
The way a man bends over, back to the wind, to light a cigar.
How the gypsy women roam the park in their long dresses seeking donations.
Their faded brochures. The boys in fandango outside the cathedral.
And the smell of grease and oil at the little garage
is familiar and comforting. The chime of a ratchet or wrench
dropped in a toolbox. The graceful and threatening
loops of razor wire
coiling the wall-tops. Glass and mortar. Rebar
piercing the unfinished columns of houses.
Prayer flags of drying laundry. Lace and cotton.
Sometimes I walk long, far
from the city center. Doors
slanting like a blade. Little braziers
glowing in the shallow interiors. Glassed candles
barring the windows. A lisping kettle.
But at my little house I can burn a fire too. I can hang
my jacket from the canisters of gas
that lean against the kitchen wall. Green steel.
The color of caribbean sand. Sunday’s trumpeter
ascending the callé, waking the roosters.
Sometimes Maliyel, my friend, invites me over
for camel straights and espresso. Socorro, she tells me,
is not some kind of wind, but one
of the names of sadness. Things
we are strong for. Assistance. Succor.
Then her son, Galo, calls down
from his sleeping loft, Randáll, buenas dias!
Last night, at the Téatro, Endgame.
A cluster of pins
stuck in a wooden table
shining in a desk lamp’s half-dollar
halogen brightness. All mauve at the margins,
like a nineteenth century curtain.
Maliyel wondered if metaphor revealed a unity
hidden in the shape of things. What Paz conjectured,
though he’s dead now, of course.
Sun and stone. Speckles of quartz in a granite outcrop.
So this morning Galo and I play soccer.
I call it soccer because I live in Houston.
Maliyel comes out to watch, and is smiling.
He moves the ball between his feet, delicate,
precise, easing it with the outside of his foot
before he shoots. And we welcome it as it enters
into the air. There is nothing to protect. Nothing
to save. It is quite beautiful as it rises.