Colin and Marie had Juan over for dinner. How was Paolo?
Marie asked. They’d heard he was staying with Susanna
in Seattle. Juan said he’d caught a ride from Mexico City
with their sister. He’d heard nothing from Paolo since.
Marie talked about her cancer scare. Colin’s bad heart
had kept him awake at night but now he worried Marie
might die, and she listened intently, and so did Juan.
They both wanted to help Colin get his sleep, his heart
depended on it. He talked about the war, again amazed
he was here now, alive, when so many buddies had died
in Nam and were left to rot in rice paddies and under trees
whose roots stretched out so far you could never see them
even if you had time to kill by staying to trace them out,
which no one did, they all had to watch for the punji stakes,
heavy poison-tipped balls that silently swung into your face
or the sudden burst of fire from nowhere in the silence.
Marie changed the subject, or tried to. She talked about sex.
Colin talked about death. Juan wondered what Paolo said
to Susana and her to him. What did Manuel talk about
to his whores in Mexico City now that their mother lay
at rest? Or did he simply pay them to talk to him? Why,
he asked himself, did he care? Think about poor Carlos
in the Chesterfield gorge packing his BAR walking point
in his memory, telling himself when he went on R & R
he’d have himself one of those girls dancing on the bar
in Saigon, the one he had his eye on who gave good head,
whom he admired furthermore for taking good care of her
baby, tucking the little one in before she undressed, he paid,
and she went to work to get the money to pay for their food.
God damn, he hated that fucking war, Juan remembered
Carlos spitting such shapes of words into the dark nights
they walked home from the bars, Carlos telling him a story
Juan would find in the manuscript retrieved from the van
and for no good reason he started telling Colin and Marie
the story Carlos spun about the wrecking ball in Boston,
the prostitutes by the Trailways bus station one at a time
flashing their polished white smiles as he arrived and left
to continue the circle he was living during the days before
. . . and suddenly Juan said, I have to go, I have work to do
first thing tomorrow morning, see this guy I’d like to see
take the book Carlos wrote and put it between hard covers.
(20 October 2010)