Sunday, December 19, 2010

II: Gardens of Babylon

They hung their luscious teats above my open mouth.
How I reached up with my lips for their grapes.
There was my first, my last, and in between each one
the first and last. Why catalogue my loves?
Irene gave me succor in my callow fevers of desire.
Because she was the first, I loved her most.
Her father did not understand my words, nor I his.
It was the look on his face and the look on mine
crossed over on the boat of joy and smiles.
Irene never translated. She was love
in all its offices. She opened doors:
All led to her sinuous body where
she let me pour my newly discovered love
and mix with hers our fountain of desire.
Offered me her youth, I my own to her.
The priest of the church seven miles away
asked her in espanol if I were catolica. She said
everything with her eyes, knew priests were men
under their skirts, their collars, their black shoes,
and always, that day or another night,
she sat with her back to the car door, talked
with me of the days to come, none were past,
and asked if I would come to the house on the Rattlesnake Range
and call upon her and escort her out
and drive not far if the night were as warm
as summer, or into town where autumn
never became winter, and our bodies
were together even with our clothes on
where mufflers crackled when the engines raced
standing still. The Dairy Queen. The drive in
movie. The year I was in hospital
I came home to find her jerking sodas
in the only drugstore in town, the rich
brother of the rich congressman paid her
what she took home to her father, mother,
her baby brother born not long before
I went to live in the city. She stayed
to work a second job in the summers,
throughout the harvests working the night shifts
on the line in the local canneries.
If I had no ambition and she no family, we would
be there still, together, going nowhere
mesquite, dust does not swirl around the house
like all others in the Rattlesnake Hills
except for their Cadillacs and TV
antennas. By ours there would be a child
outside between learning to read and write.
You know the story of hanging gardens
–imagine them flat where nothing could grow–
and one day we moved to my father’s house
to work the vineyard I had always worked.
He was dead, my mother’s mind gone somewhere
she called Arkansas and herself Velma Conley,
watching cars kick up dust on the road
before it was oil, when it was gravel
and the cars all carried strangers she knew
by their Southern names, like her best friend Blanche,
Retha, Craven, Jimmy, the Harrises
Lorene, Manuel, and Bobby my family
someone else’s when I was not yet there.
And who was this dark woman with the mole
on one cheek, who deplored how tall she was,
but loved that I was no taller than she.
It turned out I lived in Seattle, Irene in Granger.
I went to college, she worked her two jobs
until one day I came home, she was gone.
Maria Camacho said she married
and left no address. Maria knew her
family and mine, mejicana y gringa
viudas con soledad, el padre del Irene muerto tambien.
My mother said her own name was Lorene
when the roots in her garden spoke to her
and the flowers in their beds by the house
listened. Where was the king of that village?
Who would fill the terraces with color
if not the king? Did he not harvest fruit
on the mountain where her son and his friend
of the Yakama hunted the mustangs
in the Horse Heaven Hills, where the mountain
left the trees and entered a wilderness
the civilized saw as dogfood quarry,
what you herded home worth more without hooves
in the slaughter houses of Sunnyside,
where Irene introduced me to the priest
and on the hill above town gave me love
I never forget. Nor have I forgotten
the dream my friend and I vowed we would live
when we owned what no one could take away.
We would corral those horses in the box canyon,
stand watch between us day and night
and when the law arrived, and the talking ended
first I, then he would die for the horses
whose ghosts still roam there, he swears in my dream.
I hear their hooves where I am, always there
where terraces are called hanging gardens
in a city named Babylon.

In the city Seattle
I dwell seven stories off the ground,
and when I say Earth or Flower I mean
Irene Castenada, her name from kings
who routed her father’s people one day
beyond memory. Nor have I seen her
for the hundred years that this garden grew.
I dream of kissing the mole on her cheek.
I wait for the plane to bring her to me
across the mountains and take us back home.
I am not sad, I am grateful, I love
long walks. We are allowed to be alone
only then. Her tall, lithe body with mine,
today we have gone into Mexico
to gather our lives and wed each other
the only way lovers like us marry,
in joy of desire no one need question
where the dead dance with their horses
never broken, to the mariachis’
Vamanos and we blow them each a kiss.

(15 December 2010)

copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander

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