Monday, December 20, 2010

IV: Historia Cuatro

Birds are called elevators.
Paths are called sidewalks.
Trees are called temples
or skyscrapers. Scrape
the sky? Might as well
operate. In big buildings
that spread more than rise.
Black and white stick figures
are known as denizens.
They buy and sell and are
what their own skins wear
in the city whose twin is
no Siamese. Separated,
not cut apart. Use a knife
called a river or a gun
from the Alamo in a city
too far north to ever know
what to say about the bill
to take away your rights
and replace with the bill
you must pay immediately
to avoid reeducation camp
at Santa Rita. Bay windows
on Polk, echo of hardwood
floors, Murphy bed down
and out. This is the fourth
life. The most difficult.
To tell. To get started on
telling. In St. Francis’ city,
birds are not elevators.
Watch the pigeons strut
in Union Square. Tourists
feed them. Walk all day,
never tire or have to stop
until dinner and then go
on. Night is the best time.
Moon is full over hills up
above Mission and Market,
where the bus comes in
and goes out and the poor
shoot dope in their veins
to stay in one place. Rich
people, the poor, money
going out as it comes in
to feed the dealer’s habit.
In the financial district
little gusts of wind blow up
Chronicles and Tribunes
the traders have left behind
to catch BART back in time
for martinis down the street
in the foothills of Berkeley.
Think of it, I used to live
where the fires every year
were quenched by the rain
every year, all on schedule.
Think of it. Who cares how
we have come to live now?
There is too much to do
to listen to this old story.

Except I’m on el telefono
in Ibero, she’s on the bidet,
we have only a few more days
or nights. On Calle Hamburgo
the minister of culture says
we can go live in La Habana
and do nothing but poetry
as long as we read aloud
to those who make cigars
not only in Tampa but off
in sugarcane countrysides,
or so the romance sounds
from here. She pulls close
and spreads her red hair
over my belly. Go to sleep
that way. But not before she
has her say: I don’t believe
in Cuba. I agree to think it
over, for her sake I do not
add aloud. But I never do go
and it’s too late now, a life
is a life. Then a death. Then
what? Nothing more? Who
said who knows? Not I, love,
queen of coitus interruptus,
belle of papier-mache dolls
as big as we are in chairs
we sit in when they’re empty,
mistress of easels and a stone
woman looking up and rain
in her eyes still dark clouds.
But I’m leaving her behind.
She will be broken up, melted
in a furnace hotter than this
one I tend when I’m at work
to make a living wage a habit.

When I’m out, when I’m off,
when I can, I’ll catch a ride
to the Viceroy, they always
have a jacket to wear, bring
your own tie and be seated.
It’s a little under the street
but safe. A loaded firearm
under the bar. Doors front
but not back, no windows.
What’s good here? Try the
filet mignon. May I suggest
a wine? Why not? To think
I shovel coal for a living . . .
but I did not always do this.

Donald J. Bonnington paints
only on Sunday. His stride
covers a lot of floor space.
He’s a serious man at work.
What do you feel? and why?
After your EKG, make a date
to meet all the bright white
feathered ones, Robert Ripley
and his staff–O is he the one
who wrote Believe It or Not?
Same guy. Different line
of work. The mind has many
mansions. Do you know
Roethke? Ripley asks me. I
reply, Haven’t met him, no.
I keep hearing the stories.
They go around the table.
Poets are good for something,
to analyze if nothing else,
who in this burg could read,
or even have time? Soon
I will shake his hand. Roethke
will die on an island, at swim
with drinks waiting each end
of the neighbor’s pool, now
a rock garden like Ryoanji,
but a memorial only to him.

Where is the laptop saint?
Pacific Palisades? No, same
old boulevard, same old skill
looking for dinero y comida
esta noche. The mission’s open
so go there and listen to God
say His Word through human
beings anointed for such words
as these. Why not eat first . . .

That’s enough for now, all
four stories are prelude. I can
read the signs. Not the words.
Peligro. Entrada. Salida . . .
I’m on my way up a mountain
I know well. Each curve looms
ahead. I love to drive this way,
straightening out switchbacks
with both hands or even one.
The senora has sopa caliente
to serve the gringo. She smiles
and listens to you talk anglais
so she can follow what you say
and then she says it en espanol
and we could go on all night
like this but I must get sleep
if I’m to leave early while dew
soaks the grass on the one path
through jungle to the Doctor’s.
Who’s not even a doctor now.
He writes all day and sometimes
continues into the night, just
so he can find a stopping place.
Where he knows where to go
when she wakes him and says
how the day looks. The trees
fold their canopy and seem
to weep. And you are welcome
if you try very hard to be kind
to the parrot and the big cat
pacing the room like a cage.

(17 December 2010)

copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander

[posted 20 December 2010]

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