The senora wakes me at dawn.
She is dressed and waits till I dress
and we begin to walk by first light .
A long way we do not talk at all.
Some birds talk. The others cry,
I do not know the names of cats
living in this jungle. She tells me,
but I do not know what they are,
she says the doctor keeps one
in his house. Half a day goes by.
The way is long and not without peril.
There, in a circle of light, he lives.
His house is no casa, nor hacienda,
but a huge structure growing out
of jacaranda roots spread wide
over the earth’s foundation, or so
I will soon learn. The doctor tells
me nothing the Senora knows.
She plans to stay only a few days.
I will have to find my way back
alone, if I decide I need to return
to all that I will never find here.
The one with red hair was with me
the first summer in Mexico City.
The one who walked like her sailor
father was promised an acacia tree.
We never came. I was living alone
in the desert when Manuela Roma
arrived, Irish Cathleen already
having left to do what she loves
for money, the way she was taught.
After all of them, all of whom I know
by heart, I learn solitude. A gamine
might leave her street corner for me.
I tell her I may not be worth the risk.
She has left too many times, always
returning. She tires of tearing up
her roots, what she needs to keep
her healing the worn earth, lips
smoothing the wounds and mixing
poultice to anneal all proud flesh.
What the senora does when I’m here
now. The gamine wants to be called
by her name, Leila Shulamit. I do.
The doctor is working when I arrive.
The senora will feed me what he has
on the stove. I don’t remember what
I ate, nor what we said when we talked,
her and I. The senora speaks espanol,
and I have to ask her to speak slowly,
as she does when I reply in my anglais,
which I can never say without a stutter,
a tic, halting on the first syllable of words
I need to slide by as gracefully as I can
to the next thought that I patch with
a newfound word what I was about
to say before beginning this sentence.
By now I have forgotten what the next
thought used for words, or did I know
beforehand? All this fills up my head.
No wonder, she says, you live the way
de ellos entre dos mundos y en no mundo
de suyos. And then the doctor emerges,
he is tall, his hair is white, his skin too,
his hands are dark brown, as are his eyes.
His face is white because his hair is white.
This was not always the way it seems now.
I know his brother, the railroad worker
who fomented the strike in Mexico City
and is left to languish in jail because of it,
is his cause embodied like their namesake
dead in Paris years ago was a communist
when the word meant freedom to people
for whom a word was not all there was
to do, only to say when someone asked
your allegiance. This is not how he talks.
The doctor listens. The big cat is grown
now but the doctor bade him come in
when a cub hungry, abandoned, mother
bleeding out her life by the acacia tree,
which I tell the senora I did not know
grew here. The doctor laughs. Ah, yes!
The parrot cries, Ah yes! The senora
smiles. The doctor says nothing more.
He leaves the room. The senora says
he is returning to his writing. All day
he writes, she says. And what of night?
I ask. And she: That is why I am here.
I remember the red-haired one ablaze
with anger once we had left the City.
I remember the one who walked like
her father could not abide my memory
and left. I remember Manuela Roma
going with women and I could not abide
her, what other men said they would love
to watch and I left their company then,
I went with Irish Cathleen to the cold
country I could not continue to live in,
and the gamine Leila Shulamit worked
her santeria to draw me to her flank.
She is a santerista, a daughter of Oya
and also, she emphasizes, a sephardi
of Judia. She will wait for the willow
to bud in the middle of winter. The city
of her birth is better than nowhere, no?
By spring she may go to live in a desert
near the site of "I have become Death,
destroyer of worlds," Oppenheimer wept
uttering Krishna’s words, the passage
from mirror to bomb, its windswept ruin.
If I know all this by heart, it is your heart,
gamine Leila Shulamit, your santerista
umbilical to Oya and the impossible thing,
a child born from love and nothing else.
It is your heart, Leila, that is all our hearts,
compass of where I’m going now I’m here,
where I was always meant to be. A week
and I will learn the news never discussed
above the border, where people are robbed
by silence, "the radiance of a thousand suns."
The big cat comes to me and puts his nose
on the palms of my two open hands
and licks the lifelines, why I do not know.
You would know or your true kin would
and I remember you said I would discover
in jungle on top of the Sierra Oriente
outside Cuetzalan and its huararche clad
indios with feet splayed like tree roots,
I would discover nothing you could not
have told me in bed lying next to my skin
that was always white, as white as my hair
though when you look you see only blood.
(18 December 2010)
copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander
[posted 21 December 2010]