Here I am. There she is. They were here
before either of us or our kind arrived,
their feet splayed like jacaranda roots.
They do not need houses in the jungle.
The only thing the invaders bring
is plastic. They spread it over their heads
and drape it down their bodies to keep
off rain in the marketplace on the steps
of the cathedral overseen by Cuauhtemoc.
The hotel that is the archaeologist’s choice
is also open to the non-anthropologist,
a poet say. I have slept there. I have slept
very well, and I sleep at the doctor’s
in the big room where the cat sleeps
when he does. The senora stays a week.
The doctor emerges once or twice a day
to listen and to talk while all of us eat.
I do not know what we will do when rains
fall without end and the butterflies go,
where no one knows, they are fewer than
before, the doctor says. The senora smiles
and serves another dish to supplant what
has just been eaten, this time a mole to mix
with the beans she fits inside corn tortillas.
The cat has leftovers. The doctor smokes
and drinks and listens and goes back in
to his writing table. You must admire him.
You could emulate him. You have to get out
of here before you die. The senora gets up
to go and I want to go with her, but stay.
I stay as long as I want, which may be
forever if I have no say. That is the way
the doctor prefers to host the young ones
like me. They have been sent by his brother.
I am only the most recent. In his cell
Vallejo, the younger of the two brothers,
tells visitors about his brother, the doctor,
and how they could learn much from him,
he only requires they go to the mountain
he considers the top of the world, his world,
and wait for him to tell them what he knows.
That is what I get for having gone to ground
in all the days of my wandering and passion
unsubdued, like any animal with instincts.
After this, there will be nothing left to say
but one thing, what it was I learned here,
which may be nothing, and how much I left
behind that I could have learned if I’d left
later. I am thinking now I may never leave.
I have nowhere to go back to now I’m out
of heart. The gamine will never come here.
She has a life to build over every generation
she survives. And she will survive many.
And Manuela Roma lives in La Habana
happily, I must assume. All that is nowhere,
nothing, nada. All I have is a bed in a room
with a big cat pacing as though in a cage
and an old man working night and day
in a back room I will never see, nor do I wish
to see what I am only now beginning to see
ensimasmodos y en el corazon del un viejo.
I know many things but none are of any use.
I can build nothing. I can speak no language
known here, neither espanol o el indio,
Totonacan. If I were feeling up to being a man,
as men are said to be machismo in the City,
I would go south, to Tehuantepec, to be
with women. Manuela Roma said they are
not only tall but beautiful and wear colors
bright enough to blind your eyes. I will be
chaste for now, the jungle is bright enough
when sun breaks through, as it has today.
And the parrot is singing, between phrases
he is even beginning to learn from this guest.
The cat is restless but still licking my palms
in search of where my lifelines are going.
I go back into town and play pool. The boys
want to know all about Kennedy. The girls
like to stand around and smile, blushing
when you look back. I am el viejo, the man
who walks with a cane and eats too much,
or so the senora says. She likes to tease me
and treat me like a son or a longlost lover
who did not age after she could no longer
see him where he was, in the City, or was it
Oaxaca . . . I tell the boys about Kennedy
and explain no one knows for sure who shot
the bullets that ended his young life in Dallas,
Texas. Tejas? they know where that is, they
have met tourists, even anthropologists here
desde Tejas . . . They are not surprised to hear
but sad, still, to know Kennedy was killed there.
I stay in the village for market on Sunday, when
the people emerge from the jungle bringing what
they have to trade and sell. A band plays on
the steps terraced up to the church to the top
of stairs where those not dancing sit and sing
and watch the flurry of bodies in their joy moving
as long as the music is playing and the night cool.
Then, because I begin to miss myself, I go back
into the jungle, going on a sidetrip to the falls
on the way to the doctor’s house. I did not see,
I did not know there even were the falls when
I first came here. But the doctor was young then.
His maid from the city had been a prostitute
before he rescued her. She loved to make love.
No wonder, the doctor said, she made money.
I go back to the doctor’s house in the middle of
jungle to wait for the butterflies and to mourn
my lost love, Leila Shulamit. I keep her images
in memory and there she is more than alive. If
If only I could reach out and touch her soft skin,
kiss her warm lips, caress her and love her as long
as we wake and curl together when we sleep
and sleep long into the day. Mariposas will be
arriving soon . . . They once were more plentiful
than now, they are dying like the honeybees
north of here. If only she could come by the time
of the tree of life, voladores swirling around it
by their feet, their outstretched arms gathering
handfuls of air to see them through long rains
and the heat that catches breath, these two arms
lifting her up to be kissed, to be kissed always.
All words lead to her body and her bright face.
All her body is contained in her face cast down
encimismados. Or she is the gamine I called her
from the first, her mischievous smile aglow
and her body seducing my stare, cajoling me
for my manly madness. She is my Milky Way
and I nothing but one among her many planets.
I know nothing of her and she knows little I can
tell her because I do not even know myself well.
She knows I know and knows I know even more
than I can say, than I know the right words for.
She also knows the days and nights will care
for us in our aging years, and I will be the first
to die, I old enough to have been her father if
Irene and I had married and shared her child
as though she were the daughter of a sephardi
and a santerista on her father’s side. She can
live alone but I do not want her to be lonely,
ever. I want only to touch her once and feel her
touch me, and then we can wait for what’s next,
if anything, if I do not die first, if she does not
marry first, if we can abide our love being who
we are, and keep honor fast within our breast
made out of two, ours. I dream so much of her
I can almost touch her from here. Here where
the parrot mimics my sigh, the big cat growls
when I close my palms and cuff it on the nose,
here where the doctor comes out on occasion
to read part of what he has been writing about
all he has loved, not only a woman but a country.
Libertad sin miseria, he calls it. I smile and nod.
(19 December 2010)
copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander
[posted 22 December 2010]