Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Company Juan Keeps


Juan’s Cronies, of Whom I'm One

It’s just past midnight. I hear the moon roar.
You mean you can’t? Is the music too loud?
Why don’t we go into the spare garden
and scoop wet loam from the earth to plant seeds . . .

I have an idea how to take time
for a ride. Load up the granddaddy clock
in a ragtop car you won’t hear tick tock
for the wind. That’s how you get nowhere fast.

Who am I? I’m Juan’s friend, the crazy one
from Angola Prison, the escapee
who carries his file everywhere he goes
in case he’s thrown in jail and knows no one.

That one over there is Juan’s friend, the one
who listens endlessly to his stories.
He’s younger than me, I’m younger than Juan,
Every time we go out we take a chance.

Juan has stories of how much he was mugged
when he came back from Mexico after
living in the jungle on the mountain
where he and Leila stayed in Cuetzalan.

His friend, the one younger than me, can tell
seven lovely stories from that journey.
How Juan was in love with his first lover,
second wife, one who was his third and fifth,

and Leila Shulamit. (That's four stories . . . )
Leila is sleeping upstairs, she is tired
of dreaming his lips are her bath water,
while his fingers lave her between her legs.

The garden out here is freshly planted.
Let us pat down dirt to cover our seeds.
See how quickly the present is passing
and all its future forms a hairpin turn.

Which of us will take the clock to his room?
You know the price. You must listen to Juan
or go with us to the country. The boy
will stay behind writing Juan’s stories down

before he forgets. Juan taught him manners.
Took him to meet that sweet lady Adore,
as old as he is young but who would know?
She is dying, she tells him her stories.

I’m on my way back to Angola now,
I know well what a thrill it is to have
a file to smuggle in and work on bars
until they give and I can climb the wall

and leap to where my friends,
you and Juan, wait with the car for me
to stash the bars, one more cache for our jail
to serve as a swimming pool, a sweat lodge,

somewhere to go you feel might well be home
someday if you don’t watch yourself step out
too far and take her with you to the end
to begin all over where the wind blows.

You haven’t told me, friend, what you can do.
You have no skill, you say? Why not drive car?
I can file through anything, why not banks?
Then Juan will have a new story to tell . . .


Juan’s Tale within a Tale

The tale I just told was a lie. I’m no
ex-con, I have no file and if I did
it would take me years to become adept
enough to escape prison or rob banks.

I’m the young one Juan tells his stories to.
No one but me watches over Adore.
I love Leila Shulamit but don’t dare
tell her. She has given her heart to Juan.

I wonder how long she has loved him now.
I wonder how long he has loved her now.
I wonder how long I will love her now.
I wonder how long she will not love me.

Adore can do wondrous things in the dark.
You stay awake all night in the day room,
you will hear what happens when she opens
her back door to let her companions in.

Nor was there a newfound friend who drove car.
I have told too many lies now to go
on. If I were a man and not a book,
I write so many words that are not mine

but Juan’s, all of them, I would love Leila
so much she would know by seeing my face
open and go so close to her my lips
would brush hers and kiss. She would give up Juan

for me. For her I would give up all things
I know to pursue what I could not know
until her. There is a marvelous moon
tonight, the same shape as New Orleans.

What I do not know is what Juan writes down.
The two words he says, Leila Shulamit,
are those he whispers only in her ear.
I only imagine I can love her.

She has sworn her love to Juan, his to her
freely given from the first day they met
in New England talking over the phone
only. She moved back to Chicago then.

Her first home. City he had never seen,
nor could he find it with the map he had.
So he has come to this bowl of pleasure
to live, where his mother’s coffin floats off

entering the mouth of the Gulf when levees
break and flood New Orleans. He came here
to find her body. Now he loves Adore
like a son his mother. And Leila loves

them both. If this tale lies within a tale,
Juan will need to unriddle it slowly
as long as winds rile up the lake and roll
its waters over and through the levees

no one will repair ever, no matter
how many times New Orleans is drowned.
Only Leila Shulamit is real now for Juan.
Adore tells Juan her life. Leila listens

and they go back to HOT HOTEL and sleep
after loving. Juan paid up the money
he owed when the first night manager came
to the door and asked him, Are you the one . . . ?

and what could Juan do? Where was the money?
Why did the music reach this far tonight?
He paid cash. The man thanked him so kindly
Juan wanted to buy a gun tomorrow.

Juan had come to New Orleans to trust
no one save those he had already known
from his three trips here. The third was the one
I might hear if I lived here long enough.

The problem of course is I have my life
to go on with. I hear Adore talking
in her sleep and walking on the loud floor,
her door opening and closing once more.

Also, I must stay long enough to hear
the three stories of the seven I heard
him say Leila so loved she descended
the mountain, they loved forever after,

and one day soon I know they will return
but farther south now. Mexico City
is too large, Juan needs a small zocalo,
Leila the family she never had.

(16 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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