Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of the Two Manuels

The death of Nell’s second husband Manuel,
named like the first for the itinerant
horse rider with songs and Spanish guitar
and a hat to pass in the public square
of the many towns his horse knew by heart . . .
In Mexico the second Manuel died
and Susannah drove Paolo back home
to Seattle, and Juan went north, then west
after the many years passed between loves.

In Mexico City there were no laws
but Napoleon’s. Have a wreck and sit
in jail until you mustered the money
to buy your way out. In New Orleans
Nell sent him money, she was hardly home
when the call arrived relayed south to north
through Susannah to the Chicago phone
and then down where the wind and sun were fierce
and unrepentant. Honolulu was
Juan’s first destination that came to mind,
to see the grave of Manuel, his father,
in the Punch Bowl, among the dead fallen
in the war. That old war. Hitler and all.
Hirohito and his kamikazes.
Mussolini meathooked on a Rome streetcorner.
How many fathers with the name Manuel
did you get? On the Periferico
he was surprised, maybe even ambushed
by the thought of so much patrimony,
too tired to drive and think at the same time
hoping to reach the highway going north
before dark, and that is how it happened,
the car veering, passing him on the right,
cutting in front of him, going too slow
for Juan to brake in time. Napoleon’s
code invoked, escutcheon of the French,
Maximilian and Carlota, gone
but remnants hung around Mexico’s neck
like a noose that pursued to the border
Juan’s kind, the bastard sons of nowhere now
that Tijuana, Juarez, Nogales thrived
with funerals of their own, these cartel
empires where the poor sought only entry
over or under the gringos’ new wall
stretching to Laredo, Brownsville, and on
to Gulf ports where the product came in boats
or by plane all the way down the line west
and the widows and orphans multiplied.
His mother sent him the money to pay
his way out of jail, have his car repaired,
and go without sleep until the four lanes
returned, and like all his other returns
to the States he could feel his empty soul
at odds with what they called freedom up here.

And then the years passed. In Massachusetts,
where Carlos walked off and was gone to stay,
in Chicago where the gamine loved him
in her home, in San Francisco when word
of Nell's death arrived after Katrina’s
bursting levees, flood waters floating off
caskets interred above the shallow soil,
hers among them, the last madam alive
until her heir apparent, and he went
where he said he would go but too late now
to fulfill his promise to bury her
proper. And now he was in HOT HOTEL
down here, waging war with his own white heat.

(22 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


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