Sunday, April 3, 2011

Young Man from the Provinces

In one day he’s told he’s presumptuous about Adore;
and he’s a fucking provincial. Of the first, most crucial,
Maria Teresa says since he’s white he really can’t take
Adore for granted like he does; yet into this rare scene
strides a full-bodied daughter of colonial south Africa
with sixguns strapped low upon her hips, waist finely
proportioned, outspoken like some of the denizens

in Pere Goriot or Lost Illusions, devastating critiques
of nineteenth-century provincials such as Julien Sorel
in Stendhal. First, read Balzac’s masterwork about
the pucuniary mystique of money in capitalist flux,
a boarding house's provincial climber, young Rastignac.
Next, the poet Lucien Chardon up from the provinces
to the city discovers his climb is brief, failure is his lot,
his fall inevitable, whereupon he plummets abysmally .

The lady colonist bought her firearms and learned to shoot
on some desert in the outback. I do not know why she felt
compelled to emulate provincial Yanks of whom I’m one.
But she materialized with sombrero shading a soft body
luring the outlaws into town to witness her peregrinations
around Tombstone. Since I wasn’t there I had to be told.
I had the luck to meet her. She called me fucking provincial.
I realized I had stepped between her and whatever it was
she considered the equivalent of a black bear and her cub.

At that point I withdrew from the breach: I was whipsawed.
That’s the word, she said, I hear everywhere in the outback.
Go down to Cape Town and write, tell me what it’s like now.
I read Gordimer, Coetzee, and Breytenbach and the black
genius whose name never registers on Western Richter scales.
Especially for gringos whose goy heritage beggars enunciation.
Or emancipation. I am immediately knocked off my wild horse
by this lady with her six-shooters holstered and hair-triggered
for action, her sombrero keeping el sol out of her eyes, and Dios
mio! the sheer beauty of her, though she say otherwise: Pshaw . . .

There’s no point explicating the inexplicable. Let her see herself
in the huge mirror on the wall back of the bar. Watch her step.
Her spurless boots, horseless carriage, remorseless intelligence
. . . I go home. I walk. It is a ways. I’m saving money this way.
I will work the fields, orchards, and canneries, warehouses,
and I will go back to the farm-labor camps where the mejicanos
stayed when I was growing up in my own provincial birthplace.
They lived two families to one room with a blanket between.
The wives stayed home with the children until the children
were old enough to work in the fields with the men and women
and the teenagers and young marrieds . . . my God, it was hell

for them, I know. Irene Castenada told me she felt very lucky
to have been born where she lived the year round in her home
speaking Spanish to her mother and father who had no English.
She made love in both languages. I learned to love with her . . .
She was very slender yet she loved as though she had always
loved men, saying, I tell you truly, you are the first and only.
I write of her everywhere, though then I refused to speak of her.
She was happy I honored our love, and we wanted to marry . . .
Maria Teresa loves to hear my story about the matchless Irene
whom I claim for myself. After some time came Paula, my wild
lover. At long last, Maria Teresa, whose love I dare not speak.
Nor will I mention the others, for I cannot say how women love.

At least not the women from the provinces. I married one twice.
I found her in the city on the coast. Everyone knows that story.
It was the history of a labyrinth with mirrors, not minotaurs.
Not mirrors like those in Cocteau’s Orphee but with doors,
Dutch doors, the kind that swing open and shut and shudder
behind you, as though the Maenads were hot on your trail,
frail poet enamored of your prowess unaware you soon lose
your head, floating bodiless from the source of the stream,
mythically downward. In a tough-minded century we shore
up walls, construct bunkers, and war’s rebellious illiterates
nail together lathe slats to serve as barricades in the street.
Bullets know more than poets . . . no mistaking flight path
or caliber, wham! sent burrowing through our naked skin.

Irene asked me to marry her. I wanted her to come to Seattle.
She married another. Maria and Hector Camacho shared news
of her, what had happened, translating for her stunned parents.
I wish I had been older then. I could have prevented the flaws
in my heart, the empty spaces, the way my heart beats now
two for one, or four for one, enough to fill the chamber and flow
on through the body until it hangs up again in that anteroom.
Now all I know are these wenches with their spoiled dispositions
making accusations that impinge upon the sanctity of character
I have mistakenly assumed might well describe my own in lieu
of dowry. Give me back my chicana sephardi and spare us this!
Maria Teresa said she will come out to the road to meet me here.
Wood ducks sit in the trees. Whooping cranes nest on the fields.
At night I go to her bed and we spoon and sip the love we share.

(4 April 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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