Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Before this, before New Orleans, before Mexico the last time,
there was Guatemala. Do you remember how
Manuela Roma gave you the people to see by sending them
her letter with you, crossing into that country,
finding those with whom you would walk
with machete and rifle, sleeping where you fell, as Peter Coyote
called his memoir. Some fell and slept forever after.
In the perimeter around Guatemala City it was kill
or be killed if you had heard the history of Che in Bolivia
and had a friend whose name was Manuela Roma,
a woman you would love later with your body as well as mind,
the soul, it is called in the West, the comfortable West . . .
And so you survived, but blood stained the scars that were lines
once before they were filled with all the enemy could ever lose,
no wonder when you told the story later it created such tremor
in voices of those who listened until your story was over . . .
You were always in love with Manuela Roma, from the time
she walked over her lawn to greet you, calling you by the name
of someone you would never know but she did and said you
were the spitting image, the phrase your birth father used . . .
and the touch of her hand, the glint in her eyes, her lips
forming the magic of her I just returned from Cuba . . .
That was the year Betty warned you about the embassy
on Hamburgo, the cultural attache who warmly welcomed
a visit if not an extended stay because You can write,
can’t you? That was the year you fought and she left
and you left and stayed where you had been when she arrived.
Snow piled high that year, Manuela Roma’s letter was lost
wandering and falling where there was no choice but fall
and rise and look everywhere her words would never be
now that the snow was falling again in the night as you slept.
The next year, then, the journey to the top of the Sierra Oriente
and the Senora and Doctor Vallejo and the return to the city
and the letter in your pocket, traveling south on the bus,
meeting the man who escorted you across the border
telling you how the year before it was Manuela Roma
picked him up here and drove him north to D.F.,
where he found everything he needed to continue where he was
walking toward and finding for you, now that you were ready
to die. There were no women here. It was a very long time
without a woman. You were hungry for a woman’s flesh.
You would soon have enough to do and then it would be done.
You would never be the same. Across one border then
the next, and back where you were born you slept
with both eyes closed. And what of your heart, hombre,
what of the hearts of those you killed? would they sleep
with ghosts of women and care for the children of their sleep?
What had they known that you could ever know now?
The man who led you there led you back. No blindfolds
for those who knew Manuela Roma or who had risked
what you had: She picked me up in her car and we rode
all the way ready to use what we had if necessary,
the checkpoints looking us over more than once
but always letting us pass, and what I owe to her
I have given to you because she said you were too young
and needed to learn what was life and death and why
men die and so do women where tyrants sleep soundly.

And home, I wrote in ink mixed with blood never my own:


Rifle slung in the sack
of an arm,
razored steel machete sag-
ging on one hip,
he follows another, and
another follows him.
These days are like this.
The nights are no worse.
The nights full of women
dreamed, of death dreamed.

Sweat trickling the seams
in his skull,
sweat falling casually down
bridge of his nose,
sweat seeping into corners
of his eyes,
he follows another, and
another follows him.
These days are like this.
The nights are no worse.

The nights full of the slain
in this carpeted jungle:
The one he had followed and
the one who followed him.

(17 May 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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