O I have no desire to go back home
now that it’s gone, the rooms upstairs empty
where I watched so many horses crop grass
below the window, where no one made love
until years later I brought Cathleen there
all the way from San Francisco. Irene
came to the house to sit in the kitchen
where she helped my father practice Spanish
his friend from the farm labor camp taught him.
My father loved Irene, my mother too,
Jess Maltos may have had a crush on her
but he never said more than he could smile
saying. She talked Spanish and he talked back,
the mole on her cheek moving with the smile
she smiled when he turned to me and asked how
to say in Latin what they were saying,
and I begged off. After dinner Jess said
he had a date. Irene and I drove off
to the drive-in movie in Sunnyside.
The Thing from Another World was playing
with a western called Hellfire that moved slow
but turbulently to its redemptive
conclusion, Wild Bill Elliott praying
over the dance hall girl Marie Windsor
dying before the screen was filled with flames
and one word, Amen, replaced two, The End.
I’d seen it first with Mary Lou Larson
in the theater next to the bowling
alley downtown. When the movie ended
I drove her home to Cherry Hill. She said,
Take me to the Horse Heavens, I’ll show you
something. She was very pretty, her skin
a nut brown, creamy. She knew more than I,
she was waiting to quit school when she'd put
in her time. In her last year, I learned why
she had the desk in front of mine, turning
to see the latest horse I was drawing.
She described to me how horses mated.
She used risque words for stallions and mares
making future colts. People are like that,
she said, I like to do it when I'm home,
when I’m not here chasing after mustangs.
She recommended God’s Little Acre,
she showed me the book hidden in her desk.
I recall the smell of smoke on her breath.
She looked like Tina Louise in the film.
Her cousins said Mary Lou loves us all,
her brother too. I don’t know what was true.
Jim dated her when he worked construction.
He drove heavy equipment. Overtime
was what he wanted. Mary Lou waited
for Jim in the Granger no-name pool hall,
smoking cigarettes. But that was later.
The Thing was tame. Irene wanted to go.
Neither one of us was watching the screen
by now. Back then Mary Lou said Hellfire
was the worst western she’d seen: Take me up
to the Hills and out where the mustangs are.
She did show me something. After Irene
started taking me to Sunnyside mass,
Jim rode to Toppenish with Mary Lou
in her pickup. They drove on to Brownstown,
where Rita mixed her drinks while he drank Cokes
watching the drunks beat each other bloody.
He never rode horses. I drew horses
because I loved horses before women.
Until Irene. Don’t get me wrong, I loved
Mary Lou before Jim, but not the way
he loved her. Schoolboys learning to love girls:
no one cared. Adults came to see Jim play
on frosty autumn nights, under the lights.
My father was there the night we both starred.
My mother feared I would get hurt. I played
one year after Mary Lou disappeared
into marriage. Jim was seeing Elaine
naked in the pool at her father’s house.
Then Irene brought Emily Esquivel
into his life. When I think about what
happened later, I can’t talk about it
without breaking down, so God damned mortal.
(4 January 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander