–Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night
(the 1934 John H. P. Marks translation)
Rita would say, I hear some dogs look like wolves when they sleep.
Rita called Bill Ray and said to his face, You’re a miracle.
I stuck with Bill. He didn’t mind. We were hot shits, I thought.
The less you did of something the better you think you were.
Winter lapsed into warm air. A current of fluttering leaves
where I walked with the sun open like a beacon with one eye.
This was after my friends came to where Irene worked
waiting tables Saturday nights. Here they were happy dancing
on three feet and his other one. The Good Old Boys, yes Good,
minded their manners and the Riverbend yahoos complied.
Bill and Rita found a place of their own on that dance floor.
Irene said she once found a waterfall in the Horse Heavens.
She stripped and swam. She could feel the currents from the river
falling over and around her. Irene would never leave,
not while I was coming here, to this wide place in the river.
I would come as long as Manuel and Lorene lived in their home
and Irene with Ignacio and Gloria in theirs.
Rita had a friend with dogs, Mary Louise, who lived nearby
and rode her father and mother’s horses bareback everywhere
on Cherry Hill, through her father’s orchards, above Riverbend.
Mary Lou, Rita called her, and they were wild together
though they lived fifty miles apart and there was no Indian
under Mary Lou’s year-round chestnut-brown surfaces of skin.
Rita loved dogs. Mary Lou gave her one, a white sheepdog
from the yards outside town, not far from the brick kiln,
where the local men worked. Rita knew the old story well,
how some dogs growled in their sleep and were said to run
in packs through their dreams. That’s why, Rita said, a dog
looks like a wolf when asleep. She had heard the story once
from one old man who danced inside the throw-together tents
on the Fourth of July. Older than the other old men,
he wore his long hair in braids plaited with fresh leaves
because the year of falling leaves was near half gone by now.
She never told the story because she said she did not remember
how the story began or ended, though she said the old man
turned his wrists until his palms came up and his long black hair
shimmered under the bare light bulb high above the dirt floor.
That had happened. After Rita recalled the old man talking
about dogs becoming wolves in their sleep, Irene
said she had heard a story of a gypsy from Mexico
who turned into thin air. She chuckled, saying, I’m nothing
but a Mexican, and your histories are told through stories
no one truly knows either the beginnings or ends of . . .
Not even you, she smiled, reaching to hold Rita’s clasped hands.
Rita said, I’m only a breed. Irene, you’re the real one.
So that was how spring began. Come summer Irene and I
slept in the desert by her house, on my portable back seat
we made love upon when one of us brought along a condom.
Our love was ending again. No love survives the winter
when the world is always more like spring on one side
of the mountains, where the river is, days warm and nights cool,
and on the other side, next to the ocean, summer brings rain.
The Pacific flows around islands to reach Seattle.
That was how a year was in a city where there are no wolves.
(19 November 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander