now I have come to find that love is nothing other than what is hidden in love
Aniversario de un vision (1960 / Anniversary of a Vision (2002),
in Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz,
translated by Kent Johnson and Forrest Gander (University of California Press, 2002)
I started talking about you, Irene,
in one sentence,
“we made our love on New Years Eve”
in the small town our love never left,
though I did and you did,
then I went farther
and you deeper.
If you can see the city
name it “Irene.” You were so much more
than the town,
you were my first lover,
we were children still, “teenagers,”
a word we never said then.
We called ourselves “lovers.”
I can’t say who loved whom or how,
that’s like Billie sang,
“ain’t nobody’s business if I do,”
I set out here to celebrate
the face of first love. There are city
limits, population signs, its year
of discovery as Riverbend,
or so the sign says.
They never played Ms. Holiday
or any other woman with a song
measuring how far down
you go before you stop dying.
Your dark brown skin, your dark eyes,
your way of making your caress
endure long after the first night.
You taught me nothing but love,
how to make love as long as we loved.
No one knows more, even now.
We were lost in our own dark wood.
Among trees by the brown river
thick with carp.
We walked there, hands meshed.
Say it like this, “mi amor,”
you said, That means ‘my love.’”
I asked why your father’s name
and where in Spain was the origin
of your beauty’s birthmark,
“the mole on your cheek onyx black”
oscuro, muy oscuro debera de ser el tono, si se quiere hacer desencadenar lo que el amor oculta
dark, very dark the tone must be, if what is hidden in love is to be unleashed
Irene, I can’t remember everything,
help me say
the night was blacker than the sin of our coupling,
with every day
waiting for dark to fall on the wide bowl
of the Rattlesnake Hills.
You said to your father in Spanish, who spoke no ingles,
we were going to Sunnyside
to the movies, and he told your mother,
who always smiled at me and said nothing.
We drove to the jackrabbit paths, chose one, removed the mattress
rolled up to serve as a back seat
if anyone asked.
Then we undressed slowly, or one removed
the garments of the other, to embrace
in the close air wafting with a cool breeze and sometimes with rain
falling slowly at first, then pelting down
as we hurried to return the mattress
and fell over the front seat to keep on
laughing and kissing and blending our limbs . . .
Who can say how love happens one long day
before night comes to bring the magic back . . .
Sunday then, your church, I had none, and our hands would not stop
discovering who the boy was with the dark girl
whose touch turned his skin darker, love’s secret
so there would be no need to wait for night.
When Mass ended and they passed the priest by the door,
they drove to the top of the hill
and parked and stayed in the car, and they loved
who would never marry in or out of the church
but love as long as their bodies were together to love.
They could see the church from where they were now.
His father would be buried near this town,
Irene’s father in the town where the school was where they met,
his mother’s ashes beside his father’s coffin,
but where her mother’s body was
he never knew . . . He was in the city
by then. She came to be with him one time.
She loved to press against him in the crowded streets.
Where no one stared at them, she felt at home.
So there is no darkness until the end presents itself
off stage and soon walks on to no applause,
not even jeers, but in silence, the crowd
expecting them to continue the race,
his race never hers, and the priest arrives
in the nightmare of the fall from heaven
into hell, telling her of Lucifer
whose wings are weighted with the rain clouds
and fall when the rain falls, though he is passing through
on his way south, not as far as China
but who knows where Pandemonium is,
it’s in the dream as it’s in the poem
her lover is reading to her the way
his teacher fills the small classroom with his deep voice,
and she feels she is falling too,
and she’s hoping it’s his hand holding hers
but she can’t know until they rise
to the surface after plummeting to the floor
of the lake, whose waters are cold not warm
when she wakes, rain falling in Seattle.
A la vista del rio, que lava de males a los habitantes y los mantiene despiertos,
y que socava la delgada corteza que sostiene a la ciudad debajo de la cual se oculta un gran abismo
In sight of the river, which cleanses the inhabitants of their morbidity and keeps them alert,
and which erodes the thin cortex suspending the city, beneath which a great abyss is hidden
To keep from drowning in their love, they part.
The rain is about to fill the lake, the ocean
to overflowing, flooding the lowlands
where Bobby St. Clair comes from. Floyce Alexander
drives Irene Castenada over the mountains,
takes her home. She wants to stay but marry.
It’s not the city, she says, I love how I feel
here, I’m just chicana, mi amor, forgive me
forgive me if I must honor my father and mother
and marry you so I can live with you.
They go to the river. They love in mud.
They wade out to bathe their bodies.
He lifts her and cradles her in his arms.
He will never love again like this, he is done
with convention, which does nothing but kill
the will to live. But he will live and so will she
until the moon sends its tidal currents
back to where the sun remembers they were
when the city appeared under the hands
of the conqueror, who poses as God.
--en las calles y en los arboles,
la lluvia refleja la callada ternura de tu vision.
–in the streets and in the trees,
the rain reflects the quiet tenderness of your vision.
In the city I see you everywhere,
your face in the glass, your lips an O on the glass
and your eyes two caresses that have ten fingers,
and your lithe body hugging up against my own
and we are fully clothed, the sun shines down
flooding the full streets, and warming the green trees
You said you would be where I first found you
and my heart took the witness chair
my words were trapped between my brain and teeth,
I who always feared consonants but not vowels
–who was God but the Devil in disguise
why did I love this city when you were not here
Mostly I miss your touch, your tenderness:
your skin on mine, even if it is your fingers
tracing a lifeline’s whorls in my cupped palm,
this hollow day missing your absent night,
the rocking an empty chair continues,
your voice filling your childhood’s house
echoing where there are traces of you
in dreams we fill together with no past
but what I never knew was the future
and where I am now you are not
and will never be, what can a man do
who is still a child or never was
ah love the sky is our house and this earth
its floor, the sun and moon our bright windows
opening to the fire and to the stars,
ah love I love you: you know all the words
I say will never carry the meaning
of our silence, your radiant presence
estoy en tu memoria, hazme saber si tus manos me acarician
y si por ellas el follaje respira
I am in your memory; make me know if your hands caress me
and if through them the foliage is breathing
You did not know me, then we met in the Zillah potato warehouse: you were on the
line, I was tending the burlap sacks filling with potatoes that you and the others–girls
and women–had culled through and let the good ones go over the chute into the bag
and when it was full I had an empty one ready and put it on as quickly as I could
upon taking away the full sack, and we did this ten hours a day, and after you left I
stayed to fill the boxcar to the roof, with my friend Jess Maltos, before we were
finished by midnight and on the way home I forgot the sharp curve and rolled the car
that came to a stop on its side or maybe I would have been crushed, the cops came
and a wrecker arrived to upright the car and I drove on, down the highway to town,
where you were waiting. You said you had no time left, you were expected home, so
I drove you from there, where your friend Mary had driven you after work, where
you were waiting at the Circle Inn, Riverbend’s only restaurant, owned by the father
of my friend, with whom I would play football once the summer was gone, and
I drove you to the Roza where you were living with your mother and father, and
then we kissed and fondled and did what we could do without making love, and you
went inside, and I drove back to the farm where I lived with my mother and father.
You did not know me and you never would. And I did not know you, nor would I
ever. I knew your mother and father who treated me as though I would be one of
their family someday, and you knew my mother and father who felt the same of you.
They were both poor families, yours Mexican, from Juarez, and mine Southern,
from Arkansas and Oklahoma. But no one knew the other and they never would.
No one knew anyone, no one knew anything in the world beyond our home that lay
in that bowl we called a valley, bordered by the Rattlesnake Hills, near where you
lived, and by the Horse Heaven Hills, near where I lived.
I know nothing about rattlesnakes or horses anymore. Nor do I know where you are
now. Those who gave us life and shelter are gone. You must live with a man if you
are still alive, and if you were lucky, you would have children. I have fathered no one,
but I am loved by the same woman with whom I fell in love in Seattle after you left
and I came back and I could no longer find you when finally I returned to the place I
had called, and I thought you must still call, home.
We know nothing about the other now, only that we must both be old enough to
know the stars are dying for us, the trees spreading their roots to prepare our
graves, and the Yakima, our river, bears nothing in common with the Mississippi,
where I am trying to remember everything I never knew because I wrote nothing
then of all that was relegated, both then and now, to the realm of what was always
called “personal,” and we will never be remembered as the lovers we believed we
were, even though neither of us truly knew the other, either then and certainly not
now. By now we have learned, at least, that one life is never long enough, and as
young as we were how could we have known there would never be anything to
remember us by but these words, which will never be the right ones. As flesh is
remembered only by its bones.
(gathered & revised, 2 July 2013)
copyright 2012, 2013 by Floyce Alexander