After the blow
Cold, bright and windy. The alleys
whined all night like children, the dogs
howled like dogs. I got up early
and under the tent in the Plaza de la Paz
found quiet. I smelled the long tables
of books, stole glances at the two
women workers, earnest faces
puffed with sleep. One in the middle,
the other at the far end stacking.
I touched the books and forgot
the women and fell down the well
of too many unread pages
and the darkness of not enough
swallowed the last light
until despair at my own dear
romp and inadequate life
was interrupted by whispered
words out of rhythm, then louder
curses between the woman in the middle
and a bearded insomniac with a book held
high who claimed it was over-priced.
Their voices raised to shouts, first
his, then hers, then his again, louder.
Even as he walked away he yelled
over his shoulder. She gave it back good
as it came and by the time he stepped
out of the tent into into sunshine, they’d
called each other whores and demanded
the fucking of each others’ mothers.
Suddenly it was quieter than before
hundreds of books mute in the shade.
Both women bent their faces
over their desks. The only shopper
still there I waited not long enough
to ask the woman who’d been shouting
if she had any Bolaño stories. His character
Arturo Belano steals a lot of books
and that’s what popped into my head.
She pretended to be looking at papers
I asked again, this time intrigued
by the memory of her voice shouting
obscenities. I wanted to hear her say
those words again, to see her say
anything from such a pretty mouth.
She turned her still-flushed face toward
the far end of the tent and repeated
my question. No, the woman told her.
No, she repeated to me. I left
without a book. Even up the hill the wind
had ceased and finally the dogs slept.
I felt happy and wanted to lie down
too. I wondered about myself.
I liked the sound of my steps
in the cobbled alley heading home.
what wears me down
is the holy
i need to protect
it gets me into holy wars
from time to time
i met an old gringo on the way home
he wanted to do the old gringo dance
trying to figure me
nice weather, he said
it always starts like that
like we’re on to something here, you and me
like lucky us — wink wink — big grin
like if back home they could see us now
standing in the warm sunshine in t-shirts
i hate that shit
i told him I like the weather in Montana
yeah but you have to admit
you can’t complain about this — points at the sky
still that grin
i’m not here for the weather — okay?
he didn’t know what to say but tried again
you gotta hand it to him
no, i said
which is another sore spot
he could see in my face
i work, i said
you want a fuckin medal?
he didn’t say that but should have
and come to think of it, I do
want a fuckin medal
i’m writing poems, i say
more blank stare
i’m here to think and read and
yeah — whatever — you call that work?
also didn’t say that but might have
okay dude, cool
grinned again, carefully this time
stepped away, even waved
see you around, he said
i stared at the dry fountain
stepped into the shade
sat on a bench
reserved for tired old holy warriors
come to rest