Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Candidate


I was at a gas station in Honduras
drinking coffee and reading
when I met the candidate.


There were three employees dressed in bright red vests.
One put the coffee in a Styrofoam cup.
Another fetched sugar packets
and a little red straw.
The last took a pile of napkins from the dispenser
and placed them neatly under the sugar packets.


I knew by his stature,
his perfect mustache, and cowboy hat
that he was someone important;
a wealthy rancher
or a member of the cartel.


He sat next to me and asked where I was from
and I told him, and he said he had family in Waukegan
and I told him what I knew of the place.
He said he'd lived in New Orleans
and then California,
where he’d picked artichokes with Cesar Chavez.
Knew him personally.


I nodded and noticed his face by my right elbow
on a stack of laminated flyers.


Mario Padilla, candidate for congress
running for the newly-formed leftist party, Libre.


Next to Mario is Libre's presidential candidate:
an attractive, dark woman
with thick black eyebrows named Xiomara Castro,
wife to former president Manuel Zelaya
who was ousted in a coup in 2009.


I told him I was a leftist too and then had nothing else to say,
so I motioned to the chaos of the street where the construction
of a four-lane road was underway.


“I heard it’s all for politics,” I said, baiting him. “They want it done by election time.”
“You see that?” he asked,
pointing to a boy sweeping dust from the street. “The poverty. It breaks my heart.”


Maybe a week later I heard an interesting story:
I was told Mario Padilla stole the gas station we'd been sitting in.
More precisely President Zelaya
had seized all the gas station in town
and given them to party supporters, like Mario.


Perhaps it's for good reason that people say
Libre is more of the same.
They had a shot at winning, but that was seven months ago.


In the mean time,
the new road was completed,
the Che Guevara memorial was demolished early on election day,
and Libre lost the election,
though their red flags hang from the tree stumps
and gutters in the poorer neighborhoods
where everyone with nothing to lose
somehow lost again.


The new president is conservative.
He promised: A Soldier on Every Corner
and now with the machine guns
there’s no fear of being robbed of your wallet,
there's just fear,
which is robbery of hope.


What it comes down to in Honduras is security
and that’s the way it is now: secure.
People with money like conservative politicians
because they buttress inequality,
giving you the choice between warm shit
or cold shit,
corruption or martial law,
poverty or crime.


Sooner or later we’ll say enough is enough.
There is hope, I know it,
because inequality is not a natural state;
it takes energy.


Imagine a hand shaking a snow globe
or sand agitated in water.
Gravity takes over
sooner or later.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trivia


I found myself playing trivia with a cute girl at the elbow of the bar. We hadn’t signed up to play, so we just called out the answers.
“Which John Steinbeck novel revolves around the characters Lenny and George?”
Of Mice and Men!” we said.
“Which American novelist wrote the Rabbit tetralogy?”
“John Updike!” we cried.
We couldn’t miss. We were getting some good glares from the tables behind us. The host, a man-child who was halfway through his third Dr. Pepper, sat at a foldout table with a microphone and a laptop. He seemed very content and I didn’t see him pull his eyes away from the screen once.
“Who in the 1940s invented the Aqua-Lung?” he asked.
“Jacques Cousteau,” I said, “that one was easy.”
“And Emile Gagnan,” she added. I looked at her. She was wearing a black and white dress with diagonal stripes that turned horizontal below her chest.
The bartender walked over to our corner. “If you two keep calling out the answers you’re going to have to leave.”
“Give me two PBRs.”
“I’m serious, one more time and you’re out.”
“Sure.” I gave him a five and put a dollar on the bar for tip. The host was feverishly scoring the previous round. I turned to my teammate.
“I was under the impression that it was just Cousteau.”
“They were co-inventors: Cousteau was the rockstar, Gagnan was the engineer.”
“I didn’t think anybody spent more time on Wikipedia than me, except maybe the host.”
“Well that’s depressing.”
“I like it. What’s your name?”
“It’s a normal name,” she said, “It’s not interesting. What about yours?”
“My last name looks French, but it’s not. People say it’s difficult to pronounce.”
“I’m jealous.”
“You shouldn’t be. I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind your name.”
She nodded, but seemed doubtful. The bartender brought the beers and I handed one to my teammate. She looked at me. She had big, dark eyes.
“Is there an interesting story behind your last name?” she asked.
“I’ve heard two. The first, which I heard from my uncles as a child, is kind of mysterious and romantic, but it hasn’t been substantiated by the internet. They said it meant People of the snow. I wish it were true. People of the snow. Isn’t that nice? The second story is that it’s a Gaelic translation of the Germanic name Siegfried, which means Victory. You know like the Nazis, ‘Seig Heil!’”
“My first name is Spanish for pillar.”
“Like a pole?”
“Like a support beam.”
I didn’t hear the next question of the next round, but apparently she did.
“Cheese!” she yelled, and there were some groans from the tables behind us. The host put his Dr. Pepper down loudly on the table. The bartender stood up from taking an order down the bar and pointed at us. “That’s it you two, out!”
We walked out to the street and I saw lights above the houses. It looked like a stadium, but I guessed that it was a port on the river. We were close to the river, but you couldn’t see the lights during the day and you wouldn’t know.
“Where are you staying?” she asked.
“With some friends on the couch. You?”
“With my mom, but just for now.”
I took a step forward and brought my lips to hers, accidentally imagining her mother: a woman with the same face, hair, and dress, but with more makeup, black stockings, and a larger bust. I pulled back.
“You know,” I said, “you’re the best trivia player I’ve ever met.”
“I’m an insignificant-information specialist.”
I asked her what she wanted to do, and she took me by the hand and led me down a street where quaint little houses and banana trees stood over a sidewalk made of brick. There was a bike with thin tires and a large seat locked to a stop sign. She unlocked it and I told her to straddle the front tire and walk and then jump up on the handlebars when I started pedaling. I took care to avoid the parked cars. It was damp and dark and brisk with her good-smelling hair in my face. The world of drunk bicycling is a wonderful world. It has to be at least as good as drunk driving, and it’s probably better, because there is less guilt and less danger of anyone but yourself getting killed.
We rode our strange vehicle for two blocks, and then the pedaling became incrementally more difficult. The back wheel was under-inflated. I told her to hop off when I hit the brakes, and she pushed off and her legs cleared the front wheel. We walked onto a street with a boulevard and large houses with wide, deserted porches. There was a heightened perception and an intimacy and measuredness to time that we’d not felt on the bike. The streetlights illuminated the lower branches of huge oak trees and on the ground the moist-looking roots pushed the sidewalks up from the ground.
We found a dark place along the side of a house and we kissed and I turned her around and pulled up the back of her black and white dress. I liked what I saw, maybe as much as I’d ever liked anything else, but there was also an unexpected feeling of familiarity, a sudden sense that I was participating in some ubiquitous and ultimately banal enterprise. Of course, this did not stop me and I was glad to find that once again we were of the same mind. I probed her every centimeter, exploring with my hands, growing more depraved with every passing moment, as she ducked, spun, and fluttered, letting me know her body in segments, engaging with pieces rather than the whole. What we were doing was more like watching professional sports than making love and it took great focus and encouragement to achieve anything substantial, but I finally did.
I walked home and forgot about her that night. I don’t know when I first started thinking about her again, but a week later I was back for trivia night sitting at the elbow of the bar. I couldn’t remember her face, so I sat and listened for someone calling out the answers. There was a pretty girl next to me. We looked at each other, but she didn't have anything to say and neither did I. It went like that all night, these looks. Finally I leaned over. “Your name means pillar in Spanish," I said. "Pillar, like a pole.”
“Like a support beam.”
She looked at me, smiling very large, and I remembered her eyes. She was more dark and wonderful looking than anything I'd expected to see that night.
“There are two stories about your name,” she said. “One your uncles told you. It’s mysterious and romantic and it’s the one you’d like to believe, but the other story is true."
I was in love.
"Do you want a drink?"
"No."
"Me either."
“Then let’s go."
She was the best teammate I ever had and we never played trivia again.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I Get Lucky


We were listening to jazz on the patio of a bar in New Orleans.
It was a cool night and the band was passing around a solo.
The light was dim and everywhere there was a feeling of wellness
being edified by drinks.


My girl said she had to go to the bathroom
and when she'd stood up
and went
the guy at the next table
leaned over and said,
“Mmm mm Mm! I wouldn’t mind going home with that every night!"


He had cut-off jean shorts and insane blue eyes
that I followed across the patio
to a thin and beautiful woman holding her purse
winding through the tables in a silky green dress,
my girl.


I leaned back in my seat,
remembering how it was to be driven mad
by the sight of women--not love at first sight,
which implies a sort of serendipity,
but the indiscriminate sexual craving
that is like hunger
and has nothing at all to do with chance.


I looked at him and felt no fire.
I’d hit the jackpot
and forgotten how it was to be alone,
forgotten the old way,
forgotten my people,
perhaps even become arrogant,
which is the greatest sin.


If he was loneliness come back to visit me
I owed him something more honest
than knocking his teeth out.
Anyways, it was only a matter of time
before I was back on his team.


“Sometimes I get lucky,” I offered and he nodded,
but he was thinking “Bullshit,”
and I thought he was probably right.


I listened to the music and thought of how to explain this.  
I’ve never been much of a gambler.
More often than not I put up more than I can afford to lose.
I never turn down a bet, especially when I’m hurting,
and I don’t care about the odds.
If that’s luck, then I’m lucky,
but I don’t think that’s it.


It’s just recklessness
and if you’re true to it
like I am
you better learn to enjoy the payouts.


The drummer had begun his solo.
The naked sound of percussion marched
the melody of the previous song out of my head.
He stretched it out, improvised, and just when it seemed like noise, he stopped.


I bought us two drinks I couldn’t really afford
and made his a double.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Robbing a Priest

The only thing Pablo could see were a pair of outstretched hands.
-Tell him to turn slowly, Concho said.
-He speaks Spanish.
-Turn.
The priest’s black garb rose and spread and fell and he turned. The lights of San Esteban were behind him and to Pablo he looked like a part of a starry sky with no stars. Concho motioned toward the priest with his lips, like a kiss in the air, and Pablo put the pistol into the waistline of his shorts. It had been tucked away there for hours while they waited, but now, in returning it, it felt very heavy and cold against his skin.
-Empty your pockets.
-Don’t turn around, Concho added.
-I don’t have much money, the priest said in English.
-Put what you have on the ground. Then walk to San Esteban.
-What did he say?
-You understand English, the priest said to Pablo. That’s good.
Concho took a step forward.
-What did he say?
Concho’s angular nose and feminine lips pointed at the back of the priest as he addressed him in a gentle voice.
-I am not as young as my friend, Father. Tell me what do you say to my friend?
The priest did not answer and Concho allowed the shotgun stock to fall from his shoulder into his hand.
-He was praying, Pablo said quickly. That we might not hurt him.
Concho nodded.
-Take thee home, Father.
Then the priest was down the hill and onto the road, passing through the shimmering leaves of the Munoz family banana plantation. Pablo did the math; in five minutes he would pass under the light of the farmacia. In ten minutes he would turn and begin the hill to San Esteban. In fifteen minutes he would walk past Pablo’s front door. He might look at it, or even knock on the door for help, but he would not see his house. Not in the way he should.
-What does Mayachusett mean? Concho asked. He was sifting through the wallet.
-It’s the name of a state.
-Yames Pahtreek Carney? Concho laughed. What does that mean?  
-His name. Let me see?
-Maybe I could sell it for something.
-It’s not a visa. It doesn’t do anything.
-Then you keep it.
Pablo handed Concho the pistol.
-I’m going home.
They walked down the road. At the farmacia Concho pulled a bill out of the wallet and held it up to the light.
-It’s a shame to think we stole from poor people, he said, but at least it was already stolen.
-It was your idea Concho.
-Possibly this is your mom’s lempira. You can return it to her.
He held out the bill. The road was empty and still. The scattered lights on the hills above San Esteban looked like stars or lamps on docked fishing boats.
-Oh, let up.
-Forget it. She’d only give it back to him. We’d have to keep it in a safe place. It wants to go back, but we mustn't let it.
-You’re crazy.
-Sure. So you should keep it. Or give it to your sisterno, I’ll give it to your sister.
-She’d ask you where you got it.
-I’ll say your mother gave it to me.
Pablo started into the tracks of the priest.
-See you later, Concho.
-Already?
-Because my mother and sister are waiting for me.
Concho mumbled something that Pablo did not hear. Then he called out.
-Pablo!
-What? What is it?
-Feliz año nuevo.
-Happy new year, Concho.
-Let’s split the money now.
-Tomorrow.
-Tomorrow then. Go make your resolutions.
Pablo reached the bend in the road and when he looked back toward Concho, he was under the light shaking his head and looking at his hands. Pablo let his eyes adjust and saw that he was really just counting the money, passing the bills from one hand to the other. Concho looked up, saw Pablo was watching, then turned and walked down the road to the orphanage.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Chess Ghost



I was out on the balcony, teaching a ghost to play chess.
It began with a spiel,
just a general idea of the game,
and he interrupted me.
“I get it,” the ghost said.
“You sure?”
“Yeah. No problem.”
He chose white and went first.
In five moves I had him in checkmate.
“Where’d you learn chess?” I asked.
“Where? From you.”
“No, no. You already knew how to move the pieces. I barely told you a thing.”
“I’ve been watching you play.”
“Me? When? I hardly ever play.”
“Your whole life.”
“No, every game?”
“Every game.”
“Get out of here.”
“You learned from a book with pictures. You read it in the bathtub.”
That was true. So, I had a chess ghost.
He looked around.
The downstairs neighbor’s kid was playing in the sandbox in the yard.
“Well, what can I do for you?” I asked him.
“Nothing really. I don’t have anything else to do.”
We decided to keep playing without the king,
and I finished him for real;
every straggling, struggling pawn,
one after another
with my queen and bishop,
until he had one piece left:
a solitary white horseman, a knight
in the corner.
The ghost looked over the board.
“And this,” I said, dragging the queen, “is checkmate.”
“Wait, what about here?” he said.
“No,” I said, pointing. “Check.”
“Here?”
I could see through his arm, which was nice.
“The queen,” I said.
"Fuck." He stood suddenly, as if he’d just remembered
that he’d left something cooking on the stove.
The little girl down in the yard was looking up at us,
her pudgy hands curled into fists at her sides.
“Whowuh awe youw talkin’ towuh?” she asked.
"Let's keep playing," I said.
“I want two moves every turn,” the ghost said.
I said OK
and whooped him five more times.
Then he said, “Let’s play without the pieces.”
He said he had a side full of knights.
I used only castles,
16 of them.
I barreled down like a wall.
Must have beaten him ten more times.
He seemed especially depressed for a ghost.
“What’s my record?" I asked. “I always wanted to know.”
“16 wins, 0 losses.”
"Not today. You know, all time.”
“Oh. Ghosts don’t have a special skill for remembering things," he said.
“Well, that’s probably why you suck at chess," I said.
He put his head down, but didn’t disappear, as I expected him to,
and I didn’t disappear.
The little horses didn’t start hopping around.
Then he said, “Let’s play without the board.”
I said, “Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Your move.”
Then he disappeared.