• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 11

Happiness is a Warm Blanket

I’m quite warm in this blanket. I normally use it at night, when I’m sleeping, or to fend off the sun, when it’s sunny, but today it’s not sunny and it’s not cold. Just warm and dark, an evening of heavy heat. Probably it’ll be chilly later, and I’ll be glad of the blanket then, but right now it’s pretty warm. It’s maybe even warmer than the hotel across the street, which is saying something, because that hotel is very popular. There are people drinking on the street just to get out of the crush of the hotel bar, it’s so warm in there.

The hat doesn’t help. They say most of the heat of the body leaves through the top of the head, but with this thing on, nobody’s going anywhere. This hat hates heat getting out. It’s a hot dome under here, that’s for sure.

I would say then, all in all, what with the blanket and the hat, I’m as warm as can be. Put it this way, if I climbed into bed right now – not my bed, which is basically some wood with a sheet over it – but a nice bed, a fancy bed like I bet they have in that hotel across the street, with thick pillows, and woollen blankets, and sheets so silky you’d slide right out again – if I climbed into one of those beds, with a fire in the corner of the room, and with a pair of nice cotton pyjamas on me and, yes, a nice big woman beside me, naked except for something lacy – all of those things, I don’t think I’d be as warm as I am right now.

The only things that are cold, I’d say, are my toes, which keep peeking out like little kids at a window, no matter how often I tuck them under the blanket, and my gun, which never gets warm. The gun lies on my belly like a steel pup and it’s as cold as ice.

If it wasn’t for the gun being so cold, I’d probably fall asleep and not kill the guy when he comes out of the hotel across the street.

1

Silver Horse

Third paycheck enough to buy a gun
a silver horse he kept clicked safe in the glovebox
with strongmints and softpacks.

What thoughts did the horse have
on long drives out of the city, tumbled
onto one of its two symmetrical flanks

gleaming in the no-light from the dash
listening to the blackbird making it through the winter
on the radio, desperation in the rear-view mirror.

Perhaps I, though, was living in Riverton with a wife
and a Peruvian man to clear the blood-red leaves
from the surface of my blue-tiled pool.

There’s only so long a horse will stand
the dark like that, only so far you get
on seventy dollars and the silt of hope.

He fed it apple cores, leftover fries,
stroked the velvet of its head and nose
its two dark, deep, gentle nostrils.

Payment, payback, whatever it is we get in life
might come to us in broad daylight
friendly with a click and warm breath

hard change held to the head or
a rosy spread of leaves on endlessly
purified water.

2

Anniversary

We flew into the plains. A cab into the highland city. Where sidewalks were precipitous because of all the floods. Graffiti from the revolution. It had been exactly twenty years. Another century. Men and women in balaclavas, the red star, communistic. My hotel bed beneath a poster of a pyramid. My window on a leaky air conditioner. My wife had just had our baby back home. There was a chance of violence. So we hired a car with strangers, a French photographer and his biracial British lover, a reporter. Beto my friend the anarchist sat beside the driver. His Chicano did not translate well. Climbing higher into the fog along bare cliffs past girls in blue dresses walking goats towards stone huts, shepherds taking naps against hillocks in coats of black alpaca fur, and once or twice a sinkhole would surprise us. I was always almost throwing up. At their camp in the mountains they kept us waiting. Revolutionaries the world over. Mostly academics. Spaniards and New Yorkers. Some Japanese kid. Pressing against the gate in a murmuring reverence. We heard they’d take our passports but they didn’t. The rain began to fall as we poured in and downhill slipping in the mud, taking pictures of their murals. They sold us their tchotchkes. A tiny doll with tiny wooden rifle for my daughter. They wore their balaclavas. We could buy one too. And food in kettles upon fires in the open air. Our feet were sinking. My shoes were ruined. They stood apart from us. The French photographer was so handsome that they let him take their accusatory portraits. Then the concert as night fell. On their basketball court. Women and children in masks stood in front of the musicians facing us. In case of gunfire—a sacrifice, or to shame the killers. I was shaking cold. They watched us watching them, with glances towards the jungle. A few weeks later I read someone had been murdered. I never did write my play about them.
3

Sandals

It's April, so
you can get away with it.

Then, workout red: the fashion,
and everywhere, the shade
of your sombrero, although
there is the temptation to spark
off your mood: a mood of brooding,
of withdrawal, of lone warrior.

Who broke your heart
and left you in the desert?

We don't know, and being
too afraid to ask, can only guess.

Are your bare cheekbones defiant,
refusing to hide a shame,
or do you just want the world
to know how much you hurt?

4

Vigilance

I try to hide my eyes,
to see but not be seen,
to watch steadfastly.
Nothing escapes me
so I am dangerous
with a quiet power
that others consider
as strange and would covet
if they understood.
As it is, they suspect me
and they stand back,
afraid of my body
that rots with pox.
At least, that's the story,
and it protects me.
At night in their cups,
they forget me
and speak loose words.
I hover, between the cacti,
wrapped tight against
spikes and cold winds
in rough, red wool.
I remember everything
and clutch my knife,
my Mexican blade
stained with tongue's blood,
ripped from the honest ox
for my sour supper.
Read more >

5

Sunday

Praying to the newspaper
Sinking in, drinking other people's lives
Death on every page, rage
My time for me not thee
Vicariously real living life
After working all week
With black ink on my pinks
And the Greatful Dead in my head
Quick trip to the travel section
Leave the Markets Digest for another day
While the hours slip away.

6

Dispossessed

Knees buckled, he crouches
shrouded in blood-red blanket.
Body hidden, pain smothered,
wrapped in coarse threads.
Soul-stripped eyes glaze sorrow.
He is there, but not here.
Worry gnaws his bones,
drains strength from numb limbs
like embers smouldering to white heat.
Hope wisps drift away like bits of ash
in cold barren winds of despair.

7

I hide, I peep

I hide
I peep
The cold and the heat
Unbearable though it might be
It's become a part of me.

Can you see the thorns?
Can you see where I crouch?
Do you know the pain I feel?
Or the thousand doubts

My blanket, may as well be bright
My feet remain exposed
The cover is never complete
Like most of everything in life
It's full of hunger and strife

To those behind me,
I would like you to know too
I hide
I peep
And so do you.

8

Coming Home

He hides from the world,
protecting himself from the
scalding notes of the sun.
He will be home soon,
a spackle of stars outside
the scorched window,
and you will wrap him in
the dim light of your fingertips.

You uncloak his misery,
lift his veil of fire and
hide it on a shelf out of reach.
His face is known only to you,
weeping and stripped bare.
Your voice is a whisper only
he can hear and hold tightly
to quell the calamity in his chest.

His head rests quietly
in your hands,
cradled in the few
still hours of darkness.
You drink the nectar
of each other’s silence,
until he rises and leaves again,
wrapped in a cloth of despair and secrets.

9

I’ve Seen Them Before

I've seen those hats before,
on the heads and in the hands
of tourists returning from Spain.
They'll never be worn back home,
not practical, you see.
They look practical here, though
on this man's head.
He's no tourist.
He's at home.
I've seen the cactus plants before, also.
An unwanted export from Mexico
invading the wild arid places.
They're at home here too,
with this man
who will put on his gloves
while he takes off the vicious skins
to eat the fruit beneath
and take refreshment
in the hot sun of the day,
and sustenance as he wraps up ready
for the cold Mexican night.

10

Gaucho

On a cold night like tonight
my sombrero fits my mood—
my red wrap-around hides my grimace.

I sit below the pampas
freezing, huddled,
teeth chattering.

In South America there is no word for the homeless.

We live half inside
half out—
residents of the desert.

We are born to hunt with horses,
live and breathe the night—
every little mosquito bite

Brightens the smile of my wild grin.

11

Crisp

A few things
are more beautiful
than rain
drops under the street
light

but with a roof
on top
not leaking

uncertainty, sometimes
can wrap around you like a lover
leaving warmth behind
and bones rattle

a strange kind of a company

alone,
but not alone
like,
nude in the wilderness
under the stars
breeze blowing
skin hair
standing on edge
and howl of wolves nearby
like,
stabbed by the lover
loving them
still,

there are no simple answers

12

Flipping Freezing

I'm flipping freezing.
I look like I'm hot, wrapped up to hold in my body temperature and keep out the heat, but I'm not. I'm flipping freezing.
See my toes? My poor toes? They're freezing too. Come to Margate, they said. It'll be warm, they said. It's not. I wore sandals.
I wrapped my picnic blanket around me; if you look closely you can see some tuna mayonnaise left over from our picnic.
I'm flipping freezing.
The bloody weatherman got it wrong again.
And I've got the sniffles.

13

Waiting for the Wall-Builders

Unhurried,
the evening exhales.

Cool breath
extinguishing light,
subduing hues to make night.

Prickly pears dim their shine
and darken their juice.
Ruby fruits wait in shade
like puckered lips.

Wife sinks,
knees tucked,
crouches weary,
arms heavy.
Chin dips,
skin raw,
tear trails puckered,
eyes sore.

She slips into an empty calm.
The breezeblocks are warm.

And hunched near, a stout package of Mexican
is cached in a target as red as his hot blood.
His face is a polished coffee bean,
his nose chiselled and planed by ancestry.
They hate him for it.

His hat catches rain and keeps the blaze at bay;
it looks like brown paper or dry bread.
Read more >

14

To Be Discovered

The cold paints a portrait
Your portrait crafted in a coat
Of paint, snuggled
But you are wide awake
Arrogantly defying the weather
You are man without attire
You cover to hide
You peel skin and bones
You are man hiding
Escaping into the freezing zone
But you want to be seen
To be discovered
A standing portrait
Hung in a room with chandeliers.

15

Fashion Guru

Nobody ever comments on my footwear. I suppose it’s the vibrant red of the blanket that does it. The kind of blanket used by paramedics in a war zone. Then again, with the single black stripe, I’ve been told it could be prized as a minimalist throw.

Then there’s the hat. I could keep a herd of bees in this hat and no one would know but me. Except for the buzzing of course.

But, funny thing, no one remarks on my shoes. I can see them becoming all the rage – a simple leather thong pegged between my big and first toe.

If it rains – when it rains – I can just slop through the mud and they dry very quickly. I’ve never suffered from athlete's foot.

So…just sitting here. Tucked up under the prickly pear – which tones with my blanket perfectly by the way.

Maybe the stripe should have been green.

16

The Survivor

And it is the time –
the last of my hours
that makes me submerged in all the reds and blues and greens of my entity.
I held the world as a hat upon my head:
surrounded myself in it like a blanket on a winter night –
when it was bombing hard
Or when it fell like a death upon the 'child'
and still I could not absorb it thoroughly;
Even though they say they are the 'Lord's Messengers' and working for Him.

It was a maze of intricate flowers and thorns,
a dazzling pattern of hues and checks,
and a fine line of oozing blood that ran through my fellow beings trapped by them –
When I was trying hard to cover 'me' in this red blanket:
as if I was stained from the blood of all those murdered and killed and thrown upon on the shore and elsewhere: dead or migrating.
But in the end, nothing matters:
Neither cold nor hot,
Not even the blanket or the hat above my head,
It is the life that I survived
And will survive through eternity
Like those leaves and flowers and hazy morning sunshine.
It is 'I' and the 'SURVIVAL' that leads me to save myself
and
my fellow beings:
From these deadly Lord's Messengers.

17

Rojo

Consider ancestors. Their keeping warm.
Their rasping accents thick with foreign time.
Their disapproval of your attitude.
Their dying ways of worship, and of trade.

Consider colours. How, though colours fade,
A bright serape stuns the mind’s arcade:
It’s there you keep your father’s father’s cloak.
A red shawl, as it happens, ribboned black.

Consider him. Your silent, side-eyed guest.
An implication blazing. Same-skinned ghost,
Who merely sneers. Or shields his sadness. Hands
That clench. He’s here, where many times he hunched,

Hunkering down, in a terse truce with time.
Beside a fire. Drink deep. Consider him.

18

Inheritance

The mouth is hidden
Speech blanketed by the wool of night
Lips sealed, a sheeted gag
Against the usual rantings and obscenities
And I am thankful for his silence

Neighbours pass us, acknowledge me
Not him, pretend not to see the man
Who was once a man
His presence now a red rag
To the bull of propriety

And we chat about this and that
Over the head of the man out of his head
Whose glance slinks along the sidewalk
To the bars and their promise
Of mindless oblivion

Unsteadily he rises,
Staggers down the street
Dragging me with him
Whilst in the shadows my mother watches
As I follow in my father’s footsteps

19

La Muerte

I will keep your baby safe beneath my red cloak
Go! Fear not! The day is young, the journey long
The path rugged beside the precipitous drop
Be careful daughter, watch for thieves at the pass
They will rob you of your purpose, steal your purse

Ha! I wish that I were there to see their faces first
I that would spit phlegm between their evil eyes
Bray like a burro angry at the first hint of dawn
Shriek like the condors with deathly angels’ wings
To meet me would be as if the gods had woken

But alas! These gnarled and godforsaken knees
A prisoner of me make, no youthly vigour is left
To scale the shadowy peaks of Sierra Madre del Sur
To look out on the deep blue yonder that stretches
As far as my watery, world-weary, eyes would see

Quick girl! The time of your child has nearly passed
Her spirit has ventured into the vulture’s domain
She needs the hand and sacred words of the priest
To carry her where we will one day rest our heads
And embrace eternity in the arms of our ancestors

You were the youngest, a fighter born and bred
‘El niño fuerte’ we called you, the strong child
Unlike this poor thing I shelter beneath my cloak
As dead as a dog in the gutter, as cold as winter
Hurry! I wait my lifetime beside this prickly pear

Read more >
20

MENDING WALL, REDUX

Wrapped in a red thought,
underneath a brown thought
weighing on my head
with a tropical siesta;
drowsy in the stillness
that clings to my knees like strangers
praying in a strange land;
fighting sleep, not wanting
to let my guard down:
There's always someone waiting
to slip a knife between your ribs,
or lock you into a stinking van
full of migrating hallucinations
stoked in Hell's inferno.

Wrapped in a red thought,
underneath a brown thought
blood flowing under my Mexican skin—
where it belongs!

I can't let them do it!
If they build a wall around me while I sleep,
who knows if I'll return to a world
where there are no boundaries—
where I'm a man, not a machine?
Read more >
21

Blood Serape

A shot like a backfiring car.
I lay full length on the border.
Still as midday sun.

Folk think me dead.
So fire back. I get up.
Skitter like a lizard.

Now sit here, wrapped
in this blood serape eyes flit
side to side as bullets zip by.

Not a time for dance so shakers
are sleeved above me. Soon victory
will give my life back like clarity.

22

Boot Hill

I crouch, prickly pear
covering my back.
I can't keep running;
a last stand against their
guns is better than the grip
of the hangman's noose.

It'll take a while for the gang
to find me in this cemetery
on the border with Mexico.
I'll be ready for them, pistol
pouched beneath the poncho.
I will die with my boots on.

23

The Caped Menace

She’s waiting on the Hill Road
for the construction worker
on the short-term contract,
his sweet talk guile.

Her perfect English’s only got her so far.
These days it’s about foraging for firewood
wielding that axe, being sister-mother to that boy,
when all he wants to do is drum.

Lake Malawi’s wink, a planet’s orbit away,
holds a promise, salvation or grief,
its shoreline infested
by more men in hyena skins.

Best, dear child,
to have never been so intelligent,
better to have been second born.

24

Awaiting Rescue from the Flood Waters

Left out from the last departing train
Wet ground offers no shelter
Ragged threadbare hat and
Reliable but old blanket
Pulled up to shoulders
The only option is to await rescue
Shivering underneath the skin prunes
The reality of time slipping
As nobody appears and the
Waters continue to rise with
The steady rainfall
Counting minutes hours days
Wasted as supplies dwindle
Passersby disappear down
The path until it too vanishes
Into puddle stream river
Leafy vines provide no shelter
But merely funnel water over head
Down on all sides as the river
Ascends the hill drawing ever closer
No boat truck helicopter in sight
Soon all options to flee
Evaporate but attempts to
Escape to higher ground risk traps
Staying put in hope of being found
Seems the only option to bundle up
Save energy to watch for whatever
Comes up next water or human

25

The Red Blanket

I haven’t been to New York City since the terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Now I’m returning with my husband for the first time, for a day of sightseeing and evening dinner. I don’t know what made me finally have the courage. Maybe it’s just time to stop being afraid.

It’s been so long since I’ve taken the railroad into the city and my stomach churns. The sun is beating on my face and I want to get off at the next stop and go home. I don’t tell my husband and bear with it.

Finally, we reach Penn Station. It’s how I remember it, except, more policemen are on patrol. I try not to look at them and hold my husband’s hand while waiting in line to purchase our Metro- Card for the subway.

“Look, Hon, there’s a homeless man in the corner.” Something about this man catches my attention. I notice something next to him and must see what it is, so I leave the line.

“Where are you going?”

“Just get the MetroCard,” I say while my husband leaves the line and follows me.

“I told you to get the MetroCard.”

“I’m not leaving you alone.”

I’m standing face-to-face with this man and my husband is so close to me; I feel his breath on my neck.

The man has a picture of a woman and two small boys next to him. The woman is beautiful. Her golden blond hair is hanging over her shoulders and her eyes are hazel. The boys are also blond and smiling, holding hands. Identical twins.

Read more >
26

Blessed by a Boon

In front of a tree green
sat a man wrapped in a blanket
all-vermillion
He also wore a hat but his feet were exposed
to the mid-season's
unpredictable cold breeze

"Oh, Sir, your feet will catch cold!"
I exclaimed.
"Gentle lady," he said.
"Thanks for the concern
but my feet
in extreme climates
will no longer suffer
The only shoes I had,
I left them on the lamenting river
Over there daily strolls a beggar
with blistered feet and red eyes
His pain I couldn't see
So I gave him my shoes selflessly.
On my way home
I met the good fairy
she granted me a boon
of travelling miles bare foot
on snowy paths
or amidst hot flames
and never feeling annoyed
as my feet in whatever circumstances
will maintain normal body temperature

Read more >
27

Cactus Cowboy

Traces of red cling to twilight
and plump peyote cactus fruit.
He is motionless, the air
under the sarape rojo
heavy with sweat and spice
trapped with his memories.
The ancient vaquero
is concealed by his sombrero
that once swiped flies,
gave shade on breathless days
when no cloud smudged the sky.
Woven deep into the hat’s straw
and the threads of the sarape rojo
are the words he whispered every day
to his mustang, a red bay,
another trace clinging to his twilight.

28

I was Watching The World just like You

Why do you stand before me,
with your paper and colours?
You do not bring food, you do not bring drink,
you do not bring warmth – you come
with your curious eyes – your intent –
to capture my pain, my loss, my red threadbare blanket,
on that paper – paint the cracks on my face
so you can win a name, claim a talent
and become a wonder.

You will not pass as others before you?
You will not snap pictures accompanied with ohs and ahs?
No, you will linger like the flies on my sole, won't you,
and suck the moisture of my spirit into that piece of paper.
You will fix the memory of a broken me to a glass frame
and no matter the size of my casket, the depth of my pocket,
the strength of my song, that picture of me –
the giant sombrero shading my suspicious eyes,
the red blanket shrouding my spindly frame
and my dusty toes peeking at the world will endure.

Please do not forget my wife – her nutty brown skin –
the sheen in her hair, the beads on her neck,
the soft smile on her lips.
Please do not forget to tell them, your people in their ease, that i had no plate before me – I begged no one.
Please do not forget to paint that I too was watching the world just like you.

29

his eyes are the only points of alive

his eyes
are the only
points of alive

red: bordered
black
wrapped

in creases
over stifled
stitched lips

a not quite
face partial
bronze faceted/butchered feet

fixed to wood
crack jointed
identity flensed

he is
a folk
device – anarchy

or revolution painted
in plain sight
placed specifically

over foliage
greens, a woman
at the market, a

Read more >
30

The Initiation

I can breath a sigh of relief sitting wrapped in this blanket like a precious present. I am so lucky to be still warm in the upcoming storm.

I can still see their lifeless bodies through my dried up eyes, their spirits crying out in anguish. The unbearable pain that they were served was so undeserved. But this is our traditional heritage, like a voyage each one in our culture must undertake. All for adulthood's sake. Becoming a "madoda", a Xhosa male adult, decreed by revered "ancestors", must be done during a ceremony at the appointed time. But this is no coming of age bliss. They are considered our lifelong investors. Passing on traditions from generation to generation.

The beginning of a new life was going to greet us at home with welcoming arms. The boys who had evolved into adults were going to be celebrated. But the expected praises that should have adorned us were abruptly muted. The initiation had not gone as planned.

A quick-buck scam turned into a deadly affair as circumcisions were done without proper care. Police officers and medical rescue teams came onto the scene – a picture seen more often now. Here amongst the South African bushes, surrounded by brush, trees and cactus, the Initiation Schools springing up overnight were now illegal practices.

The other boys were also wrapped in blankets. But they were not going home. They were already home.

31

ON EL SARAPE ROJO 1918

Alberto Garduño, a Mexican artist, died in 1948. Compañero in the monumental glorification of the civil war that tore through Mexico earlier that same century, Garduño rides a white stallion alongside others — Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros — whose monuments stamp walls with symbols of collective ghosts, shared hauntings. His oil paintings hang in museums. The nation’s history, the artist’s canvas. The images stand witness on and in public buildings. In paint and brushstroke, they chant, “Viva la Revolución Mexicana.” Flash point for so many other revoluciones to come.

Setting: the iconic desert. A background drenched in chlorophyll. A vegetable palette with darkening borders. In shades of green, the human eye discerns hues more varied, diverse, nuanced, and abundant than in any other slice of the color spectrum — an adaptation with its own adaptability: an advantage for the hunter, a defence against predators. Green is the color of my true love’s eyes. Lorca’s green, a gypsy green, verde que te quiero verde. The sap runs over the greening world.

Foreground, the sole figure of un muchacho sits bundled in arms and knees drawn close under a wide-brimmed woven hat that shields him from a too-harsh sun. His back to the green forest of nopales. Rural Mexico, los ranchos, el desierto, las montañas. Already, always nostalgic. The cactus blushes its reddening fruit, la tuna, the prickly pear, to shame the desert. In its sweet, seedy pulp, the blood-red fruit hoards summer rains from parched dusty earth. Garduño’s warrior sits, his back to a fibrous green wall that is la tierra for which, in which, which he fights. Is it a respite from battle or the defeat by betrayals or a moment captured in pigment of campesino life? The artist dips the figure in earth tones of umber, bares his eyes and toes, swaddles him in a blanket dyed bright crimson, a bursting wound that marks the target for a bullet fired many years ago.

32

Grandfather Is Cold

The paddles of the prickly pear are feet.
The toes of the dead point to heaven. No

old woman wove his red serape. No
old wife, wrinkled as his toes, calls him sweet.

Death is a black dog, a cold cigarette.
Death's long shadow leans against the wall. When

will it come creeping up behind him? When
will it wrap bony hands around his throat?

33

THE UGLY, THE BAD AND THE GOOD

life's a bitch when an alien
looks at you over the left shoulder
one of those never happened befores
where the right shoulder voice says out loud
you are hallucinating – have swallowed
the worm in the bottom of the tequila bottle –
the alien stays in the shadows so that is good
though it looks kind of ugly – could this
be a bad thing – can see all these ideas
string well together yet could change
so easily like the weather forecast or what
the sun would be like without a sombrero –
maybe you're about to find out – the right
shoulder says to be careful what you wish for –
your literary kind of a mind clocks this cliché
for what it is – a cliché that makes little demand
on your intellect that savours a phrase or two
of Wittgenstein who asserts: "the limits of my
language mean the limits of my world" – now
this could get ugly though some good could
come of it – maybe ask the alien about
the limits of his world – you feel bad
about where this might go – he's still
a strange fellow - fellow what? – this
could really test the limits if it's a lady alien
or even a hermaphrodite – you stay
quite still inside your red blanket comfort
zone – order another tequila for courage
then soon will ask alien about taking a drink too –
hasta la vista

34

Sombrero Soliloquy

You're looking at me
My eyes turn away,
Soul stares back at you.
You're mocking my words.
My ears hear the wind;
My heart hears your taunts.
Sombrero gathering dust,
It gathers dust all day.
I tip it to the ground
And shake the dust away,
Shake the dust away,
Gotta shake the dust away.
You open your food.
I smell only sweat.
My stomach rumbles.
Brag about your pool
When I need a bath.
I have no pillow.
Sombrero gathering dust,
It gathers dust all day.
I tip it to the ground
And shake the dust away,
Shake the dust away,
Gotta shake the dust away.
Some day they won't stare.
Their tongues will not mock.
They'll shake dust away.
Sombrero gathering dust,
It gathers dust all day.
Read more >

35

And So We Shall

unfazed
by passing clouds or thorns
that drape all wild roses

– the heart is a rose
with its fair share
of thorns –

but from the roses
as well as the heart
we shall take the warmth

from the weave, the blood
that threads us
binding us to our living

(Where do they go –
the curtaining trees that
surround us on our solitary walk?

When we walk next to one another,
they leave us).

36

CURANDERO

Beneath prickly pears in this town of brujas
A tight fistful of herbs clutched close to my heart
My blanket’s crimson protects me from curses
A hat shields me from sun and the evil eye

A tight fistful of herbs clutched close to my heart
Feet plugged into the hot breath of the earth
A hat shields me from sun and the evil eye
Under curds of cloud, colour of nausea

Feet plugged into the hot breath of the earth
Keyed in silence, prayer in bottle
Under curds of cloud, colour of nausea
Rosemary and basil sweeten the heat

Keyed in silence, prayer in a bottle
My blanket’s crimson protects me from curses
Rosemary and basil sweeten the heat
Beneath prickly pears in this town of brujas

37

Liberation

Wrapped in wrath he sat
Burning at low flame.

Batting eyelashes
Like wings, like waving banners.

Crouching under the yoke can be
Crouching before the jump:

A spring storing rage,
A cactus storing water,

Growing spines as spears,
And the sweetest fruit, scarlet like

Quetzal, creature of the sky,
Batting his wings. The leaves of

A cactus growing buds,
Delicate like freedom.

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Alone

Thrown aside
Left out
Cowering under wool blankets
Sewn by tired hands
Waiting on the streets
Eyes hidden
Feet weary from traveling
Just to find a place he belongs
In a world that says he doesn't belong
Torn between a life he dreams of living
And a tall stone wall.

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Of Time and the Mountain

In the cold shade of Sabancaya
serape-wrapped in our old beliefs
we wait for the fires of the volcano
to warm and wake us from our sleep.

Yesterday is our fate
tomorrow just another day
in the pyroclastic flow of time
as we huddle in our wooden graves.

40

FIGURE IN THE BACKGROUND

Sometimes, much depends
on what we do with what’s left behind.

There was a late winter afternoon
thinking of which the colour red
runs a riot in my mind.
The last holiday to the quaintest land
where men sit in the shade of the cactus
and the women wait by the open door.
You winked at me and pulled my hand
and we laughed down the long lane lit
by the long shadows of the dusk.
And then, returning, a routine visit
to the doc’s for a simple dull pain…

Medical reports are mysterious documents,
deceptive to the dot.

Now colours are in the things that I touch,
things that need keeping with a little care;
and I wonder
how different is my wait than the women
we hardly noticed them then, there.

Yes, much depends
on what we do with what’s left behind
though the red is much faded today
and the late afternoon sun
not so kind.

41

La Vida es Breve

We’ve had a row, Gabriela and me. She’s waiting for me to apologise, but the way she waits is to fill the space between us with talk.

See? That’s her making hot chocolate, behind me. We always drink hot chocolate at night. She’s making it with cinnamon, my favourite. She’s trying to tempt me. But if I say a word I’ll be halfway to saying I’m sorry. And I don’t feel like saying I’m sorry.

She says, ‘It’s going to happen tonight.’

I don’t say a word.

She says, ‘They’re so brave, don’t you think? Flowering just for a day.’

I refuse to think about what she means.

She says, ‘Do you remember last year? When we danced under them?’

I remember. Very well. But I’m not about to say so. We watched the cactus bloom in the dark as we made love. In the morning we danced under the flowers because Gabriela said we had to show them we knew they were going to die.

She says, ‘You were my hero. You never stopped.’

I look sideways and stifle a laugh. I don’t know if she means I never stopped making love or I never stopped dancing. (Both are true.)

And then the space between us fills with the fragrant scent of the cactus flowers as they open and my mind fills with memories and I can’t help myself.

I turn to Gabriela and even though I don’t apologise I say, ‘La vida es breve.’ Which comes to the same thing.

42

To become the red king

“Leave the land, glory awaits!” they said,
“And then freedom will cloak you in red.”
The city is where your ambition will spread
“Leave the land, glory awaits!” they said.
The struggle will only be in your head
As you discover you do not need bread.
“Leave the land, glory awaits!” they said,
“And then freedom will cloak you in red.”

43

Red

The colour of blood,
a flood of metallic energy.

The pillar box of anger,
dagger words angled to hurt.

The splatter of night-time thrills,
spills of lacy teasers, lipstick smudges.

The bright, notice me flag,
rag to the bull syndrome.

The power of the go-getter,
manipulator and me first.

The two tribes of war
sure of their right, their cause.

The hot-head, the passionate,
the car-crash of all-consuming red mist.

Splash wall swatches in shades
of raid red to crimson and raspberry.

Now give yourself up to the fiery heat,
sunset sweet, sky-falling ah’s.

44

SOMETIMES

How dare we plan for tomorrow,
How arrogant is man?

Do we fear death too less?
Or we love life too little?
Or do you sometimes think too
that we fear life so we let it do what it can.

Maybe it's just me, but the fear is red,
Like my shawl, it drapes me twice
Sometimes, it feels so comfortable and warm,
and sometimes, like a bed of ice

Sometimes, I don’t have to show you much
to see through you from these eyes

There is a world underneath my red shawl
and a world outside.

45

COMFORTERS

From a laboured input to a polished product
Stitched with love, one at a time
Woven with seams of laughter and dreams
And finally imbued with a glossy hue
From the snug bed to the spectacular wallhangings
Clustered together with similar others
They offer myriad views, each with unique flannel patterns
Every fold, each little block has a story to tell
As memories flow and the folds entwine,
It becomes a work of art, that only grows more precious with the bounty of years.

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