• 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.

38

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.

39

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.

46

Gold Teeth

That's right.
In the heat of the night
mas o menos
you with your gold teeth
in your pocket
this Mezcal drink stinking
on your hot breath
you come back and kick
me for Tamales
waking me from sleep
foot in my bony hip,
hips that carried your sons,
angry warrior.

There is earth-taste in my mouth
from where you kissed me
but like with Mezcal
you have harvested me;
cut off my roots and leaves
to reveal my heart
and then have had it cooked
in a pit oven
for three days
– all smoky –
until I am smashed with red banana
pineapple and sugar;
sweetness all over again.
I love love love you for that.

Read more >
47

Pancho Villa

It was May 1972. When my husband and I shared that we were driving from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Chihuahua City, Mexico, the reaction of well-meaning friends, family and casual acquaintances surprised us. Some warned of the many dangers of Mexican roads — armed bandits, potholes, stray animals across the highway and other hazards. Others suggested we fly to Chihuahua and asked why we don’t. My clichéd response: “It’s a guy thing.”

Like many other history buffs before us, we’d been drawn by the idea of a road trip adventure south of the border to visit the museum of Mexican Revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa. On a chilly spring morning, with a killer sunrise over the Sandia Mountains, and little traffic on the road, we drove from Albuquerque to El Paso, Texas, a border city. We crossed the border and cleared customs in Juarez, Mexico, and drove south to Chihuahua City.

Driving through the Chihuahuan Desert early spring was a feast to the eyes — stunningly beautiful jagged mountain peaks piercing the blue sky with moving clouds and a sea of vibrant colors splashed across the endless desert landscape. It was mesmerizing!

We did not encounter gun-toting bandits. But dodging potholes in the Mexican roads was a challenge that kept us driving at a slower speed. Cowboys and young boys kept a watchful eye on animals grazing along the side of the road, so no stray livestock running in front of the car.

After a scenic 8-hour drive, we arrived at the Mexican Revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s residence known as “Quinta Luz” in honor of his wife, Señora Doña María Luz Corral de Villa, and now also the Francisco Villa Museum.

Read more >
48

The Blanketed Soul

He found himself hurtling over a red blanket. He was escaping from them: the bawling child, the brooding youth, the dying man and the lost soul. He looked around. It was chaos. Everyone was wailing. Everyone was screaming. Everyone was shivering. All of a sudden, he was thrown under the starry sky. He was thrown to feel the winter. He was left alone.

He looked around to see the light of love. He felt the wintry night. He felt the stones around. He felt the earth beneath. He felt the winds blowing. He was controlled. He was conquered. He had bounded feelings. Gradually, he realized his heart was opening. He was no more the flame that failed to glow. He began spluttering. He wanted to be the light. He felt everything around him merged with him. He felt his heart glowing. He felt the heat flowing. He searched for brightness. His red blankets unravelled a beautiful soul. It was strong. It was pure. It was blissful. He transformed heat to love. He let all the love flow. He let all the love, flow out of him. He let all the love flow to the world. The love flowed. He became brighter. He became lovelier. He was no more the flame that failed to glow.

He let the words gush in ecstasy. He watched the sun creating pattern of joy. He saw the stars twinkling the bliss. He saw the sea engulfing the shore to show love. He saw the flowers bloom in bliss. He saw the bees sing in euphoria. He saw breeze dance to the song of joy. He saw everything. He felt everything. His red blankets unraveled a beautiful soul.

49

I Watch

I watch. I see all the people passing by. I am here sunrise to three, everyday. I guess they don’t look for me. Just another dark-skinned, sat about. I wonder if anyone notices me, wonders about what I am thinking?

I glance around. Not so many folk here today. Saving themselves for the morrow, market day. I guess they’ll only come out for essentials on a Tuesday. Those that do pass by, do they notice me at all? I don’t think I am so inconspicuous, dressed as I am, but maybe my dress is as they expect.

What would happen if I were to change my garb? Stand in a provocative manner? Would they react differently? Would they notice me at all? I shall try it someday. But not now. I have work to do presently.

When I leave I will walk the dusty path back up the hill, around the big rock to my homestead. After siesta in the freshly laundered sheets, the second part of my day begins.

I take out my laptop and I write. I write all the stories I have seen today, all the stories I haven’t, and all the stories I’d like to see. The story about Maria Consuela and her top marks in science this week; about Conchita and Nancy setting up the new business, inspite of the lack of support from Manuel Aldogan. I write about the new enterprise which reduces the fuel needed to power the cooking stoves. About the new irrigation ideas that are being talked about in the market, but not in the press.

I write my stories and I store them up. At the end of this month I will publish them all. They will be spread across the nation. These women will get their recognition. I am known, elsewhere. Once I have succeeded in this endeavour, maybe I will change my garb. Until then, the man in the red blanket gets all the attention, and I lean on the wall and take note.

50

The Watcher

The man appeared suddenly one night under cover of darkness. He moved stealthily like a cat marking its prey, all tiptoes and furtive glances, a swish of his crimson blanket. No-one knew anything about him, not his name, nor where he had come from. Some people called him Pepe, others Jorge. I liked to think of him as Miguel; whatever his name, the man was a mystery. You see, he only appeared at night; in the daytime he was nowhere to be seen which kept people guessing, kept them watching, expectant for his return. I often wondered what he concealed beneath his blanket; it was bright pomegranate, the colour of a setting sun, with three severe lines at the edge, and it swamped his slight frame. I figured it acted like a cocoon, keeping him safe and protected from the strangers who frequently walked past.

A few times I looked out over the balcony, peering on to the dusty street below and sure enough, Miguel would be there wrapped in his ruby blanket, a blood stain in this small village. Sitting there like that he looked so insignificant, a vibrant part of the scenery people often took for granted, and yet, I knew this man was different. A sudden urge would seize me to call out, wave, and ask him to join me. He seemed like the type of man who had a few colourful stories to tell – he was a watcher, an observer of human nature, a man who waited before he struck.

I soon learned Miguel had refused the kindness of Mr Sanchez – the nicest man in the village who would have given shelter to a liar and pickpocket, and always averted his eyes when the young ladies walked by in their long colourful skirts and suggestive Bardot tops. After a while, I gave up trying to figure him out. Instead of smiling, he would scowl and turn away; if anyone offered him a helping hand, he would curse them under his breath. Read more >

51

Shut down

They say we only use 10% of our brain’s function, that mostly grey and white matter that somehow, like a flat screen TV when supplied with electricity, powers up and allows for viewing pictures of the world, and to make sense of experiences good or bad.

I’m sure we all use much more than 10%, in some people, parts of the mind lie dormant, in others, it glows with an intensity resulting in either brilliance or madness or both. I wonder what would result if we used 100% of our brain’s function?

Would we be able to smell colours, taste sounds, touch words and see time, or perhaps like a device overloaded with too many apps it would become slow and eventually shut down.

52

cloak of desire

each day I sit here
I watch
my hat tipped
my eyes guarded
my lips twitching
unseen

each day I sit here
I dream
my heart racing
my head awash
with wild thoughts
untamed

each day I sit here
I yearn
my love real
my desire true
my passion hot
within my loins
unfulfilled

each day I sit here
loving you
from a distance
hidden behind
this cloak of
desire
unrepentant

53

WAITING FOR GABRIELA

I wear a sombrero to carry the dew
Which I use to relieve my parched lips
My scarlet bright blanket was weaved from the few
Skinny bighorn that we had to clip.

That’s the story I tell when odd tourists pause
To take idiot pictures in groups
And offer me paper to ‘promote my cause’
Which in heaven they’ll doubtless recoup.

I sneer at their charity, turn a blind eye
As the next gust or thief gets it gone
And sit here in comfort, just waiting to die,
Passing the time by humming our song.

54

Deceived

Manuel sat with his eyes
carefully monitoring his surroundings.
Noon came just in time
arriving before the second batch
of shopkeepers pooled into a
single file line.
They overstock their
booths, marketing to
con-men and con-women from various
parts of the world.
He sits. He stares. He keeps
his things close.
He doesn't trust tourists.
He has his reasons.

A shopkeeper notices his
glare.
He questions him in the
frozen position--bent on
wanting to learn more.
Manuel closes in and says,
"Keep your friends close and
your enemies closer, my friend."
The shopkeeper turned to
leave, feeling ridiculed without
an invitation.
Read more >

55

You Want A Wall?

You want a wall?
we will build a wall
of prickly pear

to keep you out
we will hunker low
in our landscape

dry river beds
will spring to life
in a moment

under the right
conditions, our land
is ripe for spring

growth, red earth coats
the ancient shoulders
of our mothers

and together
we daughters are bound
in blood, we raise

voices, concrete
cannot contain song
that will be free.

56

We won’t know the reason

We won't know the reason
for the desire

I can't say how it found me
waiting for it

who made its rash
cover my face in sores

lifted me into the bedlam
of its laugh

thrashing me through the square
singing my feet into the storm

57

Stakeout

I was going to throttle Henry Hubbard I decided grimly as the rain swirled around me.

“It’s a sure thing Ed!” he had infused keenly the night before in the Watch Office, chucking his fourth dart into Donald Quimby’s campaign poster for student council election.

Like a gold carat fool I’d agreed, after all a useable lead on where the many fireworks been sold on academy grounds, actually came from was a blessing.

Of course I hadn’t checked the local weather, so here I stood under a blue brolly watching the flat opposite me and the world going by.

There sat in the doorway a prune-skinned man draped in a red blanket with a wide-brimmed straw hat. His brown eyes were squinted as he observed the nearly drowned street.

A soaked-through fox appeared at my feet, its doleful emerald eyes widening as it looked up at me.

“C’mon Reynard join me, eh?” I asked.

If foxes could smile, ‘Reynard’ was positively beaming as he curled at my feet, as the clouds began to part like the Red Sea.

58

INS AND OUTS OF RED

I bought a shield
I thought it’ll allow me
rest in peace.

The noise in and out –
‘Danger, run, lost…
found, killed, dead!’ –
kept me awake
seeking a way or,
a cover.
       I bought a shield…

The world on the wheel
running callously:
a little one busy licking candy,
a beauty twirling a covetous dandy.
Industrious sellers
with their hands full,
hot and fresh
food for the soul.
You also have the best
made of wool.
       I bought a shield…

Read more >
59

The Green Maws of Night

My spot picked out by prickly pear cactus
a point of night edged hard by the Pampas
a separate patch from both jaguars,
spiders in their human form; of land rat.

I am aware the green jaws of my dreams
like a woman’s remorseless work of hands
grind, pummel and knead my pulp into squash
much the same red as this fresh new blanket

swaddling me, shoulders to sandaled toes
and is black, black as blood in the moonlight:
unless I am already asleep, easy
a tad watchful, waiting for reckless night.

60

In this dream I clarify my prior awakened presence.

To whom this glory goes of
restful impersonation? My
eyes, anti-rose, a
calligraphy of anger’s
verbose prose.

Aslant visual mood, no infers
needed.

             Glare-doge philosophy.

My need is to engage again with
night’s marriage toward moon’s
varied
         phrases         phased inversion
the heal-need
language
impulse
             hears when the eyes’ obesity
             screams itself into fathom

61

No Quiero Problemas

Hola, me llamó Pedro.
No quiero problemas,
por favor leave me be.
I am here
to work your fields,
pick sus fresas
y ayudo con sus pumpkins
en el otoño.
Sí veo sus flag
y I no want
to disrespect.
Pero este land,
es para todos, ¿no?
¿Estados Unidos-
did I miss algo?
We share well
take muy poco
y damos mucho.
Mi sarape de colores muchos
es mi cloak
de invisibilidad.
¿Porqué no me ve
cuando quiere
pero ahora me ve?
I no want problemas.
62

the death of Arnold

My best friend Arnold died,
he was only nine and three quarters.
In a white casket laid and his hair
was combed for once.
His lips painted
(he should only have known)
Rouge on pale cheeks.

Arnold was going up to Jesus, that's
what the grownup said; he didn't
Look as he was going anywhere
I felt embarrassed the way they
had dolled him up.

Death is strange I knew it was Arnold,
but was aware he was an empty shell
mother hung the picture on the wall,
a reminder, she said.
When my brother died she took
the picture down.

63

The Watcher

Diez y Seis,
A star encrusted night,
Cocooned beneath his poncho,
He breathed in the scents of chillies being cooked in walnut sauce,
Chiles en nogada, his childhood favouite,
The working day was over,
He could forget the endless war against the Chichuahan Desert,
The battle to make things grow and find things to harvest in the arid                                                                                                                land,
Creosote leaves to collect and sell to use as tea,
Prickly pear fruit to ferment and make the delicious navai’t drink,
Despite his aching back, he was content,
A wife, children, good health and the fellowship of his friends,
It was his world,
Small, enclosed and free from the burden of discontent.

Now was his time,
He listened to the sounds of scurrying night creatures,
Caught the musical sounds of endearments whispered with caressing                                                                                                        voices,
Heard the joyful strumming of a guitar,
Dancers calling out to each other with delight,
He strained his eyes and saw the shadow of an armadillo as it passed by,
All was well in his tiny patch of the world,
He drank in and was nourished by all that Life’s fiesta could offer, and felt restored.

64

One blanket, no shoes

We are many, I am just one,
who have no days to number
no nights to sleep.

Find us on the trail of
discarded shoes, hiding in the green
washed by the soil.

Desperate to be found
but afraid of the finding:
the casting aside.

Heavy with weary acceptance
and watching through hooded eyes.
I am just one

who sulks 'neath a sombrero
shadowing a sensuous longing
to notice if you notice me.

65

Calle Perú, Arequipa

Confounded travellers
expecting dancing and salchichas for a welcome,
instead find the casual trade
of plastics, textiles, and bodies
soundtracked by buzzsaw traffic.

This doorway of mine
inset from thoroughfare
and footfall,
gives me room to watch the passing
misioneros, ingenieros, gringos,
to chart the landscape of their Pizarro faces, conquered by this street's world.

Blanketed here, I am closed
like a national border
like an Aymara song
like a bloody history,
I am a world away from those who pass,
heading for the market on Calle Perú.

66

I Only

Wanted to be safe
like the turtle in her armored shell
to sit in my good red blanket
and enormous hat
with only the smallest
real potential
for any hook to catch my eye
and rip me down
spilling me
out of my wool cocoon
the one I thought so warm and bright
and good enough to hide in
even on the open corner
of a busy street
where there is no mercy
and no one begs
forgiveness
67

Serape Man

There is vibrancy in the colors he wears.
rich deep red, lifeblood, energy.
Autumnal orange, passion, a glowing.
Dark earthy colors, a contrast, rootedness.

There is vibrancy in his being.
piercing eyes, alert, and wary.
a set to the jaw, face full of expression.
Body positioned to move,
legs coiled to jump.

Vibrancy in the plant life behind him
green, growing, healthy, healthful
ripened fruits ready to drop.
Endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Yet a sadness, a contradiction.
Sorrow and weariness, anger and defeat.
He has seen too much, enjoyed too little.
Life is hard, survival grim.

Can one be both vibrant and dispirited?
Have hope, and live in despair?
The Serape Man can answer your question
If you only take time to hear.

68

Hiding in Plain Sight

bones ache
mind break
a cloak for all seasons?
a hat for none.

Shifting spaces
Darting faces
The whole world through a gap?
A view with some room.

A shoulder
Something older
So much that is seen?
Nothing known

Hidden skies
Word to the wise?
But nothing is heard
From one so near

69

Black is the Color (after tradition)

Black is the color of my true love’s hair,
his face now hidden in despair,
eyes turned aside, hands folded in--
I wonder why and where he’s been.
I speak his name—but does he hear
the love I hold, the loss I fear?
My dreams are fading like the day--
he will not go, he will not stay.
Red is the color he’s wrapped around
the form unmoving on the ground--
if he would smile, if he would tell--
I know him not under this spell.
And should I leave to mourn and weep?
or should I stay, a vigil keep?
The night is long, the shadows dark
that fill my tears and choke my heart.
Black is the color of my true love’s hair,
his face now hidden in despair,
eyes turned aside, hands folded in--
I wonder why and where he’s been.
70

Nightscape

Night came early
and wrapped me tightly
in his brown arms
each breath he drew
was slow
slow
and he exhaled me
away from here
so I slept in a foreign place
amid cactus and stone
forehead pressed to the burnt umber
of his chest
rising
rising and falling
swathed in a blanket thick as blood.
71

Lacunal and Arid, A Most Unwelcome Breath

Let's forget about toes. When there are mountains in sight, we don't care about green. We don't care about the whiteness of our blouses. There's an eyeing in the jungle. Juggling the paddles, counting the blossoms, slobbering undercover, sobbing in the shed. We posit invisibility; we advance superpowers. We are frequently disappointed. We have mountains and wool from Minnesota. How has it traveled? Where do we breach the lake? What is the point of a lake in the desert, when a version of yourself can't swim?
72

The Tired Mexican

A lonely figure on a windy afternoon.
Shuffled in from an unforgiving border.
With Sombrero on head walked in a saloon.
Looking fierce with an app for disorder.

Being snuggled around a bright red shawl.
While piercing eyes peep beneath his rustic hat.
And a strong worn nose suggesting a brawl.
Whereas he didn't look ready for that.

But as he started to sort himself out.
He spoke a fear of a disturbing structure.
And how this wall is causing ambiguous doubt.
Which if built will divide an old culture.

A weary tiresome voice turns to the crowd.
With pleading words "don't let it be allowed."

73

I’ll be watching you.

Apparently its takes 100,000 insects to make a kilogram of cochineal which would indeed colour the fabric and shape the folds and track the shadow pathways. Stripes were always going to be optional and wide primed hats added that extra dimension. Beneath those folds I felt that the hidden box should have been squarely placed out front as it were. So compositionally the dominant features shone through hiding a multitude of worries and small facial details.
74

Wanted

I'm so high right now. Is that a cop? This fucking cactus is killing my back. Shit, I need the bathroom...but I can't move. I think he sees me. Don't come over here. No wait! Just be cool. Act like everything's ok. Wait, everything is ok, isn't it? Oh man, I'm fucked up. I need a cervesa. The cop is standing in front of that bar. As soon as he leaves I'm in! Nice, he's leaving! I'm going! Sweet! I'm in! What's this on the tv? This man is wanted. Last seen wearing a sombrero and a red blanket. Fuck this I'm out! Wepa!
75

Pablo’s Red Poncho

The night had grown eerily quiet, except for the murmur of voices from the others. The world is like that; when you anticipate that something is about to occur, then it seems all manner of strange things happen right in that very moment. This is how Pablo felt crouched behind that huge Cactus, its needles stabbing him in the back every time he flinched or twitched. He had slid his poncho from his back about 2 hours ago and huddled into it- shelter from the onslaught of night time dust that flew through like swallows in the sky and pecked at his eyes. The only thing he regretted was the colour – it was his smartest poncho in a bright rip roaring red colour that he was afraid would give away his hiding spot should the men come back this way.

However, he had made sure to pick the biggest cactus as defence and as he squinted out into the night under his wide sombrero he heard a gunshot. First one, then two and then a whole chorus. The others were beginning to stir, the gunshot unsettling their nerves. The men were coming. Pablo pulled his toes into the security of his poncho and shrunk into the prickles of the cactus, despite the pain.

76

MY RED COMFORTER

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 a myriad view, each with unique flannel patterns
Every fold, each little block has a story to tell
As memories flow and these folds entwine,
It becomes a work of art, that only grows more precious with the bounty of years.
77

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

in 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)

78

Prickly Pear Stare

At sun-death he returns,
the man on the corner
in el pueblo, perching
at night, squat as a statue
until sunrise.

The wives talk; say he hides
something behind that blood-
red blanket and prickly pear
stare. Who knows what
mystery he keeps so close?

They whisper he’s an assassin
from the Medellín cartel
come to kill us in our sleep;
but who knows?
We never see his face.

79

A MAN’S FEET

when you have travelled a long-long way
and need some rest at the end of a day
crawl in under your sombrero
cover yourself from head to toe
lock out the world

point your feet towards the night
pray someone will offer you a bite
there isn’t much to do before sleep
when a man’s on the road; happy the feet
when he takes a rest

where will the new day lead when it dawns?
while at home your wife will harvest the corn
and dream about the treasures you may bring
both of you will have had enough of the sun’s sting
when your feet gets back to her bed

80

Son of the Original Sin

You will expect long hours, sleeplessness
insomnia befriends those who haunt the witching hours
you do not expect your toes to feel frigid like frozen shrimps
you already cover yourself well with a history

of men tiring recklessly under the sun,
cultivating cactus the way women raise children
with care, with a watchful eye, with fury
yet jovially sing with maracas by midnight

these are the wild grips of home, clasping on your throat
exile is hard, it has its own language

Blessed, are you, even with a cloth around your mouth
it doesn't keep you from speaking; with long vowels
with thick thistle needles poking onto your back,
with a limp in the words even when you master the language of service

this is what happens to a folded past,
it open us up when we least except it

Original son of the original sin
why did you have to make the cross?
between the wires your skin is a cross of your own bearing
for foreign adjectives will disguise your kindness

your features are harsh, you hands are rougher than most,
but they say the roughest hands reveal the gentlest hearts

Read more >

81

Mexico City September 2017

‘You must come,’ his sister had said. ‘You’re the eldest now. The most senior. The family need you.’
So Mateo left his goats and sheep on the summer pastures up in the mountains. Miguel took in his dog and promised to keep an eye on the livestock.
‘It’ll only be for a few days. You know how it is with family. A new baby. Celebrations. Tradition.’
‘It’s expected,’ replied Miguel, waving farewell.
Taking his few coins and a handful of the windflowers his sister loved, Mateo trudged down into the dusty, noisy city. The family was pleased to see him and despite himself he enjoyed the visit. There was good food, plentiful wine, laughter with old friends and distant cousins. He was introduced to his great niece - his sister’s first grandchild, a new generation. A blessing for their family.
The full house made it easy for him to slip out in the evening, to find a spot where he could sleep beneath the stars, where he could pretend to be on the mountain pastures, his dog at his side. Which is how he came to be asleep in the square in the shelter of an old pine when the earthquake struck. when the ground shuddered and the buildings crumbled.

Now he sits beside the prickly pear, his scarlet blanket wrapped around him and the dreaming baby. The rest have all been accounted for, pulled lifeless from the rubble. Only one body remains; the rescuers say they will recover Mateo’s sister tomorrow, but for now their priority is to care for the living.
His too. He and this small mewing infant, they are the oldest and the youngest, all that is left of their family. And as he cradles his niece, he wonders what will become of them.

82

Bandera

I am the counterweight to Rivera's
virgin,
her lithe and naked back turned to you, her voyeur,
as she kneels before the cannas.

She conceals nothing but her face and breasts,
and everything else that you would touch.
You ache for her to reveal it all.

I, who am only too aware that I have no allure,
repel you even with my naked feet,
snake-like eyes, eagle's beak.

I, who have much to hide
let it all hang out beneath the disguise
of a trite sombrero, a clichéd sarape.

There are no tender lilies in my background
only the spikes of opuntia, stabs of agave,
but I defy you: take down that impostor

from the pale walls of your northern penthouse,
hang me there instead to fly the colours
of my flag. It is her flag too.

83

While Buzzards Soar

Bundled in the shade of a no horse town,
my shoulders itch with bites and a coarse blanket
woven from hype and holiday brochures. My eyes
carry clouds with Latin names, declaimed by geeks
and meteorologists, lexicographers of the mundane.

Reflected in spoons, the weather’s the wrong shape,
scuffing the scorch of a high sun blistering
miles of abandoned tarmac, tough as armadillos,
unforgiving as a dead-eyed rattler,
warping through endless cacti-scratched haze.

I consider my options in small change, worthless
coins with neither heads nor tails. Maybe
I’ll shave my head, burn my city clothes.

84

Mexican Standoff

Just why am I here?
What's the meaning of life?
How many mojitos?
How much tequila?
Why THIS sombrero?...
...And WHY this poncho?
(This stage set is so clichéd,
So Spaghetti Western...)
Where's the stag party guests?
What time is my wedding?
Why are my feet so cold?
Where AM I exactly?!
85

Opuntia

Night falls slow under the prickly pear
it is time to stir maize meal, roll tortilla,
keep one eye on the fire.
Poor man’s supper -
no cheese or meat to fill my quesadilla
just nopales pounded
with corn kernels and dried chilli
red as a setting sun.
I’ll wrap them in corn leaf
set them in the ashes to broil
while I attend to the horse.
I long for a pot of chocolate
but water is scarce here
and the light is running downhill
taking the warmth with it.
I keep some of the day’s heat
in my thick skirts - cactus-shadow blue
the same colour as the mountains
the same colour as a guan wing.
Once the chores are done
I’ll ask old Hawkface to move over
share his blanket.
He sits there silent, watchful
sparks in his eyes
always on look out.
But I’m the one who sees the fireflies
I’m the one who sees the eagle
overhead.
86

from here

So what if I don't know enough
Immediately I think Muralists
I think difficult relationships
and self portraits
I think maybe that says too much about me
about what I don't know
about what I don't know to say about the really important stuff
the things people know not to say
the things people know to say because they mean other things
because then you know they're people who know
people who haven't been wasting their time
people who are at the heart of things
not out here looking in
watching.
But sometimes I do do things.
I come down out of here
and I do things
say hello
and return
but it's getting more difficult
to say hello
and what I do
disappears
and out here I do things things nobody sees
or some people see
but I'm not from out here either
I'm from over there
and the things I do out here from over there
aren't
and I am not
87

The Lament of the Sombrero Man

This sombrero and this shawl -
these worn-out slippers
are my only possessions.
I squat in the dark
at night -
the cactuses keep me company.
During the day
I sell myself piecemeal
and yearn for that night
which brings with it a new dawn.
As I squat wrapped in this shawl,
No shelter, no fire to keep me
warm
my eyes await the sight
of that revolution
that nowhere, never erupts.
88

Scarlet Tanager

I’m not being myself at this time,
hunkered down
in this spot.
My feet and hat aren’t real, the eyes are.
An amateur ornithologist
could tell I’m a Scarlet Tanager -
and yes, you heard those words correctly...
I’ve carried the good language with me
to freely share with you on your terms,
I’ve been watching as you sally out
behind your walls, before sharing a
troy ounce of what I could be saying.
I’m not the ripest tomato here,
sun-dried after nights in the rain, but
if I've learnt things about anything
whilst watching everything heading south,
recording friends making their ways north
it’s you’ve got to be better than your barriers.
89

Handmade

The nights can be cold here; that's why I made the blanket. After dark, when the frost begins to creep along the meat of the cacti, we usually retreat indoors and warm our fingertips by the fire.
        But tonight is special. Tonight is end of dia de los muertos, the day of the dead.
        I spent all morning setting up our family altar – arranging the flowers, framing the photographs, cutting up the paper decorations – and all afternoon kneading the pan de muerto and stuffing the tamales. When the time came to light the candles, my hands were trembling. But they would have trembled anyway, this year, with the newest photograph on the altar.
       I made the blanket months ago because I knew I would be cold. Knew we would linger out in the street after returning from the graveyard, drinking with the neighbours and toasting the deceased long into the night. Last year, when we finally went back indoors, I was chilled to the bone. So, not this year.
       Back in spring I dug out a woollen dress that belonged to my mother. I found the end of the thread and unravelled it, then rolled the ravellings up into balls. In summer I took out my needles and began to knit the wool into something new. Just a simple rectangle, one colour with a few stripes; I am not very skilled. The blanket was finished by autumn, so I folded it carefully and tucked it under the bed until the festival.
       We went to the graveyard this evening. Left our offerings and sang our songs. When we came home the party was waxing, out in the street. The tequila did nothing to warm me. Eventually, while the men raised another toast, I managed to slip into the house to fetch the blanket. But when I reached under the bed, the blanket was gone.
Read more >
90

The Keeper

No one who stepped into the kitchen could miss the painting. It was redder than the glow from the fireplace. Shocked into silence, I held on to the cabinet. Careful, he said, mirth in his tone. The snow fell outside steadily, a door banged in the night and Poncho howled to be let in.

I felt those toes, the waiting had frozen them, their nails grubby but cut across straight. How long had he waited? The night was colder in December than it was now. A short, withered woman had sold me that red serape. She had an armload of them, their fringes covering her legs so that it appeared as if she was floating within a brightly pool. 
Why was the dog named Poncho? Another of those weird coincidences that have been following me ever since I set out looking for him. And here he was, on the wall, captured, sitting just as I had last seen him with that large hat covering up his bald head, the red serape wrapped him up snug. Those toes were sticking out, why didn’t I see them that day? My best friend, the man I depended upon to get me out of that cannibal village. He had waited for me to come out of the trench where I had stored my small camera and accessories. My story had been almost done when I had done a cardinal mistake. A mistake that had caused several lives to be lost. 

Sanchez was pouring out a tumbler of wine. He was amused to know that I was in pursuit of a native from his hometown. Had he brought me here knowing who I was? But I had told no one about my ordeal. Neither had I told anyone that the man in the painting was Poncho. The name and the man, in this blazing room, and a namesake beating upon the door — all the signs but I was too tired to think. The wine soothed me, I sunk down next to the fire and stared at the painting, through my hair falling over my face. 


Who was Sanchez? One of the cannibals? The danger seemed to recede. Sleep drugged my eyelids. Later, things would be clearer. Read more >

91

Decipherers

As I crossed a deserted land the sky blasted. Massive crowds were expected on the road. Those bloodthirsty biters, ‘the zombies’, were everywhere. I heard their moans from a distance and commenced running, looking for the guide whom I was promised. Nobody was there and I was running out of food and water. I wondered where the dark complexioned man in red poncho was.

I drank the last drop of my bottled water and fell on the ground. A moving sombrero was approaching me. I just saw a pair of flip-flops standing next to my head. He stretched out his hand. I hesitated but recalled that a zombie would never do that. As I caught his hand and stood up, he adjusted his red poncho and stared at me. I felt too exhausted to ask where we had to go, trying hard not to tremble.

He pointed to a river without saying a word. I reminded him that I never swam. He smirked and commenced walking ahead. I had no choice except to follow him obediently. A tropical sky replaced the agitated one as we hiked across the desert. I didn’t know whether that was a mirage or the promised destination.

Next to the river, there was neither a boat nor a canoe. The screaming crowd who wanted to cross the river scared me. Zombies and the normal, both frightened me with their howls and cries.

My silent guide took off his flip-flops and hit the water. As I struggled to float in the water, the guide gently started walking on it. People were drowning in the river and I plunged deeply into the water. Deep down in the river my reflection blinked at me and pushed me to the surface. I took a deep breath and looked for the guide. He was not there but I was walking on water. I found his red poncho and sombrero on the other side. I put them on and entered a new land.

92

El Amanecer

Just before the dawning, you crouch, hideout,
settle in for a bit.

You're still warming to the idea of rising.
There's a chill on the horizon, and a crimson

weariness cloaks your emergence.
Not all daybreaks are sanguine, sometimes

they're bittersweet, even bloodshot.
Beneath your broad-brimmed hat, you take

a few more winks. But soon, you'll awaken,
stretch your rays, yawn in bursts of gold

and amber, throw your cobija and sombrero
to the heavens, because you're el amanecer,
and a star in your own light.

93

The Boat

The boat seemed already full but there were still at least 200 people pushing and shoving on the beach. The boatsman was giving orders to his crew and yelling to the people who were already on the boat to make some space.

Move to the back, you fucking morons! Move back!

His men started to push the men, women and children towards the stern.

Are all those people supposed to fit on this tiny, ramshackle boat? wondered Naja. She was searching the beach for more boats but there weren’t any. She didn’t dare to ask. The boatsman and his helper weren’t very patient when it came to questions. The other passengers were mostly men with savage eyes; she tried to avoid any form of contact. They reminded her of hungry, stalking hyenas. She trembled in the cold evening breeze.

The other passengers seemed to share her worries.

Is that the boat? Are you serious? We paid five thousand bucks! complained a young man.

Fine gentleman can stay here if he doesn’t like it. The boatsman’s position was clear. As the last person was on the boat it was so stuffed there was hardly any space to move.

Naja still trembled though she was surrounded by warm bodies. She ignored the thought to abolish her plan to leave the country, to forget about the five thousand dollars it took her parents three years to save and just run back home.

She got distracted by the view of a chubby man. He wore a massive wide brimmed hat and an artfully woven, woollen gown in bright red. He was not so much chubby as he was broad and solid. Read more >

94

Leaving a Thief

Today you sit, all karmic chill and healthy beach-pumiced toes. Our eyes meet, with no flicker of acknowledgement. #lifesaver #poverty-sucks #holiday-nightmare. I know you’ve recognised me. You sit invisible between dusty sands and tourist’s wealth. As I pass, you shuffle backward toward shade.

Opportunistically you dip that hawk’s profile into the red wiry fluff of the tartan blanket. Hearing you sniff, I know the scent. It’s my cologne you smell. It wasn’t the softest blanket. I returned it in good faith. It was still as “itchy scratchy” as it was over the nakidity of my goosebumps. This morning you had spoken in monotone but your teeth flashed a grin, as you handed me your kaftan.

“You can go to jail if you’re caught like that.”

Kasandra had been the she-devil I’d hankered for. Limbs too long, hair too blonde. She already had a reputation as a stallion tamer. For a year my purpose had been to entertain her. An insane courtship to capture a feral creature, but instead she caught me. Once a lothario, eventually I was fawning to serve her. By attempting to own her, I had caged myself. My virility waned as spontaneity was replaced by planning. She languished and toyed with my obsession. Hourly changing her mind as I fought to please her.

In the beginning we laughed, walked in step, shared the hi-jinx. But the more we gelled the further she pushed. I no longer knew myself. My life was her amusement. My ways of wooing were now lame. Booking this trip was my make-or-break. We were already broken, unfixable.

Shrieking, splashing, sandals in hand, she dragged me down to the beach, to the water’s edge. Called me chicken. Stripped down to knickers and less, she beckoned from the waves. So delicious. Read more >

95