Sunday, June 27, 2010

To Have and Have Not

(The following poems were composed on napkins over the course of three very late evenings in the cafés along Canal Street in Taichung, Taiwan.)

The first thing I remember
She was laughing
I’d landed on my back
Staring up at the blue sky
Puffs of white clouds
Rolling overhead
Rusted bicycle wheels still spinning in creaks
Next to the broken wooden fence
At the bottom of the green grassy slope.
I hadn’t stopped in time
Wind and sound coming back
To my lungs and ears
Her voice
Roaring as she raced to me from above.
“You’re crazy. I love you.
You’re crazy.”
We picnicked there beneath the maple
By the river
And she played Claire De Lune
On her guitar
While I laid at her feet and marveled
At her hands
Such small hands
That carried away all my desire.
For the last month I have been sleeping in hotel rooms
Nothing but the best
Room service at 4 a.m.
Lounging poolside on the wooden adirondack during sunbreaks
Sending my shirts to be ironed
By the Taiwanese men with thin moustaches
While we wait out the rain.
On the balcony you gave me a gift
Wrapped in a long slender box.
You said, “A man should wear a necktie to work.
Who are these men that think they
Can teach in short pants?
What man wears short pants?”
You stand me in front of the mirror like I am your child.
“This is a Windsor knot. My Abuelo taught me.”
I keep my lips quiet, trying not to laugh at your accent.
“What? What I say?”
Too late
I am upon you.
That night in the café we watched the futbol
The Portuguese have arrived on the field
With their oiled hair glistening in the rain
Chiseled faces
And chests
Their heroes standing motionless during the anthem
It is a rout
7 to 0
They keep him on the pitch to score
The one in the magazines sun bathing on yachts
And necking with the models in nightclubs
That one.
He has not touched the back of the net for country
In two years
His goal is the fifth that evening
Comical and foppish
Losing the pelota over his shoulder in that beautiful mane
Of glistening hair
Before straightening his feet
He cannot miss from there
Cheers erupt from the stadium crowd who have waited
For this moment
While the Koreans from the north weep
For they have shamed their country
And will be sent to the labor camps to hammer rocks upon
Returning home.
(Obsessed by Hemingway at an early age, I found this quote underlined in an old book this weekend.)

“I kissed her and saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backwards as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with other officers.” - Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

The young man followed me
Into the bathroom to tell me
His secrets
“I think I am the kind of man
Who could lead a double life,”
He said.
“But I am not the type to talk to a woman
For hours in the afternoon
Just to make love to her throughout the night.”
He lit a cigarette and threw the match
On the wet cement floor
While I washed my hands
And the fluorescent light flickered.
Outside the café
Above the walls
The cicadas wailed
“You, on the other hand, look to be both.”
I dry the water from my fingers shaking them in the air
“But this woman is not a mistress,” I add.
The man exhaled slowly. “No? How then does a man talk to a woman for hours if not in hope to make love to her?”
I left him standing in his own cloud of smoke.
In the park
I watch the father and son
Throw the ball back and forth
The man refusing to move or lift his arms
As the ball sails past his glove
Jerking a thumb
And scowling at the ground
While the boy chases after the errant sphere.
That morning at the Windsor Club
The girls and I sit
In the bubbling jet tub
Seven stories above the city
Holding baby snails in our hands
Seemingly fallen from the sky.
Later we dolphin dive in the rooftop pool
And hold our breath under water
Staring at one another through gogglers
Trying not to laugh
And send bubbles up our noses.
You will never need to chase after my affection
My darling ones
It is here
I have captured it for you
“Listen,” I told him. “Don’t be so tough so early in the morning. I’m sure you’ve cut plenty of people’s throats. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.” - Hemingway, To Have and Have Not

In the early dawn we walk along the canal
Taking pictures
There is no one left to see.
You hold my hand and let go
And I whisper to you with my eyes.
The children will awake soon
We must get back
I have just told you
Everything is a veiled attempt at seduction.
“And if you never succeed?”
You ask, sitting on the back of the motor scooter
Wrapping your arms and legs around me
like a koala.
I turn the key and rev the little motor.
The other day in the classroom
I stand in front of the faces and speak
The children listen to everything.
I tell them
Write as if you are looking at each word like a lover for the first time in your life
Write as if tomorrow you will die
Write as if you are drowning and only words can save you.
The next day you came to my school and never left
Watching me hop up and down like a man possessed
Leaping on desks
Drawing maps in chalk and singing choruses
Quoting Hemingway saying, “All American literature comes from one novel.”
Now you understand.
You say, “You live your life like a poem, don’t you?
You say there are only two things to write about
But all your poems are about love?”
Si. Si, amor
I answer
“That is because I welcome death, but live in fear of the other.”
We lay on the bed and I tell you
When I was a boy I dreamed in Hemingway
Mother had a copy of
The Sun Also Rises and
Farewell to Arms
On the shelf and I sat on the back deck
In the fading light and heard the words so clear.
Later in my boyhood room at the old electric typewriter
I would try my hand at poetry
Writing like Hemingway about
Scotch poured from decanters
The sound of eggs frying lightly in grease
Shooting cigarettes from the lips of matadors over Pellegrino
In the hot Madrid sun.
Into the night I would type
Pounding the keys in a symphony
Drifting off to sleep in the chair
While Ernest whispered in my ear.
From a letter written June 11, 1991
I found stashed in an old book this morning
To a lost love I never sent
“She lay on the bed and listened to the train pass by the city.
She listened to the train and thought about the boy.
She thought about the boy and listened to the train.”
I would awake breathing hard
Staring at the walls
Hearing Hemingway in my ears
And for some reason unknown to me still
Compelled more strongly than anything I have ever known
Or felt or desired
I began typing
Trying to make music again
With my hands.

1 comment:

  1. Thought you said you didn't write about death? Still not going to teach Old Man and The Sea no matter what you say.