Mexico

 

Howling at the Moon (Mexico City to Oaxaca)


who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, / who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York ...     -- Allen Ginsberg (Howl, 1955) 

 

Who, with dreams of emerald waves

and sands of talcum white

took a plane from the land of the ice and snow

to the land of mariachis and margaritas?

Who imagined himself engraved on a palm leaf

drifting in the warm dusk

yet instead landed in the freezing rain

in a long cold corridor of the Mexico City Airport

where he waited thirty minutes

cursing for a cab?

Who, like a Scrooge who had given Scottish tips all his life

foresaw a vision of the afterlife

in the guise of an angry taxi driver

a Formula One Charon

smoking over turnpikes

and down black alleys of asphalt

at last jamming on the breaks

outside the Maria Cristina Hotel?

Who was battered by the oar of Charon

and flew headlong into his bed

in the Hotel of Freezing Steel

no coolitas or doorman to be seen

remembering now that he was in a city 

larger than most countries

with layers beneath it

like the Templo Mayor

where thousands of slaves and captives

were sacrificed before the arrival of Cortes

himself a master of typhoid and sword

all that ancient slaughter

fermenting beneath the present mayhem

of Michoacan and Sonora

the drug wars against the narcotraficantes

and the beheadings in Tijuana

 

All these he dreamed the first night

after Charon drove him to his hotel

mixed with memories of a previous trip 

when he was robbed at knifepoint

in a market on Calle de Jesús María 

made him decide to forego a second look at Chapultepec

and head instead for the southern hills

 

So he made his way to the TAPO bus station

with its huge slabs of circular cement

and ribs of steel exposed to the freezing air

where he had two hours to burn

if only he could find a candle or a heat lamp

(what good were those Bermuda shorts now?)

or an enclosed cafeteria

 

Who was left shivering in front of the Churches Chicken

gnawing on a steaming cob of corn?

Who then despaired of travel

and of staying home?

Who was about to recite Baudelaire´s "Le Voyage"

to the shoe shine man -- Leave if you must,

Stay if you can! -- but was miraculously saved

by a Gran Lujo bus

its Hollywood movies and bathroom

and heat?

 

Who, with de-congealed soul and new-found circulation

felt his blood rising to his frozen brain

and with eyes wide open saw

in the cubed reality of a bobbing TV set Penelope Cruz

licking the neck of Catherine Zeta-Jones

in the back room of a cantina

as the bus headed for the Panamerican Highway

one big traffic jam

stretching from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego

 

Who lumbered past Walmarts and gas stations

past mezcal refineries

and advertisements for Babel

Las Manos de Orlac and Under the Volcano

past endless corrugated tin huts

rising upward to the hills

the Gran Lujo bus moved eastward

along sea-sick stretches of wavy asphalt

and gulfs of tar

and toll highways surrealistically smooth

through the misty green mountains of a nature preserve

past forests of phallic cacti

and retaining walls of molten concrete

with the sun winking through the clouds

a seductive buenas tardes from the skies

 

Who six hours later

as the sun fell into its blanket of gauze

slid into Oaxaca City

hopped into a waiting cab

glided downhill to the Hotel Real de Antequera

less than half a block from the zócalo

that vast square where cars give way to cafés

 

Who saw that the zócalo was in fact part of a double square

with a rotunda next to a seventeenth century church

poinsettias everywhere and not a car to be seen

or heard or smelt

because the trees above him were enormous

and the wind drifts in and out of them

a green bellows in the heart of the city

 

Who realized that there is nothing left to do

but eat baked chicken in a dark chocolate sauce

which of course doesn’t make any sense

except that he was in Mexico

and couldn't deny

even with all his snobbery for Italy and France

that the sauce was spicy and smooth

 

But still the French in him lingered

Camus with his water slipping through your fingers

like meaning

Car si j'essaie de saisir ce moi dont je m'assure,

si j'essaie de le définir et de le résumer,

il n'est plus qu'une eau qui coule entre mes doigts.

as he listened to the marimba band

and the old man with the sad face

who played the saxophone

as he rolled his complimentary peanuts in the lime juice

that he squeezed lethargically into the dish

while drinking Acapulco Punches and Bin Ban Booms

he still couldn't quite kick the existential gloom

as, Tom Collinized, he rolled the eternal peanut

up the slope of the peanut dish

the moments still ticked by

here or there

the numbers shifted and ticked

and he knew that he would never know why

until the vast eons of time called him

somewhere above the trees in the black sky

 

Who, motivated by some vague urge, stood up

grey-bearded

and wandered into the moist mystical night air of the zócalo

where each dark trunk wore a stocking of lights

and all around him were mariachis and xylophone players

and then a little Indian girl (where was her mother?)

who with an ill-tuned accordion screeched to the stars

in tatters

and threatened to turn his mystical stroll

into the running of the bulls in his head

complete with fist fights and angry capes

 

Who suddenly stopped him with a skinny hand

and begged him to buy a pair of sunglasses

adding one more guilty spoke

to his luminescent tourist crown

with his piteous tale of cheap wholesale sun-glass dealers

and giant carrion birds and corrupt officials

but all he could think about were the girls

with breasts the size of Salma Hayek

and dark shady characters

hanging outside the entrance of the Benito Juárez market

and stray dogs with persecution complexes

followed by clever dogs pretending to be Beat poets

and dark-skinned girls with greasy, greasy hair

who were so disturbing that he bumped right into a blind shoe-shine man

who coughed

as if to remind him where he was

You're in a public space.

This isn’t your living room -- cuidado!

and he remembered that he was in the zócalo

talking to Tiresias

who was scolding him like a cheshire cat

while above them the stars pick their predetermined tangents through the dark night

beaming their uncertain wisdom to the sea-green leaves in the air

 

High above them the wavy mops of hair

shook in the wind

their glowing arachnid bodies swaying

to the languid rhythm of the stars

 

 

Don Julio and the Señorita (Guadalajara) 

 

Don Julio, gran patrón del Agave

traveled back to the land of his ancestors

 

He entered an Andalusian bar and tipped his wooden cap

to the slim woman in the red dress

and said, My name is Julio, Don Julio.

I am, of course, not to be confused with my cousin, Don Mescal

after which he ordered two snifters

drawn from the nectar of his Mexican soul

stirred, not shaken

 

Doña Julia’s eyes widened

long lashes batted in the cool currents of her Córdoba fan

and the smoke of his Cuban cigar drifted

into a fine and completely soluble oblivion

taking her away in an instant to the sunlight of the New World

to the red earth of Viñales where the good tobacco comes from

and to the plazas of Guadalajara

several hours from the town of Tequila

and to the corner of Juárez and Jardín

in the silver city of Guanajuato

in the year 1600

in the month of December

while Shakespeare and Cervantes are in their creative madness

the Spanish Armada only recently sunk

 

Don Julio said to the maiden, I do not, of course

expect you to believe all of this magic

as if time itself could slip

like a negligée at the fall of night

to find yourself in another story

blasted by shooters of Sauza Blanco

or bottles of holy San Miguel

into another time-zone;

to find yourself in the days of errant knights gone by

after nights dazed with Porto grog

 

Here Don Julio stopped, and shed a tear

to think of all the port that had escaped from honest Iberians

and ended up in the gullets of the English

with their canons and their Francis Drake

to think of all its divine sweetness

transported far from its natural borders

over the rough northern seas

to the foul-mouthed English

with their Puritanism and their Protestantism

their canons and Henry the Eighth

 

Cursing all the future gringos of the world, Don Julio added

that the only decent thing that would ever come from that nation of pirates

would really come from Spain: Byron’s Don Juan

its author so disgusted by the freckled phantoms of the Teutonic noon

so filled with self-loathing

that his only choice was to sleep with his own half-sister

to seal his exile and then curse the land of his birth

for having made him do it

vowing never to return

better to live in glorious exile

from the land of gloom and doom

and take up de Molina’s quill

let drop for 200 years (give or take a Mozart)

and bring back the bright Córdoba sun

and silver-tinged Andalusian night

 

Doña Julia closed her eyes

taking it all into her brain

as the liquid fell down her throat

as the tequila whirled across her soul

and the clear green juice of the lime

washed away the longing and the pain

 

Don Julio added, I don’t expect you to believe

(but she did)

that light can drift from stars

that eyes are lights that dance

and dreams are stones that burn

ruby red

el corazon

deeper than this body of yours

this delicious body of tears

 

At this point Julia’s head reeled

over to the bar

where a buff young caballero

was bragging at the top of his voice

about the goal he scored in last night’s match

Guadalajara 3, Mantarrayas de Acapulco 2

 

She strolled over to him and said, ¡Callate!      /     Shut up!

Otro trago de tequila, por favor.      /     Another shot of tequila, please.

 

----------

Next: Cuba

Back to the top of this page

Poetry Contents