When we were in Once, the buildings stretched straight up towards the sky and hemmed us in like great walls. The streets a maze that extended towards infinity in all directions. If there is an end to the city, I haven't seen it. We have since moved to Palermo, where every corner is a cafe and the smell of a hundred restaurants keeps saliva in your mouth. Meat grills, empanadas bake.
Down the streets that are still cobbled run metal rails that once carried cable cars when the city was young and promising. Great trees line the sidewalks instead of the piles of garbage like the heap of rags that a homeless couple had burrowed into and fallen asleep.
The house is large and international. The girl from France speaks Spanish with a Porteño accent, and the Brasileña barely speaks English at all. She is learning and loves to practice with the British couple and the two girls from Seattle. Nobody really talks to the woman from Korea because she only speaks her own language. Now we are here in our rooms with our things and our ways, and means.
Argentina has beautiful daughters who know how to carry themselves.
Posted by JFM at 7:18 PM
Don't worry, my dear, don't fret. These things will hold themselves together.
The season changed from winter to spring in an odd transition that saw all of the cold feeling that I harbored go unrequited. How could I write great poetry if snow becomes a memory? White, wet, cold...that is all I remember. I have photographs though that make me think, perhaps, that there is a beauty in the desolation. Maybe there are portents in the way the wind moves great clouds of tree pollen through the city, coating everything in a hue that evokes vomit.
There was no way I would be able to dress for occasions anymore. It is impossible to be fashionable in sweat. We were doing so well in our coats.
Here now was a girl...a girl because being a girl implies innocence and don't we all wish we were...
Here she is and here we are, beneath an oddly warm sky that beckons interaction.
How long have I known you? A long time. A long time.
God have mercy on everyone, and maybe a little more on me.
The story of our youth is like the cracks in the pavement. When the road is cool--though it is seldom so--it contracts and pulls within itself as if to indicate that insulation is the whole of being. Yet, as the sun lingers...heat. Heat. Now that same space is expanding in an angry way that ruptures and breaks. This is the nature of roads. This is the nature of hearts.
Posted by JFM at 12:08 AM
There is a magic in the way a people, a place can translate into a sound. A music that itself embodies its creators so fully that it takes on a new life, like a child born. I have watched the face of a woman sing with the same unconditional love for her song that radiates from a mother's eyes when she cradles her newborn; warm and fragile and everything we believe when we first hear the word promise.
Sometimes in smoky dens. The night is lighter outside than where we sit, huddled around a small table within a crowd that shapes like water to its barriers. The band had yet to play and it was then you called her a Philistine after you had read the words gouged into the black paint of the wall--
Too much sex, too little Jesus.
I held my own thoughts close, because here was a place to marvel. To listen. Nothing about our years was a comfort. Even the little slips of paper that you would drunkenly pass to me from your fortune cookies seemed to mock us. How could they believe in Ghosts but not in God? You'd shake a finger at nothing that would unconsciously follow the beat of the bass...the blood in my capillaries...
'The living haunt us.'
The last thing I hoped for was a dance lesson on a spring night. Corporal movements lit by bonfire. Here I stretch out my hand to take yours and we smile. What happens next will be the contract, and someday when it is cold you will lean up to whisper in my ear...
'This was your promise to me.'
Then, we will live in each other's eyes, and move, and move, and burn.
Posted by JFM at 3:04 PM
'I have seen the stars fill the night sky to the rims of the horizon. Behind them, entire galaxies...though mere visual suggestions. Like colored whispers that are remnants of when God spoke the heavens into being.'
It was late in the night as we got into the car and headed West. The highway took us out of the city like a dirty, black conveyor belt of lights. Somewhere ahead, in the pitch darkness, was nowhere...our destination. In the quiet night we slipped unnoticed onto back roads, winding into the Heart of the South.
Morning found us in a sad hotel that hugged the north/south bound interstate; a hopeful leech on a Mississippi artery. We were less than a day from the city, but already we were in a new world. Familiar, yes, but all the while something known only through old books and the garbled dirges of ancient Blues. The roads rose up like causeways, the pavement stained the color of rust from the minerals in the soil. The rumor of rivers was everywhere, in pools of swamp and vast muddy fields that in the warmer months held crops.
Guitar music and heartbreak, and all the long history that is the slow death of dreams played over the radio.
Small towns, and then past them smaller towns until we reached their Jewel. Here, there were a few stop lights as well as the vestiges of the rural idea of civilization: a strip mall, chain restaurants, a department store. The Pawn Shop was in the center of the square, which was really only two blocks on parallel streets divided by a narrow park. A reporter met us as we stepped inside. The mayor came later to shake our hands. The Old Man wanted us to eat Fried Chicken, and the best Cornbread in the world. To them, we were something special. To us, they were America.
It didn't take long to get what we came for and leave. Using our cameras to steal their faces, their voices, their stories. We were an un-looked-for, and visceral hope. Cotton had been King in that part of the world once...but there was no royalty anymore. Just pawn shops and poverty. And Blues.
The roads wound us away once more through darkness that was the loneliest thing in the world. The only lights were our headlights and we were the only people in the world. It was hours towards the East when the moon loomed unannounced around a corner, enormous and low on the horizon, just above the trees. It was the color of dried blood.
I talked about how all that darkness and all that quiet was making me think about my life. How that highway back to the city was probably a metaphor, and I was scared of it.
'Close your eyes and think of your God.'
And then all you see instead is a pretty girl you once knew.
Posted by JFM at 6:03 PM
by John Milton
by John Milton
He sat on the edge of his bed and balanced his cell phone in the bowl of his cupped palms. He had the numbers in place, sequenced just so, and all that was needed was the push of the send key. Yet that one button, the last button, was the only one that mattered; the only one that mattered and the hardest for him to press. The more he waited—the more he sat rolling thoughts about in his mind from one end to the other—the more his heart pounded in his chest until all he could hear was the dull thump of blood…rapid, and incessant.
Two days earlier Sam had stepped off of the airplane at the Aeropuerto de Almería with nothing but his pack and an idea of Spain. Everything that he had left behind in the States called to him in echoing voices that made a home in the back of his skull, behind his eyes and inside his ears. He concluded that the first thing he needed to do was find a drink.
He discovered a pub where he could slap his pack down on the floor and pull up a chair next to a grizzled Granadino who sipped his wine with an air of severity, as though each sip was tantamount to his entire existence.
“Habla Ingles Usted?” He offered to the camarero. He received an affirming nod that led him to ask for a carafe of whatever the old man was drinking. The camarero smiled and stepped around the bar and into a back room. The Granadino held his glass up in a salute to Sam then downed the dark fluid. He smacked his wet lips loudly as the camarero returned and placed a brimming carafe and glass in front of Sam on the bar.
“You have made a wise choice.” The Granadino said in a low voice that vibrated like tires over gravel. Sam poured himself a glass then proffered the carafe.
The old man smiled.
“You are a man who knows how to fast make friends in España.” He slid his glass over to Sam, who filled it and slid it back.
“Salud.” They each drained their glasses. Sam refilled.
“Tell me, my new friend, are you on holiday or business?”
Sam thought a moment, then shrugged his shoulders.
“I suppose you could say business. I'm chasing a girl.”
The Granadino chuckled and shook his head.
“Los juegos de los jovenes.”
Sam mouthed the words to himself.
“Does she know you have come for her?”
Sam shook his head and then gulped the remainder of his wine.
“No. She knows I’m in Spain, but not that I’m in Spain for her.”
“Ah, sí. So you have come here to drink instead of going to her, because…”
Sam sighed and tapped his glass rhythmically on the bar.
“Because I’m scared to death.”
The carafe was twice empty during a period of silence. Then, the Granadino placed his hands on the edge of the bar and slowly pushed himself back. He then stepped from his stool and placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
“Vamanos. I have something to show you, if you will see it.”
The two men stumbled along down the stone-lined alleyways that wound erratically along the contours of the terrain, down past solid blocks of sandstone dwellings and deep into the heart of Almería. The Granadino fumbled along ahead, his pebbly basso bouncing off the close walls as he sang the praises of El Cid in battered Arabic and Spanish mixed. Sam struggled to keep his legs beneath him. Suddenly the old man ducked left and disappeared into an open doorway. Sam froze and grabbed hold of his head, forcing his eyes to explain themselves, when the Granadino’s voice boomed from insides the walls.
“Here, come here!”
Sam cautiously stepped towards the echo of the voice and found himself sinking deep into the darkness of an unseen room, his ears guiding his feet as he followed the continued singing of the old man. Soon Sam became aware of an emerging glow that seeped in from some back doorway; daylight that stole into the confines of the cell. Sam reached forth and pushed open the door. Immediately he was engulfed once more in the sun as he stepped forth into a walled-in plaza.
There sat the Granadino, encircled by a group of three other men and each of them clutching onto a different instrument: one a cello, one a guitar, one with castañuelas, and the old man himself with a trumpet. The Granadino waved Sam forward.
“Come, sit.” He patted his hand on the bench next to him. Sam eased himself down. The Granadino was so near that Sam could hear his labored breathing, smell his sickly sweet odor of too much wine and too thin blood.
“These are my friends.” Then to the men, “Amigos, éste es un muchacho que juega a juegos con amor.”
Sam hiccupped and the men laughed. The Granadino pointed to each man and recounted his name.
“Hola,” Sam said to each, and the men laughed more. The Granadino held up his hand for silence. His face became serious.
“We have a game we play as well, joven. We are old—”
“Lo dirás por ti!” Said one. The others slapped his back and expressed their concurrence. Again the Granadino held up his hand for silence.
“Por favor, gracias. We are old and have seen much, lived much, learned much. To us, words no longer mean as much as they did in our youth. Often now, we do not trust words at all. Soon too, you will see, in your game, that words fail you…and for you, maybe you think, much is at stake.”
“Happiness.” Sam said, now solemn. The Granadino shrugged.
“Si, and no. Now, watch our game.” He stood and slowly raised the trumpet to his lips.
“Del corazón,” he whispered. Then he played…
Long, mellow strains emit from the horn and lift into the stillness of the afternoon heat. The Granadino’s cheeks invert and expand as each note is tenderly brought to life through his lips. Sam closes his eyes and as he does, the sound of the cello begins to creep up behind the trumpet. The deep melancholy of the strings vibrates in the air and Sam slowly opens his eyes. The castañuelas begin like the rapid heartbeat of an infant. The Granadino pauses and lowers his trumpet. He nods to the man with the guitar, and with the beat of the castañuelas clicking like the hooves of a stallion on cobble stones, the two join in together. Sam cannot find his breath as the music rises around him. An eternity passes in a moment and the music slowly dies as the sun falls from the sky. Sam closes his eyes once more, and is asleep…
It was the ticking of an ancient Swiss clock that woke Sam. He was disoriented and confused. He dragged his dry tongue through a mouth that seemed made of paper. There was a shaft of light coming from somewhere that fell upon his face where he lay, reclined on a long cushion. He forced his eyes to open wide and focus, and as he did The Granadino swam into view with a knowing grin.
“Mi amigo, cómo estás, esta mañana?”
Sam pushed himself up on one elbow and rubbed a hand across his face.
“Sorry, what?” He mumbled.
The Granadino laughed and as he did he seemed to vanish from the room. The laugh followed him as he disappeared, echoing in Sam’s throbbing skull. Then the laugh seemed to grow louder again, and Sam sat fully up as the old man once more materialized. In his hands were a clear glass filled with water and some sort of bread. The Granadino took a seat beside Sam on the cushion and handed over the bread and water.
“El hombre no puede vivir sólo de pan. But it helps.”
Sam drank the entirety of the water and then nibbled at the bread. The two men sat in silence as the sounds of Almería stirring wafted in through unseen portals. Finally, Sam sat his glass down on the floor and stood.
“I don’t think I could explain what I felt last night. What it meant. Was that the point?”
The Granadino slapped both of his hands down on to his knees and rocked backwards, laughing heartily.
“Perhaps yet, mi amigo, you will make a truly wise man.”
Sam smiled then extended his hand. The Granadino righted himself and rose, clasping Sam’s hand and pulling him into an embrace.
“Del corazón?” Sam whispered. Unseen to him, The Granadino smiled solemnly.
She lived on the third floor of an ancient apartment building near Cabo de Gata. He had found that much out before even leaving his country. Yet, when he finally stood outside, looking at the terraces and the vaults, his knees lost all resolve and seemed to abandon the legs with which they had been previously allied. He could not think of moving, nor of her name, nor least of all del corazón.
An old woman exited the building carrying on her shoulder a basket filled with freshly baked loaves of bread, and seeing the poor boy rooted to the pavement, took pity and offered him his choice of her goods. She searched Sam’s face with her eyes, and he could not help but smile. At first, he politely refused to take any bread, but the vieja was insistent and Sam knew that it would be rude to refuse. He reached into the basket and selected a moderate, round loaf that still felt warm and smelled of a home Sam did not know, but was sure he would recognize.
“Gracias.” He said.
She smiled and reached a weathered hand up to his face and placed it on his cheek. Sam saw then that she had seen right through him, and that for all his postulating, and all his guardedness, he was an open book. The vieja removed her hand and turned to leave, carrying away her bread to nourish others.
Sam stood now, holding onto his loaf and thinking of how in two days two strangers had perceived his true self as though it were worn on his sleeve, and had seen fit in both instances to feed him bread.
“España.” He muttered, before turning at last to trudge the long winding roads back to his hotel.
That brought him at last to the place where he was certain that if anything was to happen, he would make it happen. If anything was worth having, he would have to take it. If anything had brought him to Spain, it was her and for two days he had learned this and there could be no third day or the lesson was lost and he might as well return home. Thus, sitting in his hotel room, with his heart beating in his throat, he finally entered the last digit, the only one that mattered, and made the phone call.
She had laughed when she heard his voice, and he was immediately disarmed. They spoke briefly, for she had far too much excitement to waste it on the telephone. He had come all the way to Spain, just for her, and nothing more romantic had, or would happen in her short life. He was in her city, near the desert that her heart prayed to every morning, and they must at once see each other. He had been there for two days? Why had it taken him so long to contact her? She could not understand his fear, nor the journey he embarked on to learn of del corazón.
In truth she would never understand him, and he would never fully come to grips with who she was as a person, or how all the years before they had met had layered upon her soul a restlessness that could only be satisfied with ideas of love, and of destiny, and of deserts. Never the things themselves. Sam could not know then, that instant when they finally dashed across the Plaza Major to crash into an embrace that she was only the beginning of the story that would be del corazón. When Spain grew too small for them, and they too small for each other, and all the planets would bend between them, they would look back on that night and what it meant. The small victory in Sam’s eyes, the fulfillment of some unlooked for dream in hers.
Ten years later Sam was sitting in some high, nameless place where few people lived, and hard. She was long since gone and his memories were stored like water in a plugged barrel. Now he hears the long, mellow strains emit from the horn and lift into the stillness of the evening cool. Now the deep melancholy of the strings vibrates in the air and he slowly opens his eyes. The castañuelas begin like the rapid heartbeat of an infant. Now the guitar, and with the beat of the castañuelas clicking like the hooves of a stallion on cobble stones, they join in together. Sam cannot find his breath as the music rises around him. An eternity passes in a moment and the music slowly dies as the sun falls from the sky. Sam closes his eyes once more, and is asleep…
Posted by JFM at 11:09 PM
It is a hard road that winds up out of the desert into the Altiplano. As oxygen becomes thin, and the cold closes in around you, it is an easy place to die. You sit and look at your hands, chapped and cracking in red lines that want to bleed but cannot.
They won't find my body here,
you whisper it to yourself with each step. When you were still young, you made a promise to your mother that you would die in the summer. It may be summer now, but the sky will not tell you the truth. Every day for months there has been nothing but a gray blanket above you that leaks a sick mixture of ash and sleet.
Era un día normal cuando naciste.
Here is my baby, she cooed even as your soft face contorted and reddened. Quickly, she would rush outside and let the sunshine fall warm upon you as she rocked you at her bosom. Ever she would hold you to the bright daylight and sing. Songs that are now written deep in the parts of you that only reveal themselves in dreams. She would remember that you never smiled in the darkness. There were no lullabies that would soothe you beneath the moon. Still, when the night is calm and the storms have yet to break, the words will swim back from behind your pulse...
Este niño tiene sueño,
No tiene cama ni cuna.
A su padre carpintero
Le diremos le haga una.
You were never prepared for the loneliness. Still you are not, even though it is your life. You stack stones atop each other in uncertain pillars that grow warm briefly as you talk, but are friends in name only. Somehow, always, they seem to enrage you in the end and you scar and scab your hands and feet to knock them down and scattered their memory...
Then you calmly rebuild them.
Posted by JFM at 12:02 AM
I awoke in the dark to find you beside me. Your legs were pulled up and you rested your hands on the tops of your knees.
This is a dream.
You did not answer, because I did not have your words. But I had your eyes, your smile.
Yes, this is a dream.
Then I turned with you to look. The world stretched out beneath us and a fire raged out on the plain. Far out on the rim of the sky, silent lightning flashed and splintered.
Our old world is ending.
You looked at me and I studied your eyes to see if there was truth there, even if only a mirror of something I already knew. I took you by your hand and we stood.
Let us go and find a new one.
Still you did not speak, but as we turned to follow the high paths away from the fires your smile followed.
I awoke in the dark and was alone.
"This is not a dream."
It is still the old world. I walked out into the city and saw no fires. There was a calm. The sky was covered in cloud that drank up the electric light to make a false dawn.
When the clouds broke, I wrote your name on the rain. The storm was moving and it could find you.
In the ruins of a forgotten cafe, snow drifts covering the windows where once there had been panes of glass.
Had I dreamt?
Outside, the sun had broken through in streams of light that crossed the plaza. The stone conquistador frowned on an empty, white world that would never remember.
I found a table and brushed it clear. There were two chairs left, both cracked and but poor reminders of their former selves. In clouds of steam, I spoke your name.
The wind came softly to answer, with gentle flurries and abandon.
Posted by JFM at 10:03 PM