Room on the Roof of the Spanish Refugee Children’s Orphanage, 1946

After my father’s suicide, young Marti,
        my Mexican stepmother,
goes back to the iron bed with her mother
       Rebeca, a Sefardí
from Constantinople, who normally
        calls me mancebito,

young lord (in medieval Spanish),
       but she is afraid I’ll get
her daughter as my father had.
        They rent some rooms behind
the great cathedral, a small hovel
        in the old district. I too

live this year in Mexico City,
       near Marti, in an orphanage.
If I can’t make it back by ten
       (I give evening classes 
all over the city to earn some pesos) 
        I do an all nighter,

reading in a lowdown café, or better,
       go to Marti’s and sleep
on a straw mat on the floor
       between the tiny Indian maid
and her brother Sam, an army captain.
       Often when I am broke

I sell my blood in a clinic, and on 
       one Saturday twice—but not
in the same place. The Aztec nurse
       notices the fresh pricks 
but she lets me through. Beautiful Marti
       is only three years older than me

and before my father made his move
       she was my first date. 
I care for her and never know
       that the mere sale
of my blood is for her a stigma
       God will not forgive

but who could not forgive us for
       necking in the backseat
of Dad’s Buick. In the morning          
       when my train pulls out,
she gives me a silk handkerchief
       painted with a red guitar.

From Mexico In My Heart: New And Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2015) by Willis Barnstone. Copyright © 2015 by Willis Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.