Somewhere between here and Belen

- 1934-

Somewhere between here and Belen,
the Rio Grande will narrow to a muddy bead,
no more than three feet across from shore to shore.
My friend, Nick Markulis, claims
he loves the river's color there, and will bathe
his toes in the water, and will go on and on
about a dry river in Athens that measures its life
                                   in olive groves.
Stratis Thalassinos told me about these peculiar
waters that disappear and turn up again,
and, of course, you know of Arethusa's
fountain in Syracuse.
I do not accuse Markopoulos (do I have
the name right? — Markopoulos, Markulis,
fugitive names, fugitive lives docking in Halifax)
of being too conversant with asphodel meadows,
but one cannot remain composed
when hunters and cultic figures press their claims
upon a sainted afternoon.
Think now of the intimate authority of La Candelaria,
the Sunday morning concert,
the walk through the abandoned streets,
where all was an occasion of Bogotá,
a memory of Mazatlán, a shaping
necessity we might have met at Salamis.
Who can be sure
that this white cloth will be dissolved by death?

The Healing Improvisation of Hair

If you undo your do you wóuld
be strange. Hair has been on my mind.
I used to lean in the doorway
and watch my stony woman wind
the copper through the black, and play
with my understanding, show me she cóuld
take a cup of river water,
and watch it shimmy, watch it change,
turn around and become ash bone.
Wind in the cottonwoods wakes me
to a day so thin its breastbone
shows, so paid out it shakes me free
of its blue dust. I will arrange
that river water, bottom juice.
I conjure my head in the stream
and ride with the silk feel of it
as my woman bathes me, and shaves
away the scorn, sponges the grit
of solitude from my skin, laves
the salt water of self-esteem
over my feathering body.
How like joy to come upon me
in remembering a head of hair
and the way water would caress
it, and stress beauty in the flair
and cut of the only witness
to my dance under sorrow's tree.
This swift darkness is spring's first hour.

I carried my life, like a stone,
in a ragged pocket, but I
had a true weaving song, a sly
way with rhythm, a healing tone.

Related Poems

Somewhere Else

It is here on this ridge 
exposed to the orange dusk 
of mountain autumn 
that the story begins. 

Buck wood for the stove 
feel the heat of shoulder to tendon 
greet the mule deer 
and water the garden again. 

In rhythm, with song 
when the ax begins to blend with wind
carry on to warmer days 
on the river’s open banks 
where the fervor of healing is found in water. 
Flow from one origin to another--
there is never a place where we cannot begin 
where the current is ancient, the wind is young 
teaching each other like the ax and the wood. 

Carve a place for dignity 
plant a seed and pray for rain 
for sun 
for understanding outside your self. 

There will come a day when they say: 
who do you think you are 
and another day will come 
for you to tell. 

On that day the story will appear 
but do not tell of yourself 

tell the story of the staff that blossomed in the desert
or the one about your enemy’s greatest victory

tell the story of somewhere else