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Orlando Ricardo Menes

Orlando Ricardo Menes is the author of Heresies (University of New Mexico Press, 2015); Fetish (University of Nebraska, 2013), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize; and Furia (Milkweed Editions, 2005). His latest book, Memoria, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2019. He teaches at the University of Notre Dame.

By This Poet

2

Hair

Hair tells family secrets, like lips and skin:
my chestnut curls and waves that intractable
thicket—one month’s tropical growth—
Mamá called maleza de manigua,
jungle scrub.  What will the neighbors think?


Locked in the bathroom, I brushed hard
against the grain—pig bristles, nylon quills,
chrome needles, nothing tamed
my guava bush, not even the wire brush
Papá used for mange of rust.


I rubbed sores with Mamá’s alcohol
and iodine (mixed in squirt
bottles to disinfect the house of ghosts).


Prune this wild boy, Mamá told the barber
as she pulled my hair, grimacing, red fingernails
drawing blood.  Cajoling the cranky
pedal with grease, Luis el barbero pumped
up the chair he’d bought at a Hialeah


junkyard, strop stained by rain; la barbería squeezed
between a butchershop and cigar factory—
"America, Love It or Leave It" macramé nailed
above hooks where viejos hung canes, Panama hats.


I slumped angrily, shoe kicking foot rest, 
hands clenched under white shroud, plastic Virgin Marys
scowling at me for hating Mamá.  Luis thinned
the bush with toothed shears, straight razor hacked
outer growth as Mamá reminded him


my abuelos were Spaniards—her Catalan father’s
eyes between gray and blue, Roman nose,
his brother’s hair just like mine, curlier even.
Tío Octavio looked Semitic, Mamá said,
you’d think he was Henry Kissinger.


Fat and bald, back hairs brushed up like cockatoo’s
crest, Luis shook his head, eyebrows raised,
smiling like someone who’s heard this before.
Any hair’s better than none, señora, any hair.

El Rastro

South of Plaza Mayor by Plaza de Cascorro—
past streets named Lettuce, Raisin, Barley—
is Madrid’s outdoor market called El Rastro,
hundreds of stalls, lean-tos, tents squeezed tight
as niches where anything from a clawfoot tub, 
to a surgeon’s saw to a tattered La Celestina
bound in sheepskin could be haggled down
with raunchy bravado or the promise of beer.   
Mostly it was junk passed off to the tourists
as pricey souvenirs, like plastic castanets, hand fans
of silk (rayon really), or tin-plate doubloons. 
So what drew the youth of Madrid to this place
every Sunday afternoon by the hundreds?
None of us were bargain hunters or hoarders,
just hippieish kids in patched dungarees, 
espadrilles, & wool coats frayed to cheesecloth,
our pockets with enough pesetas to buy
a handful of stale cigarettes. It was to revel
in life, squeeze out joy from the lees of fate,
make fellowship like pilgrims to a shrine. 
We’d sprawl against a wall or a lamppost
long into the afternoon to talk, joke, carouse,
eat cheese rinds with secondhand bread, 
drink wine more like iodine than merlot,
oblivious to time & space, the crowds tripping
on our legs, tossing butts into our heads,
how they smelled like horses & we told them so,
who then shot out crude medieval curses,
but we didn’t care, for we felt alive as never before,
singular in every breath, word, & thought,
stubborn as wayward seeds that trick a drought
& grow into hardscrabble woodland trees.