Poetry at Sangam





It isn’t America but the kind of America he carries with him. One month it’s apples in Yakima, one month it’s peas in Imperial Valley. One day it’s cops with brass knuckles in your eye; one day it’s a blonde nurse in the poor man’s ward, giving you love. Poor you, two bucks stuffed in your shoe, your last two bucks in the world, and the cops are licking you good and robbing you blind to get their Whisky fix. John, you’d say, Johnny boy, when you were drunk, I didn’t even know her name, the Mexican girl four boys had their way with before she got to you in a picker’s shack. The girl you shared asking, “Did you like it, honey?”



Carlos, you are the loneliest man in the world, if you still carry your mother’s name like a talisman in the dark. Not just any dark, this one. If you still see stars, Carlos, you’ve never been more blind.



Such an exquisite face, dark as a Hershey’s bar, the teeth white and gleaming. Half moons for eyes. Dressed like a dandy in a twenty year-old suit, nothing to his name but a typewriter and a library card. Japanese soup in his belly, sour and hot, for weeks at a time. Because Macario needed the money, or Amado, or Jose, or Julio. You were savvy with your English but stupid with your heart.



Cruelty and kindness, Johnny, that’s America. They call you googoo, and monkey, and honey, and sugar. Cruelty and kindness. God bless America.



“The highway detectives hounded us in the freight and Jose jumped off the train and splintered his leg on a stone. We had to chop it off with a knife. We stanched the blood with tobacco.”



One day, you saw buzzards hovering over a half-alive coyote in the desert. Half alive, Carlos, because you’d never call it half-dead. You saw the buzzards circling, but you only heard the birds.



“The smell of guava trees, Johnny, in the small tongue of land my father owned. I can’t describe the smell but do you know what a guava smells like, Johnny, sweet as apples on the rot, no I don’t mean rotten, John, just ripe, more than ripe but not yet rot, the pulp pink as a clit? There’s no smell like it in the world.”



I’ve given her a name, Carlos, the Mexican girl, and I’ve put her in my book. Camilla, that’s her name. Don’t do it, Carlos, don’t cry. If you cry I’ll have to cry, too. Look, Carlos, alright, the girl has nothing to do with you. It’s only a story, Carlos, it’s only a story.