Finally it was night in Sevilla, the air warm and tumbling past the gates of our bodies, a frail wooden trellis woven with night blooming jasmine, its perfume slunk dark and delicious. What starlight there was chinked the river, small waves opening near our feet like palms upturned, and understanding want I plunked a coin, one hundred pesetas, silver winking until the river blackened my wish. We were still wobbled from dinner: a busy courtyard, long tables where locals hoisted beer, octopus dripping oil, hazelnuts roasted brown until they crunched like split wood; great bolts of fabric strewn high above us, shade against the daytime sun, insufferable, unrepentant. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, and paying the bill, slanted ourselves down another alley, another table, more jamon y queso, sherry chilled colder than the winter we fled in New Hampshire, its eaves now iced into rows of crystalline teeth. You promised me body and marrow, a mouth wet to the touch, reminding me of O’Keeffe: that deeply swollen iris, her wild and unapologetic red poppy, and the very first time you undressed those paintings for me.
I pull my drunk friend out from inside a bush, and think he must be looking for the Mexico he’s read about: a story of The Beats, myth of newsprint photo with ringleader Ginsberg looking insane, neck roped in marigolds as he smiles next to a burro, Kerouac to his right and already sideways off clay tumblers of shadow-cool mescal, the pink bake of sun unseen above them in San Miguel de Allende. What else explains my friend’s impersonation of Neal Cassady, himself found dead not far from here after a marathon of cards and booze, the cold iron of westerly tracks his final bed, dumb enough to pass out and freeze to death high up in the desert night. Dumb. So I yank him hard and loose-lipped off the cobblestone, stand him up in this city echoing with wedding cake churches and wide, empty plazas, and slap his face hard. “Wake up,” I tell him, and hail a green and white taxi trundling by, throw him in the back and hand the driver 50 pesos, an address. “Gracias por todo,” I say, and shut the door, thinking, one less gringo to fill a jail cell tonight. I stand next to a park fountain gurgling blood red in reverence to Dia de los Muertos; three tiny skulls made of sugar sit on the ledge, forgotten, or left in tribute. Tomorrow, my friend, shy and hungover, will call with some version of sorry, and I will say no problem, though it is, and turn back to an altar made of dried corn and flower petals, a small clear glass of rum left for a friend recently dead, another drinker, because tradition dictates you leave loved ones something they treasured in this life, regardless. But I am no hero. And now, sitting on the edge of the fountain, I see the same stars we all see, have always seen, high and tangled in their indifference, steely grains fastened to a sky that once held Dean Moriarty outside Denver; lights Kerouac believed strong enough to serve as halos.
David Bowie laments his voice is not a stairwell leading him up from the turntable and into the streets of Berlin. I want to escape with him. But instead I consider the penny taped to the needle, its copper weight an antidote to all the crackled bouncing. I finish my fourth Michelob, tucking the empty under my bed with the others. My parents will be home any minute and I’ve lost all fear of them; what do they know— not heartbreak paraded amongst a wilderness of lockers, or the decry of a football team mumbling faggot as their fists pound invisible spikes into my skull, my French teacher turning thankfully away. My eyes marvel the razor’s bright anthem: so much fresh canvas of leg and arm and chest and the warm drip of paint drying outback where I graffitied a giant, circled “A” for anarchy against the broke-down chicken coop, letting people know not to mess with me. I am supreme ruler of this domain—this shuttered room of overturned laundry and shameful, private orgasms. I turn back to the music: Bowie lilts and chunders and promises we can all be heroes as my parents’ car cuts like a shark into the darkening drive.
The snow, bread-torn and scattered, patchworks this field and this wood, this narrow chasm cum walking path through which the three of us falter. My wife walks ahead as if in a different movie, a silent picture that ends with her arrival somewhere else, radiant and alone, and it’s all I can do not to wish her luck. Our youngest daughter doesn’t notice, or is kind enough to pretend otherwise, and instead yanks an adolescent maple down by its neck, bounces its snowy crown to dust, laughing. Her joy lengthens the distance between us, compounds the absence of our oldest daughter felt everywhere, long since she joined these hikes—what did she call them?—to nowhere. Now she spends weekends with friends, my fear she’s repeating what I did at her age: raiding liquor cabinets or agreeing to the next great high, images of her discovering new, beautiful countries of loneliness. I chase my youngest uphill then down, ice-weary and heaving, dodging tiny snowballs made by tinier hands. My wife leans against a spruce, “Pull her close,” she commands, so I do. She snaps a photo with her phone, stores it in a place I no longer have access, a border I am no longer allowed to cross.
Christopher Locke is the Nonfiction Editor for Slice magazine in Brooklyn. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous publications, including Verse Daily, Southwest Review, Poetry East, Arc Poetry Magazine (Canada), The Nervous Breakdown, 32 Poems, The SHOp (Ireland), West Branch, RATTLE, The Literary Review, Ascent, The Sun, Connecticut Review, Upstreet, Agenda (London), and he has read his poems on both National Public Radio and Ireland’s Radio One. Locke has five chapbooks of poetry and has received two Dorothy Sargent Poetry Awards, as well as grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, New Hampshire Council on the Arts, and Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain). His first full-length collection of poems, End of American Magic, was released by Salmon Poetry in 2010. Waiting for Grace & Other Poems (Turning Point Books) and the collection of essays Can I Say (Kattywompus Press) were both released in 2013. His essay/poetry collection about his travels through Latin America, Ordinary Gods (Salmon Poetry), and his first book for children, The Heart Flyer (tapStory), were both recently accepted for publication.