Poet’s Corner: Ekphrastacy, Without a Parachute, The Place Where Two Fell Off, Singularité

Here is the latest installment of Poet’s Corner, presented by the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group

Ekphrastacy

Late on a warm spring night on the plaza named “The 2nd of May,”
because Napoleon’s troops massacred unarmed Spanish peasants,
the drug dealers had all gone home the twin sisters of my Spanish friend’s wife told us,
the sisters lived in sin and ran a restaurant with two Moroccans,
their little sister The Good Wife had married my friend in the Church.

Late on a warm spring night on the plaza named “The 2nd of May,”
I had wandered across the ocean to visit my friend,
he introduced me to his cousin, a widow with a four-year-old,
it had been an ambush I never expected (nor had she),
our love bloomed and withered over several years from afar,
there was War and Peace, but somehow we always returned to love.

Late on a warm spring night on the plaza named “The 2nd of May,”
my friend and his wife have the perfect marriage, strong careers, a nice house in the suburbs (they had won the lottery), three beautiful children, then
The Good Wife found love in the arms of his best friend, who then returned to his wife,
in the end she became an ex-wife with nothing
(but The Kids Are Alright).

And my unlucky-in-love friend,
who invited me to a firing squad date without a blindfold 33 years ago
late on a warm spring night on the plaza named “The 2nd of May”?
he found a new lovely flower in the Amazon rain forest,
and the kids are alright with it,
I wonder how she ambushed him!

An ekphrastic poem featuring Los fusilamientos del 2 de mayo 1808: Goya was the first artist to portray the horrors of war. Oddly, I had already met Goya at the Anchorage Art Museum the year before I met my wife in Spain in June 1991 on a blind date, but I did not see it coming, even though no one gave me a blindfold.

Jack Davis

~ ~ ~ ~

Without a Parachute
Late spring in the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside Santa Fe,
Forty springs ago,
Sunny days, cold nights,
How did I end up on the black diamond slope called La Muerte at ten in the morning?
Face-first at high velocity like a bullet sliding down a steep, icy slope,
Like Tom, “I’m free, free falling,”
About to break my head, not my heart,
I have but one chance to flip my legs over my head to plant my edges
Before I head-plant a tree!

Late spring in the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains outside Salt Lake City,
Forty springs later,
Sunny days, cold nights,
Lil sis, whom I taught to ski forty years ago,
Half-way down on a blue square slope first run of the day,
Eyes a young man in the trees frantically waving his arms,
Finds another young man lying face down in the crimson snow,
He went face-first into a tree,
It is too late.

Out of control,
Just for an instant,
Circumstances, skill level, green, blue or black,
They do not matter,
If you are unlucky
You are dead
Instantly,
You will never again
See the forest or the trees.

Jack Davis

~ ~ ~ ~

The Place Where Two Fell Off

It was the natural place to go: My Spanish-born future wife was studying archaeology,
I was going to become her “husband” (perdóneme la terminología patriarcal),
I, born and raised in the Southwest,
Méshico, la Nueva España, la República de Mexico, the Arizona-New Mexico Territory.
To Cañon Tsegi on the Navajo Nation we went,
How did it get to be the French-sounding Canyon de Chelly?
Monument Valley, Shiprock, Chaco Canyon, Bisti and Den-Na-Zin
where they speak Diné and have long memories?
We had visited Massacre Canyon and were now going home,
at “The Place Where Two Fell off”, we were confronted by a dark story,
Grandmother and granddaughter fought the Spanish,
Jumping to their deaths like Jews against Romans at the Masada.
In the parking lot a young Diné woman sat quietly drawing,
On a beautiful, peaceful sunlit spring morning,
we would leave quietly without invading her space,
she had no reason to talk to us.

Unexpectedly she turned toward us:
“I am drawing the canyon for my grandmother,
but I must be at school by eight.”
“What time is it?”
“7:45”, answered my wife in her accented English.
“Thanks”, then:
“Where are you from?”
“New Mexico”, replied by wife.

Back home in New Mexico, my Spanish-American wife
told a Native friend the story
(My wife has never thought of killing, anyone…but me),
He laughed! A lot!

The Land of Eternal Spring (Historical crime poetry)

“an American innkeeper disappeared,”
I had met him four years earlier
on a farm in the dense tropical forest,
the warm winter air hung heavy with moisture,
as it does every day in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

The U.S. ambassador: “We knew they had murdered the guy”
I had arrived in the back of a beer truck,
rebels sometimes attacked public transport,
but rebels must drink beer, I foolishly reasoned,
and they would gain nothing by killing a tourist in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

The Vietnam vet and his his wife had moved to the jungle,
adopting two Mayan orphans,
I remember their parrot,
it liked blond-haired women,
but attacked everyone else in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

Christmas dinner with the couple:
a Catholic missionary speaks of helping the poor,
a Protestant missionary drones on about the sin of human sacrifice,
a sin for which there seems to be no atonement or forgiveness, like being a Jew,
A young fool that I was, I sit silently listening without speaking in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

Foreshadowing? A local biologist in a colonial city near Tikal,
on an island in a lake in the middle of the jungle,
connected to the world by a pedestrian causeway,
“Can I come work for you?” I asked. In a whisper
after looking around to see who was listening “Don’t ever come back” to
the Land of Eternal Spring!

“The innkeeper served an Indian before serving…the officer”
we can never know the real story,
it is mostly classified “to protect U.S. national security”
the accused murderer was allegedly extracted to Vienna
to protect him from being prosecuted in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

My story? A minor footnote to a slighter larger minor story,
the murder of a Vietnam vet, only a slightly larger footnote:
two-hundred thousand Mayans dead,
the largest genocide of the 20th century in the Americas,
one million imprisoned and “re-educated” in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

Three decades later many Mayans are fleeing north with their children,
with nothing but the clothes on their backs
many do not speak Spanish, their homeland’s official language,
like men and women without a country crossing Mexico by foot and by boxcar
from the murderous criminal gangs who rule in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

My tiny desk concert?
I can finally give a little back:
“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers” is my vow,
a mere pittance compared to
all WE have taken from THEM,
as they terror and horror in a banana republic in
the Land of Eternal Spring!

“Truth is stranger than fiction” wrote civil war vet Ambrose Bierce,
who lost the fame game to Mark Twain,
I never took notes, my memories are fast fading,
I have never returned since my youth,
yet three and half decades later I was transformed again by
the Land of Eternal Spring!

Jack Davis

_____

All quotes are from Dillon, Sam. “On Her Guatemalan ranch, American retraces slaying”; I have a copy of the now-declassified C.I.A. report on the murder. Some relevant films: Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986), Men with Guns (1997) by John Sayles (“If you give an Indian a gun, he becomes a white man”) and Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983).

D’Amassa, Algernon. “The vans kept coming: Easter marks the anniversary of the asylum seeker crisis in Las Cruces.” In 2019, Donald Trump admitted almost ONE MILLION asylum seekers into the U.S.; the “liberal” press said almost NOTHING.

~ ~ ~ ~

Singularité

My wife once had many aunts,
But Thursday the her aunt left this world,
The only tía in the family whose name was seldom used
Because she was la tía Toto, no one knows why, or simply la tía,
Youngest of three Basque girls who moved to Madrid before the civil war,
Her mother was a rising star in fashion design,
Who as a teen had gone to Paris before World War I
With her friend Balenciaga,
He had stayed in Paris and would become world famous,
She married another back in Spain and
Moved with her husband and three daughters to Madrid,
La tía Toto’s father disappeared in the fog of the war and would not come home
From France until 30 years later to meet his three adult daughters,
And the war sent her mother’s thriving design shop to hell in a hand basket,
Unlike Lazarus, it was never resurrected from the dead,
After World War II la tía became a diplomatic translator
Coursing studies at the Sorbonne and in London, then
Spending almost thirty years at the United Nations,
Marrying an Indian diplomat from Goa and then divorcing him after a few years,
Her only carnal relationship
Before continuing her solitary stationary journey in Lower Manhattan,
Her niece my wife spent one summer with la tía to learn English
But mostly walked the island with an Argentinian and a Cuban NOT learning English,
Accidently taking the train to Harlem and back by herself the only white person on it,
La tía lived alone in a two-room apartment for $100 a month
Just off Central Park Southeast two blocks from Bernie Madoff’s place
The owners stopped upkeep on the building to drive the rent-controlled tenants out,
They wanted to knock the building down,
But la tía stayed even after retirement, the “last man standing” in the building,
Until they gave her a new apartment for the same price, hoping she would soon die,
Even though she owned a million-dollar penthouse apartment
In a beautiful, new Madrid neighborhood worth millions,
Childless, la tía became la madrina to my stepson, in May 2002 we visited her,
As our plane approached JFK:
La tía and I once had lunch at the top of the Twin Towers,
I can’t believe they were not there,”
La tía seemed destined to die in Manhattan,
In New Mexico, we always expected a call in the night
To fly east to claim the body and close up her apartment,
First, tearing up the floor, and searching the ceiling, for any hidden riches,
La tía could be hard to deal with, everyone agreed,
She was very religious and feared none of us would be with her in Heaven,
But she definitely favored the spiritual over the material,
Refusing to create a will, preferring to let Jesus take care of her earthly affairs,
Tia, we said, Jesus has a lot to do, help Him out and get a will,” and she did,
My wife called la tía faithfully every Sunday for years,
And la tía Toto had a heart of gold:
When our adult son needed one year of chemo, la tía paid for it,
Then after an almost fatal accident, she finally agreed to move back to Madrid
Where the family could talk care of her,
It was one lengthy last battle, as la tía died over the course of more than 15 years,
Death by more than eight-hundred-twenty-seven-million cuts, it seemed,
But now ashes are ashes, and dust is dust, and as per her wishes
La tía Toto will repose under rose bushes of the niece who was her last caretaker,
An appropriate place for someone named María Rosa.
Who wouldn’t want to become a rose is a rose is a rose by any other name?

Dedication: To María Rosa Feliner-Urbieta, la tía Toto

~ ~ ~ ~

Jonathan E. “Jack” Davis is a retired community college teacher, an occasional poet, a once-in-a-while romance language translator, and an every-so-often volunteer medical interpreter for migrants from Las Cruces, New Mexico. He and his wife Silvia plan to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a trip to Oregon in June. Washington State next year!

 

  1. Again, I am grateful to Alex Perez-Cortes and Jerry Bigelow for making me want to write poetry.. Edmonds/Seattle area is a better place for them and the EPIC poets.

  2. What powerful words! I have contemplated the Goya painting and its unforgettable message but we never learn.
    Looking forward to reading your next work.

  3. I am so glad you found something compelling in the piece, Judith. Certainly for me, the plaza “El dos de mayo” represents a horrendous but all-too-common tragedy: The motto of the French Revolution was “Liberty, Brotherhood and Equality,” and Napoleon’s greatest achievement was that he killed that dream. And yet that very same place of horror launched, and gave positive direction to, my adult life for the last 33 years.

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