To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Javier Taboada: 3 Visions of Toño, translated by Cole Heinowitz

[In celebration of our work together co-editing the transnational assemblage of North and South American poetry “from origins to present,” in progress and scheduled for publication by University of California Press, I’m posting here these three connected poems from Javier Taboada’s most recent gathering.  The delving here into the realities of his own “new localism” is a supplement for me to the more transpersonal mindscape of his earlier 'El Niño de Varas' (The Whipping Boy), published previously in Poems and Poetics. (J.R.)]

            HELLO, ABRAHAM

            he looked like Sai Baba but
            without vomiting up watches golden eggs
            sometimes dressed like Yoko Ono
            with his miniskirt     —red—
            and his white plastic glasses
a musketeer      sometimes an old lady
without the love of Jesus in his heart
well it’s not like it’s a boarding house
I saw Toño
            GET UP LAZARUS
to a dead pine branch he kicked across the sidewalk
walking naked between cars
swimming in the fountain’s rank water
or blowing kisses to make me look


hearing a name
or Alfredo

            hello, Abraham

feeling his hand in mine
the tickling of a thousand bedbugs
in my gooseflesh

hello, Toño
owner of a backpack filled with drawings
paving stones sticks
garlic cloves wrapped
in nylon pantyhose

hello, Toño
the guy who railed BEHOLD THE WOMAN
and lifted up his skirt
his testicles swinging in the breeze

            hey Abraham
            so glad you finally showed up
            I went by the synagogue the other day
            I was waiting for you
            got a cigarette

and then he told me about his boyfriend Freddy
the one he met on Elm Street
with the emaciated face
and fingernails like claws

            I saw him one night between the bushes
            a storm had him down on his knees      Toño screamed
            hey Toñito are you okay (I asked)
            and he screamed howled bleated
            a flash of lightning a scream then another and another
relax my Toño
            thunder scares me too
            want a cigarette
                        oh yes thank you Abraham
                        the rain scares me so much
                        the lightning bolts shatter inside me

            and we sat down together to smoke
with our feet tucked in until the rain stopped
keeping dry
            I’ve been waiting for you
            do you want to play the game of big and small
I thought it was a pun
it depends
what it’s about
and a gleaming red deck of cards landed in my hands
            take it and shuffle
the cards didn’t have a single crease no muck
or grease stains on their edges
            shuffle again then gimme them
here you go
he covered his eyes with his palms
            now take one

and I
swear I picked a card he’d
never be able to see or even suspect
            ready (he said):
            KING OF SPADES
and it was the king of spades
sticking his tongue out at me
with his jockstrap on backwards
            I told you Abraham
how’d you do it Toño      show me again
            I’m not a damn videotape
            goodbye Abraham

and he snatched the card from my hand


                        hey Abraham    want to play the game of the goose
            sure thing Toño but we don’t have a board or dice
                        you may not (he said)         TA-DAH
            tied with a shoelace ribbon
            in a little pocket of his sack he carried the dice
along with thousands of papers notes his pack of cards
his calendar
and he took out a small square of paper
less than an inch by an inch and opened it
unfolding each space on the board
a mappamundi
goose atlas       well maze
the cosmos on the sidewalk
            have a seat Abraham
and we sat down on the ground
he held a plastic cup
half horchata
half pure alcohol
            take your dice—red—I’ve got two
            if you want to play put your money down
            I’m the fava    you’re the white bean
let’s get started
            you’ll see Abraham   but first
            have a ciggie
a “ciggie,” Toño
            yes   a ciggie
“sparked” or “snuffed”


he sucked the tobacco
like a charred beaver tail
and heaved a lungful across the board
a whirlpool    spiral over all the shapes and colors
that never lifted or dispersed
I felt dizzy
maybe it was the acidity of his armpit his clothes
the tune he ta-dahed
his fingers emerged from the cotton glove where he primed the dice
on top of the blue the green
the white dots rubbing against each other    multiplying
leukodermic cubes leprous martians
with numbers that were words I never managed to make out
He took one     the blue
he rolled it
and I felt the space shake
I felt every turn of the die    its shifting vertex
coming to rest and its call
his fava advanced on the board
like the footsteps of geese climbing the same tree
            what do the geese sing on top of the tree    roll Abraham
and the bean that was me (its shell was loose)
walked to the first spot
            ONE    here you stay
he took a slug of his drink
            my turn
he took the green and
with the blue
he reached the eighteenth space

listen don’t fuck with me Toño
the dice are loaded
with one you get FOUR
and with the other FIVE
every time
            shut up and roll Abraham

I called     and advanced my marker
onetwothree  one   two    three
he was crazy but he wasn’t a fool
            no you don’t    go back
            one two THREE
            you stay here
            my turn
from the eighteenth to the twenty-third space    the twenty-eighth
            roll Abraham
I won’t play anymore
            NO ASSHOLE
(he yelled)
look Toño if you’re going to be like that
let’s just drop it I’ll take my money somewhere else
            no    hey Abraham
(now sweetly
with bedroom eyes)
            leave your money
fine then but lend me your dice
            NO ASSHOLE
            they’re mine
roll your own
and I rolled
I called
and onetwo one-two
                        go back     one TWO
you stay here      MY TURN
and forty-one
                        moving from spot to spot
                        Abraham your shot
from the well to the inn    the prison
—three turns later—
until at last
but my bean got stuck in the death-head’s teeth
I felt something happening a porcupine
behind me the shadow of a dog
or maybe it was Toño’s belch to make night fall
            I leap over death fly through the gate enter the garden of geese and win
                        NO ABRAHAM
                        that’s not where you go
                        YOU DIE
            he picked up his dice his money     where are you going
                        I WON
            and I

            the fava and the white bean went flying

                        IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT YOU’RE ALIVE
                        YOU’RE ALL GONNA DIE

                        OF HUNGER AND COLD

            the board became a square of paper again
            Toño finished his drink
            stood up
            and took off walking toward Río Churubusco
            down that same street
            where months later
            he’d be killed by a truck

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