Such a never-ending winter, these months
of snow and ice and gloom. We’ve lost
long hours again today, pushing back
last night’s leaden blanket of wet white,
mounding piles shoulder-high, towering
till they avalanche as if to mock our labors.
The wind whips our cheekbones red
and wet and raw, my wife and I,
our shovels lufting slush, lungs puffing
huffs and grunts . . . when, within a waking dream,
she says, That sugar-white beach
in Isla Mujeres, remember? I nod,
a touch of warmth, a blush, floods over me,
a smile. Side-by-side we replay these memories,
wordlessly, relishing not just the mind’s rescue
but something bone-deep having bubbled up
like steaming waters from the earth’s core.
And I remember, as a kid, that same sensation,
a resurrection out of the depths of near hopelessness,
our schoolyard in late March beginning to thaw.
One brown patch of lawn opened where snows had receded,
and we gathered there all recess, huddled in awe.
Jet-lagged, we snugged the covers over our ears
to muffle las campanas de la catedral, tolling.
Stepped into the midday sun, blinded by how far
the day had progressed without us. Hungry
enough to settle for a vendor’s cart menu,
plastic tables and worn umbrellas, across from the plaza
where someone had switched on
fountains of spray hissing skyward and falling,
sizzling on the hot streets like rain.
Not a fountain, really, but jets
or nozzles embedded in the cobbles and brickwork,
firing at random for the simple screams
of barefoot niňos dashing to soak
their camisetas y pantelones for the joy of what
dazzle might rise on a Sunday afternoon.
And did I mention the children blowing bubbles?
Not blowing them, really, but throwing them
from homemade coat-hanger wands dipped
in pails of sudsy dish soap. Huge soap balloons
taking shape as the children twirled and laughed.
Families cheering the bubbles as each rose toward the sun,
undulating liquid rainbows. Kaleidoscopic rainbows!
As my wife and I held hands across the table,
glad to be in love amidst the bustle,
this world’s wondrous and baffling extravagance,
thousands of miles from home.
Our strategy for this day: don’t waste it
roaming the cobbles in the aimless manner
we’d diddled away the hours yesterday —
my customary druthers when accustoming myself
to a foreign locale. I like to simply set out walking,
let each new intersection dictate which way to go.
But this day at breakfast, a sunlit street-side café,
you opened the guidebook and made plans. We’d locate
the burial site of the young peasant, a revolutionary. The one
who gave his life — or so the story alleges —
not for his flag, but for the welfare of his wife and children.
You passed the map across the table, without speaking,
and pointed to our destination, tapping gently with one finger
on the exact coordinates of your chosen goal.
All morning we searched street names, asking directions,
straining to comprehend a few words of a language
not our own, charging this way and that,
until past noon we stopped for a glass of wine,
conceding we were lost. Something between us,
lost. I couldn’t guess what it was. Except that our son
and daughters were grown and gone. And when we rose
to go again, we had nowhere particular in mind, meandering
across the plaza, stepping recklessly through traffic,
lured by cathedral doors thrown wide.
In the darkness inside, I studied the carved-wood altar.
Someone might have mistaken my mumbling as a prayer.
You lit a votive and set it reverently beside dozens
of strangers’ wishes flaming. Three cathedrals
we explored that afternoon — their spires rising on the skyline,
easy to find. This day I now recall in its vaulted ceilings.
And a sadness in you, hushed at depths I’d scarcely divined.
You, slipping pesos into the slotted donation box. You,
igniting brightness. I’d give my life for you
and the children, I thought. You, your face aglow
amidst a thousand flickering shadows.
I’d never loved you more.
to pull the blinds,
— your mother and I —
inside the empty nest.
You slammed the hatch
on your Subaru, its bursting load
of fantasies and mysteries boxed,
with plush bears.
Smiled, waved, honked,
and sped away. Our last,
We stood at the window
— your mother and I —
and breathed silence.
She simmered a Mexican stew
later that afternoon, which
side-by-side across from your place
at the table, we sipped
spoon by spoon.
Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is founding editor of Many Voices Press, author of seven collections of poems, recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.
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