El leon y la reina

Guapa – Cuando bailemos, se va el mundo
Tu cuerpo es un tiemplo
Me permites entrar?
Puedo quedarme todo el día

Yo soy el león y tu eres la reina

Podría enamorarme mil veces
Podría verte todos los días, Allí fuera es una jungla
Aquí, te protejo, yo el león, y tu, mi reina

Voy lento, para que te
sientas todo.

Guapa – te voy a matar.
Que pensaba cuando te dije, I love you
Is this real love o es solo el enganche
The words, they fall, fuera, alrededor
Your spanish souvenir.

El olor te tu cuerpo
y la mirada fria
La euforía de verte de lejos
Lo siento pero no existe las palabra en ingles

Guapo – mira el humo que sale del agua
Me mareo de tu cara, que empieza
hacerse borroso…

Me emborracho de tus palabras…
El lengua de amor.

Juntos, salimos de este mundo tan frío.
Tu murmullo me impede pensar
y me deja llorando en tu cuarto.
Que hago?

Guapa, tu. Cógeme- Vamos a la montaña
Mi novia, mi niña
Aqui, te protejo.
Yo soy el león y tu eres la reina.

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At the Pool

Aside

I am lost, with poetry to talk to but not you. I wonder where you are hidden. There’s no swimming after dark. You can’t find your center, when your toes make whirlpools and ripple through dusk, sky, and light –

I always look for loud noise and something to fixate on. I tighten like a noose, pick apart each letter of each splintered word. I focus on smooth jelled numbers – which are two halves, like you and I – one always magnified below the surface.

There are skeletal insects and bubble shaped shadows that float alongside fallen twigs. There are scaly mosaics like the underbelly of a frog that move like small rainstorms across a bed of blue sand. There’s no diving here, no loud voices or yelling, so I’ll lie on the surface and sink to the bottom, looking up from below. I ask  what you feel when the sun goes down and you realize you lay on concrete. What is it that you fear when the white noise is drowned out by silence?

You’re lost in the world but not in my mind. I call out to you because I’m here, burning toward the sun. Everything else is like noise, but the warmth is you on a Sunday morning or the gentle rousing of wind chimes. The feeling that what shakes me is blue illusion, and you are the light.

Visions of Ireland

“Ladies and gentlemen, in just a few short minutes we will begin our descent into Dublin. At this time we ask you to kindly fasten your seatbelts and return your tray tables and seat backs to their upright positions…We will be landing shortly and we thank you for choosing Ryanair.” As the plane touches down, my Irish roots nuzzle into the green earth.

I haven’t seen my dark-eyed friend in years. That summer in California, she left Sonomans intrigued with her mischievous eyes and husky voice. She had a brutish way about her that made the guys feel they could knock back a few beers with her, but then, as soon as she would flit her taut figure around and flash her dimpled smile, they would slouch a little, feeling smaller in their bar stools. There was something about Irish charm that Americans couldn’t resist.

My mom always said that Mike and Fiona were good-hearted people, old souls. They had lived in Sonoma for ten years, but when the children were still young, they moved the family back to their homeland. Ava and I met in preschool. She used to come over, and we would dance in long t-shirts, holding the remote control as a microphone while belting Beauty and the Beast tunes. When she came to Sonoma as a teenager, we reconnected instantly. We only spent a few weeks together but it was though the ten-year gap had been a mere few weeks. She told me about her boyfriend, Liam, her desire to live in California, and the crush she had on the blonde firefighter she had met the other night out with her family. I would ask her about Ireland and she would respond,

“Oh you just have to come. That would be grand.”

I took her everywhere with me that summer. We’d drive around town, stop at the Mexican food trucks, sun bathe at Evie’s pool. And all the while she would insist, “Come to Ireland! Come to Ireland…you have to come to Ireland.”

Finally, when I’m studying abroad in France, I have the chance to go to Ireland. With no working cell phone or phone number, I sit on a hard plastic chair in the airport lobby, hoping for the best. About 45 minutes after landing, I hear that familiar husky voice from behind me,

“Feck, I’ve been lookin’ all over for ye! Where have ye been!? C’mon, mam’s waitin’ out in the car.”

We embrace like long-lost friends and rush off to the airport parking lot. Fiona gets out of what I think should be the passenger side, but I notice she’s been holding steering wheel.

“Sorry that the car smells like a barn, dear. We’ve just come from the stables. Ava had to feed her horse. Welcome to Ireland!”

I muse aloud, “I thought I heard some other language on the plane. Is there such a thing as Irish?”

“Oh yeah, we speak Irish. We have to learn it in school.”

“Do you speak it a lot?”

“Not really, just when mam and I want to say something behind someone’s back…”

The first morning I spend in Dublin I experience the sun, the rain, snow, and sleet, all within just a few hours. Ava’s family lives in a two-story town house in the suburbs of Dublin. I sit in the solarium and watch the clouds blow across the sky, and the sun as it melts bits of snow covering the back lawn. I walk into the kitchen and meet Mike, Ava’s dad, who gives me a bear hug and bellows,

“Ye are as welcome as the flowers of May! How are your folks now, Chels?”

He is jolly, plump, and cozy in his green wool sweater and khaki slacks. As I devour eggs and black pudding, we sit around chatting, and he makes jokes in his thick Derry accent that elude me but make me smile nonetheless. Siofra comes in, backpack hanging from her shoulders, sweatshirt loose. She grabs me by the arm and nudges me out the door. “Let’s scoot… I want to take you into town before I have to go to class.”

Dublin is a modern city, with tall buildings and a bustling midday rush of people. We make our way down O’Connell Street and in the center divide there are pixilated billboards that display giant digital crosswalk figures that walk in place. Staring, Ava shrugs, “They light up at night…some kind of modern art.” I nod. Finally, we stop at a Roman-looking building.

“Lovely, here we are. This is the GPO, if you look closely there near the window and on some of the columns, you will see bullet holes from the Easter Rising of 1916…”

“Wait, what bullet holes?”

“Oh… do you know anything about Irish history?”

“Umm, not really….”

“This is where the leaders of the uprising staked out when they rebelled against the English. This is where they claimed Irish independence. After six days of heavy fighting with the Black and Tans…all the leaders were executed at Kilmainham Gaol…You’ll go there later. Stood in a line outside and were shot point blank…”

“Oh my god. That’s awful. What’s that a statue of?”

“Oh, that’s Cúchulainn. He’s a mythic hero. He’s some kind of figure that stands for Irish nationalism.…So does this post office.”

“So what’s the relationship between Ireland and England…”

Ava scoffs, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Do we have a- 800 years of history with the English!”

“Are there still tensions between you guys?”

“Ah! Bloody Sunday doesn’t ring a bell? And of course the Civil War wasn’t that long ago, and people still blame the English for that…Ireland has a dark history and people still aren’t over it.”

“Ohh…I had no idea.”

“I’ve gotta go to class. Quick. I’ll take you to the hop-on, hop-off bus stop. Enjoy Dublin, pet!”

Sitting on a park bench near the river Liffy, I glance at my map of Dublin and admire the ancient charm of the city. I feel its mysteries seeping out of the gothic architecture and the street signs written in old Celtic script adjacent to English words: “This way to Temple Bar, Barra an Teampaill.” I take a moment, close my eyes and like a sunflower hungry for light, I tip my chin upward towards the sky. Afar, I suddenly hear the cracking of thunder and just as quickly the wind begins to pick up. Dark, ominous clouds creep toward the city. I shiver and fortunately, the hop-on, hop-off red double-decker bus appears in the nick of time.

“We didn’t foresee this rain comin’ today,” chirps the bus driver in a spotted bowtie, as he punches a hole in my ticket. “Tanks,” he says” Get in wid ye’ now, pet.” One by one I cross off Dublin’s most notorious historical landmarks: Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the famous park where I find Oscar Wilde, sprawled back on a rock, with a twinkle in his glossy stone eyes. The day takes a turn at Kilmainham Gaol. There is no warmth here. The thunder booms as I wander the dark corridors of the prison.

“And here at Kilmainham, the leaders of the Easter Rising were locked up until their deaths. This cell held one of the most famous leaders, Joseph Plunket. Seven hours before his being shot mercilessly to death, his sweetheart Grace Gifford was brought over, and here in this chapel, they stated their wedding vows and were married…”

“Here is where they lined the men up, and where the firing squad shot them dead. The last to die of the great leaders was Joseph Connelly who, because he sustained terrible injuries, had to be tired to a chair in order to be held upright for the firing squad.”

“And afterward Michael Collins finally signed the treaty with Britain, a civil war broke out between Pro-treaty and Anti-treaty forces. It literally divided Ireland in two. The Irish who had just previously fought together for their Independence, now found themselves brutally pitted against one another. Even blood relatives turned on one another… Today it is still a cause for bitterness….”

Getting back on the bus is a short reprieve from a battlefield –I attempt to shield the horrific images that have been planted in my mind, expel them with every breath and focus on the cold winter air and the lush parks. But Grace and Joseph….

“Steven’s Green was a place for execution… One well-known execution happened to poor Paddy Dougherty, who was executed for a bit of a minor crime: armed robbery. He was hanged here and left at the gallows over night. His family snuck in to Steven’s Green and brought his body to the house of the witness who testified against him. However, he didn’t last long there either. Didn’t you hear of the body snatchers? Well, during this time, the medical students at Trinity College didn’t have enough cadavers to practice on. So they would pay large sums of money to those who would bring fresh bodies to the college…”

“Oh, and as we pass through this stone gate, we arrive at lovely St. Kevin’s Park… But you see, before becoming a park, it was actually a cemetery. During the Great Potato Famine, hundreds of bodies were buried here. Eventually the city decided to turn the place into a park, and so the bodies were moved and formally buried elsewhere. But you see those headstones propped up against the wall over there? Those belong to the bodies who were never claimed, whose entire families were wiped out, and who are still buried underneath the grass where people picnic…. This was the most famous site in Dublin for body-snatching.”

“Do you see that plaque above the door there? This was Braham Stoker’s house. It was in Dublin that his mother inspired him with her bedtime stories about the people with consumption…lepers and social outcasts, who used to creep into town in the middle of the night, sneak into people’s homes and steal their food. At night before falling asleep, Stoker would envision one of those faces, yellow-eyed and foaming at the mouth, hands pressed up against his window, desperate to be let in. And from that imagination was born the Great Dracula.”

Each time I mount back onto the bus, feeling more weary and haggard with each stop, the bus driver in the bow tie ushers me forward cooing, “Hello again, pet…How are ye likin’ Ireland so far?”

I take my time in the Guinness Storehouse, relieved to be reading about the mix of hops, barley, and yeast that craft the perfect pint. The warm and nutty scent of beer carries me through the exhibit until I dreamily arrive at the 7th floor sky bar. Round-shaped with glass windows, I take my complimentary pint of Guinness adorned with a foam shamrock and sink into one of the plush chairs that overlooks the city. As day fades to dusk, I follow as each light blinks on – a harmony of neon and electric colors.

I can’t shake the stories from Kilmainham. How could Grace Gifford survive the tragedy? All of those men who died for freedom. All of this death that permeates the city- the bullet holes that serve as reminders, the invisible blood that still stains the walls of the prison, the “faint odor of wetted ashes” and decaying bodies, death skulking at every street corner. How do the Irish go on with their daily lives, knowing? How could they forget? I let out a heavy, audible sigh.

Two American guys sit down next to me, raving about Dublin’s party scene.

“Dude, man…that was SO sick last night. We raged so hard…I love Ireland!”

“We should totally go back to the Temple Bar again tonight. I think there’s live music, bro..”

I chime in softly, “So, you guys from the States?”

They both snap their heads in my direction, pleasantly surprised to be interrupted by a female voicel.

“Yeah! We’re from the East Coast. How about you?”

“Oh, I’m from California…just visiting for a few days.”

“How you likin’ Dublin. Pretty sweet right? We’re just bummed we won’t be here for St. Patrick’s Day. We hear it’s the party of the century! These Irish people definitely know how to drink. Kinda hard to keep up…”

“Haha… well, you know…I haven’t really gone out yet.”

“Ohhhh…” They scan my immediate surroundings, “Are you here…a-lone or somethin’?”

As they flash me a sorry, pathetic look, I realize I am very much alone. I’ve spent the whole day alone. And yet, my eyes glaze over as I take a sip of Guinness.

“Well no…actually, I’m just doing some sightseeing while my friend’s at school. I’m staying with her family just outside of Dublin. Damn though, this city is intense, don’t you think? Have you guys been visiting too? The history… Ugh… is so depressing…”

“Damnnn, you have an Irish friend? That’s sick! You should totally have her take you out. We haven’t had much time to visit. We usually end up staying out late and spending the whole day catching up on sleep in the hostel!

“Haha… that’s awesome. Well, it was nice to meet you…have a great time.” I smile and turn back to the view. Alone again with my thoughts. Some moments are just better experienced in solitude.

When I get back to the house, Fiona is sitting at the table, her forehead resting in her hands, elbows propped up on the table. She sees me and gets up to give me a hug.

“What’s wrong, Fiona?” I ask.

“Ohh, hello love. It’s just that my friend’s mother just passed away. She had bone cancer. It was just terrible. Such a tragedy…Lord, Mary…” Tears stream down her face.

“I’m so sorry,…”

“I’m alright, pet. These things happen. Why don’t you go have a rest in the living room with Darragh. Tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving early for Clare for the music festival.”

I go into the living room and see Darragh, 16 years old, pale, thin, with radiant blue eyes, lounging near the fireplace. He looks up at me from his book and smiles.

“Hi, Chelsea!”

I remember my mom telling me that when Darragh was born he could fit into the palm of your hand. He had a premature birth, was lucky to have even survived. He seems to wear a subtle glow of his good luck. His calm demeanor enveloped the room .

“How are you liking Dublin so far?”

I had forgotten he had something strange with his voice. It cracked softly when he spoke.

“I’m really liking it! I had no idea Dublin had such a dark history…I just actually came from the Guinness factory. I hear Guinness is like Ireland’s pride and glory.”

“Yes, that’s true. Can’t say I’ve tried it though. I don’t drink.”

“Oh really?”

“I know, I know… The Irish guy who doesn’t drink…What else did you see?”

“Trinity college, Kilmainham, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Irish Writer’s museum…”

“Did you know that James Joyce went to my high school?”

“WHAT?!”

“Yeah…one of the characters in “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” is based on one of the old teachers there…”

“That’s insane…”

“So what was the most memorable place you visited?”

“I think Kilmainham…I can’t get over the Easter Rising …And oh, at that park that still has all of the dead bodies buried beneath the ground. So creepy.”

“Oh yeah, I know…But don’t worry. Would you like to know the perfect remedy for such heavy thoughts?

“Sure….”

“Come on… let me introduce you to Ireland’s very own Father Ted.”

We sit on the couch and begin to watch the first episode called “Good Luck, Father Ted.” Quickly, we are immersed in the misadventures of three priests who have been exiled to Craggy Island, entertaining themselves on the “whirly-go round” at the fun fair, throwing bottles of whisky at the TV, and mistaking Madonna’s “Papa don’t Preach” for the Lord’s Prayer. A blatant mockery of the Catholic Church, the absurd humor makes me laugh deep from my gut until it’s searing with pain, and my eyes are producing a steady stream of tears.

“Ah, Father Ted. Brilliant!” Ava comes in and snuggles in next to me to me on the couch. We watch three more episodes. Later, we jump into our beds upstairs and I fall asleep to her musing about her horse, her boyfriend, and her nostalgia for the warm California summers and easy living.

“Rise and shine, girls! Get ready for the festival…Auntie Lizzy is waiting for us,” shouts Fiona the next morning. We hurriedly collect our things and Mike drops us off at the train station. On the train, we stuff our faces with Cadbury eggs and crisps. Ava is grumpy and tired, and snaps at her mother. The conductor passes, scolding her for having her feet up on the seat, while he examines our tickets. She frowns at him and munches her oil and vinegar potato crisps loudly. Jean begins to tell me about Clare…

“The Celts were in Clare and for that, it is home of traditional Irish music. Some of Ireland’s most important musicians also come from Clare. We go to the Corofin Music Festival just about every year! Clare was the home of the High King of Ireland…until the English took it. But here they were also plotting the 1798 rebellion… Oh, and the Cliffs of Moher are on the Atlantic coast, and are just beautiful. It’s a pity that we won’t be able to make a trip out there…”

During the train ride, Fiona continues to recount old Irish folklore. My forehead presses against the cold windowpane as I soak in the hillsides blanketed in green. I imagine the high mound where the ancient king sat, the hills that whisper secrets of midnight betrayals and rebellion against the English invaders. The land has seen it all. The truth and the legends intertwine, buried into every nook and cranny of her soil.

“Just wait until ye hear the music,” grumbles Ava.

The village of Corofin is made up of one small street that probably has more bars than it does people. It’s 5 p.m. and strings of lights decorate the trim of storefronts. People are spilling out of the entrances of the pubs.

“Have you ever seen so many pubs on one street?” chuckles Lizzy, Ava’s aunt.

“Where are the stages?”

“Oh, no. It’s not that kind of festival my dear. These are pub sessions. The musicians are among us. You’ll see!”

Suddenly we are shuffled inside a musty pub called Anglers Rest. Amid the crowd of people, in the middle of the room sits a group of musicians in a circle, each with an instrument: Banjos, fiddles, clarinets, harmonicas, and accordions. An old man in a worn brown suit, holding a pint in one hand, taps his heels and lifts his knees high up as he skips along to the music. A little girl with pink bows in her hair skips out to join him, and their hands interlace. They twirl around and around, shoulders erect, eternal bounce in their step. People clap along, hoot and holler. Musicians pause and join in, but the music never stops– the flutes and the violins, the dancers’ clicking shoes, the murmur of lively voices, the thick stream of stout pouring from the tap- all in sync. The woman next to me places another pint in my hand and guzzles down her own drink. The fireplace blazes. For what seems like hours, the music goes on. People step in and bow out, taking turns. The buzz of chatter and hearty laughter fill the room as pints go around. The woman who handed me the beer is now passed out on a wooden chair in the corner. Her husband stands next to me at the bar and flashes me a toothless smile, another Irish twinkle in his eye. Each jig merry and bright, we tap our feet, nod our heads, clap our hands and sing along. So this is where the Irish come to forget all their troubles…

The man sitting in front of me stands up as the music starts to fade out. He is clad in a short-sleeved pinstriped shirt. His Donegal tweed hat matches soft brown eyes, and his large belly protrudes from his body. The musicians calm their instruments and a hush falls over the crowd. The man begins to sing,

“Oh the winter it has passed
And the summer’s come at last…

As his vocals reverberate, the gold-lined chords melt from his tongue and hang in midair. A deep melancholy settles over the people. No one stirs.

“And the small birds are singing in the trees
And their little hearts are glad
Ah, but mine is very sad
Since my true love is far away from me”

“And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare…”
For it’s there I’ll finds tidings of my dear…
For it’s there I’ll find tidings of my dear”

Time is suspended as the spirits rise from behind the bar. They leave white trails as they twirl around the people and graze their ashen faces. Grace smiles. I feel myself getting faint.

“A Livery I’ll wear and I’ll comb back my hair
And in Velvet so green I will appear
For I’m going far away ah but I’ll return some day
I’ll return to the land that I hold dear…”

The lyrics speak for all of Ireland. The lyrics resurrect tears that flow like green liquid diamonds. They follow his voice…

“All you who are in love
Aye and cannot it remove
I pity all the pain that you endure
For experience lets me know
That your hearts are full of woe
A woe that no mortal can cure”

Grace tells me this song will protect us from the menacing threats that are lurking behind the hills. In his words I’ll find shelter, the voice of an angel, the whisper of the violin.

My body gets hot and I’m rattling in my own skin and muttering to myself. Just as the folk music picks up again, the banjo and the harmonica, the river dancers and the girl with the pink bow…. my body crumples to the floor.

Two days later, I’m back in Dublin with a 102-degree fever. They say it’s a nasty flu. I’m so pale; they say it looks as though I’ve seen a ghost. I haven’t left the bed, but Ava and Fiona, Darragh, and Mike; they all take turns coming up to my room, pouring me tea, dabbing my forehead with a cold washcloth, adjusting the bedding to make sure I’m comfortable. Fiona worries and calls my mother to check in. Darragh pops in a DVD of Father Ted. Mike cracks jokes that I don’t understand. After class, Ava comes upstairs and settles in at the foot of my bed, daydreaming out loud about how next time we are together in California, we can ogle at the fit lads at Evies’s pool, and eat lots of tacos…

Somehow I find myself back on the plane. Somehow I’m at the train station…. The fever breaks when I’m back in my bed in France, and when I wake up, it’s as if I’ve suddenly come to. Visions of my first taste of Ireland, home of my ancestors: the mists of the green hills and ghost stories, riveting music and toothless smiles in the pub, come back to me like a dream. I long to be back under her spell.

Guernica and the Louvre

You come flying at me in droves–

in pieces, like that Picasso painting

in the Reina Sofia.

Limbs, locks, eyes and ears – in the middle of a room.

Dismantled, come undone, lost little lambs.

 

Heads flung back, hooves for hands.

Pictures of the process on a long white wall-

You could see how his genius unspooled– a stop motion charade.

Quartered life slices, neatly reminisced.

 

First, he let it germinate. An idea, warring factions of the mind.

A spiked light bulb that dangled from the ceiling,

A raucous bull – a staunch reminder of his virility.

The spark it bit me, came shooting through the skylight.

 

The Mona Lisa, Unimpressed.

We preferred the tribal art, anyway, contained in glass cases,

rough to touch, hard as human flesh.

He mused, finger to cheek: the raw, the medieval.

 

He sculpts me when I sleep.

Feline upon a black bed of felt, I purr.

A ray of light dances through the triangle window of the Louvre

and illuminates the oeuvre.

All stories of primordial touch and battles won –

all cased up and framed like relics for us to feast on.

 

What’s in my glass case, now that you’re gone?

Undertones of lazy museum light. Brown and pixilated ash –

I wanted to explain the tableau of the red barn,

but you walked off before I could finish my thought.

Lost in the carnage of 1937.

All of Picasso’s lovers, his vital glow.

Your winking smile on Calle Feria and that salmon colored bike,

All in the blink of an artist’s eye.

The First Night of the Sevilla Fair

 Pescaito Frito

 It’s opening night of the much anticipated Sevilla Feria.  It’s called the Alumbrada, the night that the Entrance Gate lights turn on and the fair officially begins.  It’s also called “Pescaito” because it’s tradition to eat fried fish to your heart’s desire.  People either meet in private tents (the casetas) on the fairgrounds. Or, they attend parties and then head to the fair at midnight to watch the lights come on.  Paige and I have been invited to Rosie’s apartment, where she and her roommates are hosting a small get-together replete with fried fish and rebujitos, the traditional feria drink: sherry mixed with seven up, that gets you whirling pretty fast.  We are ecstatic at the invitation to consume fried fish and experience the Alumbrada the Sevillano way.

The party turns out to be a strange mix. Rosie is from California and her roommates are both Sevillanas.  Ana is a petite, psychology student who speaks in a mousy whisper. She’s pretty, with a Victoria Beckham haircut and an intellectual look.  She prefers to sit cross-legged on the floor, tucks in her long earthy skirt to her lap, and as she nods her head in agreement, her chin tilts up and her eyes make quick half blinks.

Currently, she has two friends over from school who sprawl out on the couches. There is a Palestinian guy named Samir.  He doesn’t smile much and seems afflicted by social malaise, unable to make eye contact or engage in small talk.  His accent in Spanish is thick and would be unrecognizable to me if I tried to place it.  He sits next to Maria, who is a doctoral student, grungy with tangled blond hair, wearing a loose white tee shirt and ripped jeans.  She is broad, curvy and confident.  I ask her if she likes Feria, and she says, “quéva,..yeah right.”  She tells me she’s from Badajóz and the feria there is much less exclusive than the Sevilla fair.  She studied in Brussels with a bunch of Americans and starts to list off the drinking games she learned from them… “It had something to do with a “king”…

“King’s Cup!” Paige, Rosie and I all shout in unison.  She then goes on to describe a game that requires lining up cups and once again, we interrupt:

“FLIP CUP!”

Apparently these people all have Palestine in common.  The girls lived and worked there as volunteers.

Another activist shows up with her boyfriend.  She is in a colorful floral print dress, and heads directly to the laptop to change the music.  She puts on Sevillanas , traditional music that you hear year-round in Sevilla at clubs, and all week long at the Feria. Her father sent to her these tunes via email and we cannot have a Pescaito party without them.  This girl wears a natural frown and seems serious, immediately engaging Maria and Samir in conversation about life and conflict in Palestine.  She is applying for a scholarship to go and live again in Palestine.  “I’ll bring Carlos with me this time…” I catch her saying, as her boyfriend sits mute and unassuming in the corner.

She begins to recap the interview she had, and how she duped the interviewer into believing she had solid English skills.

“Y then I say-ed, “I…. have…. four ….people ….in ….my…. flat”.

I take this as my cue to jump in:  “You speak English really well,” I smile sweetly.  Our groups then start to merge in conversation.

The other roommate, Cristina, is our age and a clown by profession, along with her brother who will also be arriving soon.  We hear she has three boyfriends. At the end of the night, we will meet one of them, a man at least twenty years her senior with a pockmarked face and droopy eyes. When we see him, he has his hand on her leg as they share a joint.  When he gets up to greet us, his kisses are meek and his cheeks are sprouting with grey stubble. To me, the way you kiss when you greet reveals a lot about your character, kind of like a handshake. The American girls all exchange mystified glances at this peculiar duo.

We start to get into a flow with these people:  more interaction between Spaniards and Americans, rebujito after small glass of rebujito.  We devour guacamole to curb our hunger, as we wait for the fish.  Cristina’s brother’s friend should be bringing the fish any minute, but that is what they told us an hour ago.  This is Spain, where people’s mottos are “Mañana, mañana.” Getting drunker helps to lighten the mood.

Rosie’s roommates figure the fried fish is never showing up, so they decide to go out and buy it themselves.  We’ve been sitting around for a while now and the Alumbrada is near.  In their absence, a group of five pueblo people show up and the vibe suddenly shifts.  The word for posh in Spanish is “pijo” and these people fit that definition to a “T”. Rosie runs to throw some chicken strips in the oven.

The Pijos waltz in and we all immediately feel underdressed. The guys help themselves to drinks and separate themselves, delving into conversation about the latest Sevilla-Betis football gossip.  Cristina’s (the clown) brother is among them.  They are wearing ironed shirts and suit jackets and are quite short. The three girls have their faces painted with thick layers of make-up, and each has hair down to her back, curled in long flowing waves that frame their faces.  Their dresses hug their bodies tightly and they shimmy toward the couch in two-inch heels like apathetic dolls.

The activist/hippie group  stand up rigidly to make way for these three pouty-faced girls who take the couch.  Two of the girls are scowling, but the girl with the white dress and round cheeks smiles broadly at us and wants to know where we’re from and what we’re doing here. She can tell by the looks of us that we are not from here. Her name is Carmen.   She has an angelic aura and is studying to become a pre-school teacher (as are the other two girls). They listen keenly as Carmen asks about our impressions of Spain and what we know about Feria.  Although we have been here for almost two years, we allow her to enlighten us about her culture and traditions.  Paige and I play dumb and listen on.  “Ohhh, really?   There is a traditional dance called Sevillanas?  Wow, we didn’t know that!  Can you show us?  You are supposed to each fried fish tonite?  That’s amazing!  You aren’t wearing your flamenco dresses yet?  Oh, right.  That starts tomorrow.”

Rosie is hustling to provide more finger foods and drops some chicken fingers and chips on the table.  I observe as the scowling girls pick at the platters delicately, obviously disappointed that the fried fish hasn’t yet arrived.  They eavesdrop and meanwhile their faces cloud over with boredom and distaste.  It’s 11:30 pm.  We’ve just about given up on the fish and Rosie, Paige and I want to see the Portada light up.  We ask the others if they want to join, but they shrug us off.  They are absorbed in conversation and would rather watch the big moment on television.  Tipsy and empty-stomached, we American girls gather our belongings and leave behind this eclectic group of people waiting for the arrival of the fish…that will eventually actually arrive, in Spanish time.

We take to the streets until we join the large crowd, walking toward the fairground.  Shoulder to shoulder we move in sync along with girls in blazer jackets, tight mini skirts with long black hair, boys dressed smartly holding their wastes, plastic bags full of Cruzcampo beer and rebujito mix.  They will drink outside of the tents, outside of the restaurants, next to their cars– a phenomenon known as botéllon.  We are a snugly packed wave of people, swaying back and forth inching forward along the main street, Calle San Jacino, toward the structure composed of thousands of light bulbs, about to come alive.   People in apartments above balance their drinks on balconies, whistling, chit-chatting, no one in a hurry, everyone late and at ease with the crowds and lack of personal space.  This is Spain.  Foreigners without a clue are equally as moved by the Sevillanos amping up for their favorite week of the year.

And when the lights do come on – we haven’t quite reached the Portada, but we can see its magnetic glow from a few blocks away.  Cameras are whipped out, a large whoop goes up, and there is an explosion of elation and revelry.  The Feria has officially begun.

Among the sea of shuffling people, we coincidentally run into my Dutch roommate with his Columbian dark-eyed fling.  He’s walking behind her, clutching her shoulders brutishly, directing her toward the gate.  We are pushed into motion. I grab hold of him momentarily and he shouts to me the name and number of his friend Jorge’s caseta, before we are separated by the push of people.  Since we have no plan like a good Sevillano, we are off to Gitanillo Number 82.

Once we reach the Portada, the crowds disperse and people disappear into their private tents. There are rows upon rows of green or red striped tents.  The rows have street names and the tents have their own addresses.  We have entered a party city, reverberating with clicking shoes, strumming guitars, glasses clinking and kisses all around.  Yellow glowing bulbs are strung across the streets festively, illuminating pathways.  People embrace each other in groups that buzz with conversation.   We navigate to Gitanillo 82.  It’s the first street to the right and easy to find.  Once there, we greet Jorge, who introduces us to the security guard who winks at each one of us, then invites us in…

The casetas act as replacement homes for the week, complete with living rooms, dining room areas, a bar, and a bathroom.  Hardcore feria-goers tend to spend almost every waking moment in their tents.  Jorge’s is like a shotgun house, long and rectangular with stacked rooms.  Paige and I drift over to the bar, which is directly behind the dining/dancing room and order two mondaditos with cured ham and a round of rebujitos.  While waiting, we feign feria experience but really look around in awe at the mounted portraits of bullfighters, flamenco dancers and black and white sketched scenes of Sevilla from the past, the bunches of flowers arranged on ceiling overhangs along with yellow and red streamers, as well as the kitchen stocked with three or four ham legs, rebujito mixers and all of the traditional Andalusian tapas.

We conclude the night entranced by the “Olés” and the “Tomas”, the magic and profound suffering that reverberates in the the voice of the flamenco singer, and finally, the men and women as they dance their traditional flamenco steps. They beckon us foreign onlookers to the dance floor, refusing to take no for an answer.

This night is just a small taste of the wild week we are about to experience – a week of non-stop carousing; eating, drinking and dancing the Andalucian way at Sevilla’s most memorable, excessive party of the year.

The Day at the Ocean

In the Arabic baths, there are gold ceilings and hexagonal stars. There are candles that flicker and throaty hymns of long-gone Spanish Islam.

He and I spiral into darkness, down the staircase into the tomb-shaped pool. The light trips in mosaics. We take our time, perfume our hands with eucalyptus and inhale. The waterfall spray of jets. The eyes. In those eyes, the light trips.

Awash in his spell. I cannot think, but to touch, I cannot touch, but to function. I will not listen to what anyone says. I will undo what I was taught was wrong.

He and I are like pine needle rivers in a poisonous mushroom grove along green trails. Swinging Medusa-loves alcohol and train tracks to lead her home. Memory amush. Enmeshed and tangled like barbed wire bodies. Burning down the fireweed and long-lipped baskets that I made you, a picnic.

Collecting us, collecting you-it drowns out my poetry, when suddenly you fill my long-lusting lip luster and lick up my thighs. Give me back my poem. I say give me back my poem. The one about lemon-drops and lemon soap.

Is this the way you talk to your mother? Are you really going to cower at my feet and beg for more? Are you as ugly as you look? Are you about to douse me with a flame from the inside?

From the distant fluff of your brainwaves and family gatherings. I shouldn’t have gone. I shouldn’t have taken that line of coke and let you carry me home.

I cannot live like this, but damn, I cherished every moment knowing it would all come crashing like the rain, the day of the thorns and throngs of waves that held me under- That day, you pulled me out of the sea, a Spanish rose dangling between your smoke-stained teeth. I never should have second guessed the ocean.

Among the Almond Trees Take 2

My love, the protector,

on a rock against a red winter sky.

My love in my bed,

hour after hour, day after day.

My love, the green goblin,

rears his sharp teeth and wild eyes.

My love, I never could find the right nickname.

My love, light-eyed, knows bounty:

like the rock candy puckered afterglow,

I pray to the Macarena on my way home from work.

I balance all my weight on a blade.

My love, look away when I kick over

your drink and crawl back down the well.

My face is turning purple, I think I’ll just hold my tongue.

My love, we float in a blue saltwater pool, like a tomb…

It was a Saturday at the station when I last left you:

My love, my God, it was plain and simple.

If only you had opened the bathroom door.