‘High on Avila,’ a Poem

 High on Avila

Maybe the altitude is getting to me
Or maybe there’s a little more than smoke in the fumes
Of ancianos forming clumps along the cobblestoned streets
Canes and furs and a refusal to freeze
Having grand old times with their whiskeys and wines
While I climb the winding way up between the moon
And the buildings lacking elbow room
But possessing an excess of tombs (like mine)
Tiny and always for rent

They say that nothing happens here

Then what’s happening to me
When this tree with bronze branches and fiery flowers
Is a lamppost—the same one that’s been here for hours
Pointing my way back to the bug jar where lights flicker
For hours and hours after they’ve gone out

I’ve gone out
And I haven’t found my way back home
Though I’ve known the winsome, lonesome road
More closely than it knows its spouse
I’ve known the hostel of a house
And loved each poorly heated nook
Each leaking hole and ancient tile
Each smile and stiff, unopened book
Cacique and Coke can’t hide the truth
The other ruthless spirits might
But vodka and Sprite won’t keep me from getting in out of the frost
They can’t keep me from getting lost
I’ll follow my breath and the cloud of frozen dew
You’d think that I’ve been smoking, too
Enraptured by the way I’ve walked
So many times before

They say that nothing happens here
But only here

Only here when a kid slaps his skateboard down
To the ground like another does in Central Park
Or some slum in Milwaukee or a sidewalk in Sayre
Is the sound suddenly the best talk I’ll ever hear. I swear
Only here do his wheels clatter along gray-gold cobbles
Like a caballero to the rescue of some maid in La Mancha
Only here is the tiny, green cop on patrol—
Chirping at me to cross the calle now and not later—
Just a peregrine sparrow scaring me away from her nest
Of history wrapped in cathedrals and beer
And the rest of the birds? The cigueñas bringing babes
But not enough to renovate—
To satisfy a city
Don’t cry. The old ones don’t need your pity
I swear they’re all just jumbo jets
Too big to be pets but purring their promise to take us away someday

Away to the exotic zones I’ve dreamed of one day touching
Like the kids selling crack in Teresa’s plaza
Who’ve thought about taming but settled for naming
The places they’d find if they vaulted these walls
For here?
Nothing happens here but historia
No one lives here but the living
And I’m giving up my dreams of reaching beaches
And boudoirs. Fantasies
Like Fantas in Aquarius cans
Pour elixirs of gold and jewels so old
That just sniffing them quenches a dynasty’s thirst
For conquering thrones in some tropical clime
Conquistadors all, for in no time at all
They’ve captured my heart
Not the islands or kingdoms with gaping, Gothic domes
They’re somebody’s home
But not mine

They say that nothing happens here
And to me, that’s fine

So let the Ziploc bag pass by
Sin buzz, I dunk my head in the sky
Clear and skimming mountains without their help
Paris, Milan, Morocco, Taipei will one day
Be just chapters in a tourist guide
And I know that I may never taste or sniff their sultry wares
But who really cares?
‘Cause me I’m already high
As high as Avila

I’m high on a night in Avila

Spanish vocabulary:

ancianos- old people
calle- street
ciguenas- European storks (found everywhere in Spain)
historia- history (or just story)


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