Five Poems by Jeffrey Alfier
Last Postcard from Kraków
The city moved with the fogged breath of strangers.
Cops swept the marketplace of foreign drunks.
A scuffle of wind stung the air with snow
and streetlights ran molten in windows of trams.
A worker’s handbill swore to no one I knew:
We will not be swindled, our names not taken down.
Thickets of vendors edged the cathedral.
Stray cats hunkered into themselves
like vagrants into coats. Along the river,
alder limbs were masts of shuttled ships
listing over ice that edges the shoreline.
A thick scent of coal burned everywhere.
A woman hurried a suitcase up the street.
I watched the falling snow glaze the dark.
The View from Mostowa Street
At the café window, the prospect of snow
seems endless. Clouds detour sunlight,
shadows work the walls of tenements.
At my feet, sacks of herring and black bread
that a spinster — fingerless gloves, smoke-yellow
nails, sold me in the marketplace.
Only one other patron here: a pensioner,
frowning at the evening paper
as if it were a love letter etched in vanishing ink.
The waitress serves me wormwood liqueur,
binds back her autumn hair. Shirt cropped
at the ribs, she shows me the blue
sparrow tattooed on her hip, swears
it floats above her in her sleep.
Outside, the onset of heavy snow.
It angles off the boulevard, gets snared
in contrary winds. A woman races
into a doorway. A sliver of light escapes.
Return to Las Escobas Restaurante
. . . drink and eat, for God gives you His indulgent smile.
Baudelaire, Abel and Cain
Midday, give or take an hour, and I’m back
in Sevilla from pre-dawn walks beyond
the river. Somewhere in those fields I lost
the names of wildflowers, names of all trees,
save the olive groves a farm woman owned
who’d loved me once in Almensilla.
Thirst-laden, I press parched lips to the chipped
edge of a glass of rebujito, knowing the white
sherry that swims through the mix will one day
burn a hole somewhere deep inside me.
My eyes shift to the pavement that funnels walkers
up from Puerta de Jerez. All week, storm clouds
have dimmed this street. But today they won’t find it,
furrowed by Andalusian sun, by the footsteps
of a merchant, his eyes lowered like a convict’s,
pushing a cart of iced calamares, finessing
his way around the growing crowds.
Enough daylight left to spend, I could drift back
to those fields I’d taken to in the early hours.
But perhaps I’ll linger here, far into moonrise,
gather sounds of longing in men’s voices singing
homeward. Or in my own voice, held so long that silence
feels like infidelity, like far-off fields that almost
turned their backs on me, vanishing into rain.
My Third July in Luna County
I’m still alive. Leaned up against a brake lathe,
rolling Zig Zags. The straw boss
shares papers at our auto shop.
But he’d take my hide if he knew I’d stolen tools.
Lord it’s hot as murder hereabouts.
Fire ants climb my coffee cup.
My lost dog doesn’t know
I ain’t got time to search him out.
By and by I’ll slip out of town
in a Cadillac the owner won’t claim
’til morning. Take my lover to a bar
down in Cotton City.
She’s on a first-name basis with the devil
and has warrants. Holes up out of town —
never you mind where.
Later in my room she’ll hotplate a batch
of mudfish with muscatel.
I’ll drop her back at Lordsburg Station
where gutterpunks slink between railcars.
They’ll beg a lift somewhere. I’ll flip them off.
Back home I’ll crack a window. Can’t afford a/c.
Wish I could rent someplace to cool off.
There’s one motel in town. Some stranger
will touch a face in a rented room.
No Man for the Mountain
for Jim Harrison
So this is how it is done, one switchback
then another. I’m still an hour or two
from base camp as I hear the rocky flow
of canyon waters like mumbled language.
When my middle-age knees pop with bone chips
I pray all cougars rest fat on mule deer.
But if big cats suffer the sight of me
they wouldn’t refuse a decrepit meal.
Hauling a rucksack with the latest gear,
I climb unwieldy as a horse-drawn war.
Friends bet I’d flag by Esperero Trail
waving heedless farewells to puzzled hikers.
The sun dims down to westering pastels.
Night. Coyote tongues wag over my tracks.
Something calls out with an alien speech;
could be my own voice echoing off stone.
Reaching base camp, I’m a fool’s hedge against
winds that would flog me threadbare. Come morning,
I’ll drift back down paths of gravel, lupine,
past dead cholla, out through a broken fence.
Pusch Mountain Wilderness, Arizona
© Jeff Alfier