Why King Juan Carlos I of Spain deserves the Nobel Peace prize by Neil Raymond Ricco
like his grandfather,
the blue generals
to breathe life back
into el Caudillo. He could’ve
the whole thing in
for the hills. Instead,
he sat before the television cameras,
quieting the racing hearts startled
by Tejero Molina’s pistol crack.
said, “All right you guys, run the show,
but just leave me the throne.” He could’ve,
So damn it,
He deserves it.
QUESTIONS FOR LORCA
Did the moon groan
when they threw your body
into the ground? Did it send
a shower of pebbles
like stars to share your death? Or did it
just stare down at the grave
like an idiot child or a sick eye
seeing only the absence
of light and shadow? Did
you cry out
before the first bullet? Or had
they pulled your tongue out
before they shot? Did their
moon-struck heads force
them to put one
last bullet into you
because your words sang
like the bell from a church where no sin is forgiven?
THE BIG TOP
For Pedro Juan Pietri Aponte 1944-2004
You saw the whole sad, miserable circus:
Mangy lions with no teeth, acrobats afraid
Of heights, a fat woman who refused food.
You wouldn’t applaud no matter how drunk
Nor did you laugh
At the clowns who pretended
To be poets, elder statesmen for an island
Whose tongue they could barely speak.
Yet, you graced the Big Top
With your poems. You encouraged the real
Poets; knowing how hard
It was to cut the line, blow air into
The metaphor, so it could rise like the table
During a séance. Now that you’re gone
To a much better place,
If you have any influence
At all with Our Author,
Have him spit
Hailstones at the Big Top,
At the pink-clad poodles
That go round and round until
We’re so dizzy we’ve forgotten
Where we come from.
If He’s too busy, lean over
A cloud, unzip your pants,
Rain, let it pour.
So we can all go home.
MADRID TO LISBON
Storks spread their wings
And lift themselves off
Chimneys under sunlight
So bright it hurts the eyes.
Rock-strewn fields puzzle
My seven-year old son.
He wonders why so many.
The poet inside me wants
To say they’re tears grown old
And hard, belonging to those
Who’ve lived the longest among us.
But decide against teaching him
Only the hardest things in life
Live almost forever.
As the miles fall behind
Us like footprints, Spanish words
Dissolve in Portuguese mouths
Like sugar in hot coffee.
They walk like they’re tired, he adds.
I nod in agreement.
Like the Spaniards
We have left behind us,
They have begun their slow
Drowning in the darkness
That falls over their vineyards,
Once their sweat
Has begun to dry
Under stars that blink
In code their cold
For Don Aurelio Huerta
Though my great-uncle was never more to me than a face
In an old black & white photo
Hidden by my grandmother, I now sit,
A neo-celebrity, clad in his
Fascist credentials, surrounded
By blue shirts with all but
The passion washed from them, in thick
Cigarette smoke, grey as the filthy Russian
Snow they plowed through
With the Division Azul.
España has gone
To the dogs, they lament,
Waving captured Russian
Flags, bottles of Rioja
Wine with Franco’s
Photo on the label.
I nod, almost ashamed
To admit I prefer the company
Of fascists. Envious of their courage,
Their Spanish pride. Shame
Is not even a word here. I chain-smoke
Fortunas and smile
At the victors of the Civil War
From which my nine-year old
Mother was whisked off
To America. I am Señor
To all of them; to a few, Don Rico. One volunteers
To go shoot el Rojo who threw
A glass of wine
In my face. Their pride
Is contagious. I am slapped
On the back. Some even weep
At the tales of my great-
Uncle’s exploits: the machine-
Gun nest taken like candy
From a baby; the insults in perfect
Russian shouted at Zhukov followed
By four dead Russians who dared answer.
Do not forget us, remember us
In your poems, in your stories, they plead
As the night air sweeps
Them quickly towards the dead past.
I promise not to. They don’t have
Much time left, these sad beautiful, old devils.
They killed my baby brother Jose-Angel
within the first two months of the Civil War
and turned Ramon, the brother who stood between us both,
into a traitor whose courage was only strong enough
to carry the half-truths he hoards with his wife,
the whore from Vigo.
They both found a home in the shadow of
the Jew-lover Roosevelt.
I prayed for them to be ground raw
under the wheels of his wheelchair,
but nothing ever happened.
Today they are old, fat, and before they can barely walk
an inch through the snows of New York,
they are washed up onto the sunlight beaches of Puerto Rico.
Yes, I followed El Caudillo,
as silent as a parish priest would the Pope.
Didn’t even cry out when wounded.
My scars, dry red star bursts,
God or maybe the Devil has
allowed me to borrow in good faith.
I will never apologize for the German uniform
I wore in Russia’s red snow. Yes, my German
wife cried and shuddered like a flag when Berlin
fell like a sick giant.
Today, I wear my Iron Cross proudly among old men.
The cancer drumming my throat is an accident of fate,
not a sentence God doled out to a fascist son.
My enemies, I killed them as easily as taking a breath,
before the blood in my cough told me
I would soon be joining them.
The portero, impressed when I asked for the Señora
Alemana, gave me a curt nod, almost clicked
his heels, and motioned toward the elevator. In her fifth
floor Madrid apartment, she moved slow as sap. While her Dominican
maid hovered, she served her sobrino tea and cookies before
showing me my great-uncle’s Iron Cross. Photos
of her Germany papered the walls: Goebbels
and the Fuhrer, her baby brother Hans in Hitler Youth uniform,
his Nazi arm aimed spear-straight at the camera,
my great-uncle Raul posing with other Spanish
soldiers on the Russian front. Not a speck
of dust. Pride like an infection. She didn’t
have long to live; didn’t trust her remaining family in Germany
to take care of her legacy and wanted to know
if I would. I nodded. She pulled paper and pen from her house dress.
I scribbled a twenty- year-old address, and promised
to visit again.
Rapping it against the bodega counter when someone
darker got served first, Lola carried
it like a Prussian field marshal’s baton, bragging to every
one it came from Andalucia. On the street, she snapped
it open, ripping the humidity like the Mexican
movie star she’d seen in the pueblo’s
only theater. You would’ve never
known she’d bartered for it in Old San Juan
and that a black woman from Loiza Aldea
had made it by hand. At home, she moved
it across her face like a nervous wing,
using her husband’s crisp
lisp to berate him over and over for not
taking her back to their homeland. Wordless,
he’d rush out into the street. After the birth
of their only son, she got worse,
and when strong silent men in white spirited
her away, the fan tore
to shreds amidst her red-faced, España
mañana, sera Republicana!
Screams against Franco
and the Falange, muffled
by the pistol-crack slam
of the ambulance door. On Sundays,
as her eyes travel the barred
windows to manicured grounds that remind her
of Madrid in summer,
she stares at her son and asks, Who is this
dark-skinned boy? There are no
gitanos in our family.
INTO THE WORLD
The ambulance was a coffin large
enough for the blue-eyed man in white to hover
over her. He had no idea
nor cared what she was yelling as he and another lowered
her gently onto the walkway that led into Emergency,
where she continued screaming at doctors, the nurses,
the stray Irish cops with nurse
pussy on their minds. She wasn’t
going to let anyone do crazy
things to her nor to me. Look
at how white I am; I’m not
like them! she shouted, her bare arms
exposing flesh. As contractions circled
closer, she whispered, I am Spanish, not
Puerto Rican! She had heard
all the beauty parlor stories of Puerto Rican
women experimented on in this
Bronx hospital - turned into zombies, their robes
soaked with menstrual blood when the moon
was full. I’m Spanish, not Puerto
Rican, she murmured, like a tired swimmer, as she
went under the anesthesia. When the Irish
nurse brought me swaddled
and wrinkled, she was too
weak to reach for the bundle, but still
able to look for the two
tell-tale nipples, one on each
side of the neck, through which the mad
doctor fed electricity
to the monster. After two weeks
at home she stopped staring out the window.
If the angry villagers with torches hadn’t
come for us, they never would.
Regardless of his Irish surname, white
Skin, and a brogue you couldn’t
Hide behind a Cadillac, they caged Abuelo
With the spics and niggers because
He’d been born in Spain. They ignored
His limp, took away his cane, so he got from cell
To cell hand over hand like the monkey
We had once seen at the Bronx Zoo.
He made it along cold walls by driving
His nails deep into the cracks, leaving behind
Enough blood for the roaches to slide
Down into his hair at night. When pneumonia
Struck, the Puerto Ricans
Spoon fed him and rubbed
Him down with Ben Gay; the Blacks
Gave him Lucky
Strikes he traded
For more. His wrinkles
Soon resembled knife cuts.
An Irish doctor in a dirty white coat
Ordered him to cough once
And was never seen again.
By lying on his greasy back
And flying back to when the bombs
Were being dropped on Madrid,
He got through it. If he survived
Franco, neither Wagner nor Rikers
Island would touch him. On his release,
His suit fit like a collapsed parachute.
He had to lean
Deep into Tio Ramon’s hip. Rib
To rib, they barely made it
To the cold Ford. When he shouted at Tio to drive
Faster into the sun, he frightened
Me, a small, tear-streaked boy coiled
In his arms. God, it feels good
to be alive, he whispered into
My face before a sharp
Cough drove us both
Into the dashboard.
AN ESSAY ON RAYMOND CARVER
Watch that eagle over
head. Now, imagine you’re
him. You’re graceful,
powerful, influential. That’s why
you’re inked on battle
flags and currency. See
how your huge wings seem
to shake those
branches, hanging over
the fisherman kneeling
over that flat rock. Even
the trees tremble before you. It’s really
the wind’s doing, but you
don’t know that. Now, keep
imagining. Think powerful, majestic
too, if it helps. Forget what
Roosevelt and Franklin said. You’re no
scavenger. Forget the grizzly. To hell with the wild turkey, too.
Keep circling overhead and that
fisherman’s stray basket
full of today’s catch, all salmon. Keep
imagining you’re that eagle; and you’re
thinking, that fellow down
there has something I want.
Now the fisherman
is no longer on his knees
and he’s drying his hands
on his pants legs. Now
imagine you’re him. Who needs
a flask? You’re full
of straight, clean cold
water. And you’re
staring right back
at that eagle and saying to yourself,
Sorry bud, get your own grub,
as you light a cigarette, and head
for the cabin, where the woman
who loves you tends a hot pot
of black coffee. The eagle,
forget about him, he’s disappeared.
Just concentrate on not fucking up your marriage.