The Maradona impersonator
in the streets around La Boca
understands the gift of colour.
A diamanté earring, goatee,
the paunch of a lazy Caesar:
he’s the coke-slob incarnation
of El Diego, only a few cents
buying you a photo as gaudy
as yellow buildings, his gold teeth
bold as carnival paint. In San Telmo
a couple dance in an empty square
and their audience is a ruined doll
sitting in a junk shop window,
the hiss on a tango record
is their applause. So far from home,
surrounded by the music of sex
and funerals, you imagine universes
spiralling in abstract dimensions,
the ones which see you die in this city
if only because in this city
you have been so alive.
Like the La Boca impersonator
who approaches a mirror
anticipating another’s face
but discovers only glass.
The River Plate is toad green
and excellent, mui bien
according to the woman
who swims beside me in cutoff jeans.
She points out a pathway over rocks,
laughs when my feet slide on stone,
her expression lovely and genuine,
her teeth rotted to stumps.
But decay is the point of this city:
the French villas in the old town
crumble into elegance, their plaster
held in place by graffiti poses.
The river throbs over us
wide as a sea, named by explorers
who longed for Sierra del Plata,
the fabled silver in the mountains.
The woman jumps through waves
hand in hand with her daughter;
her daily reward, this municipal beach.
I am passing through these lives.
On the shore, her husband
smokes in the shade,
gazing out over the water,
‘Huevo Felix!’ daubed behind him on the wall.
The clouds have riotous forms,
white sculptures issued over the Andes,
which are sculptures themselves,
chiseled out for, oh, fifty million years…
A car ride through the valley
where they have strived for miracles
for three generations: water
where there has been no water,
grapes and peaches grown from dust.
Bolivian workmen stalk the white concrete,
necks protected from the sun
by T-shirts worn under hard hats:
dehydration is preferable to the sun’s glare.
Two men push a rusted Renault
into the verge, the same car
my family drove in Cyprus
over thirty years before.
But any life is a loop of movement
and vague retorts, like firing a gun
in the middle of a desert.
A black dog
snuffles in the ditch, an old woman
by the open air market
winces up at the sky
before picking through avocado, bananas.
Driving in the centre of the highway
protects the evenness of tires
against the wearing camber
and sharpens your nerves
in the face of oncoming traffic
but everyone gives you plenty of time.
The roads are straight and purposeful
and take you exactly where you intended.
The old man plays guitar on the veranda,
his voice a thin bird
trembling over songs
perhaps a hundred years old.
His bones are as light as pumice,
his body withered by falls
and the weight of a life.
Only on horseback does he come alive.
Around him, across the grounds,
are trees planted by the German owner:
eucalyptus, oak, chestnut,
sycamores from England.
The younger riders wait tables,
offering smoked meat from the grill,
attending to guests who travel here
from Europe and America.
And after work, these men return
to day jobs in the city,
or to study law or architecture
in community colleges.
The consequence of a nomad life
is that the tradition uproots itself
and disappears into the grassland,
stays lonelier than any desert or sea.
Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have appeared in a number of places, most recently in Structo, Antiphon, and The Yellow Chair Review. He is also the author of the novel All the Dogs, and blogs at absenceclub.wordpress.com.
Image credit: krheesy