by Bill Meissner
SUNDAY AFTERNOON MUSICIANS
AT PANCHO VILLA’S RESTAURANT
The three caballeros lean into the song, their lips almost
touching the mics. Their guitars wake the small speakers
with loud chords—an upbeat melody,
words only in Espanol. On the cracked plaster wall,
posters of Pancho Villa and Che Guevara
watch over their shoulders.
Dressed in matching blue shirts splashed with pearl buttons,
the caballeros sway, their black cowboy hats rocking forward and back
like small fishing boats off the shore of Celestun.
Their harmonies are a little off key, but
we don’t mind, two gringos, sipping Dos Equus. We nod and listen,
feeling the bass guitar’s vibrations rise through the wood bar
and into our elbows while the scents of salsa, fried tortillas
and smoky chipotle wrap their arms around us.
Though we don’t speak their language, we wonder
if these are Mexican love songs.
Two small children—the boy in a starched shirt
and black pants, the girl in a lacy white only-for-church dress—
leave their parents’ table and begin to dance in the aisle.
Too young to know dance steps, they just bob and jump,
their faces lit with smiles that could stretch for miles.
Love songs, we think as we whisper, our lips almost touching.
After the gig, tres caballeros put their guitars to sleep
in black cases, then slide onto vinyl chairs
near the makeshift stage. The waitress lowers
a round of bloody Marys in tall frosted mugs filled to the rim.
The men toast, while, behind them, the boy and girl
keep hopping and dancing,
the music still playing inside them. They’ll dance
and dance long after the music is over.
And finally we’re sure of it: they’re love songs, all of them.
Back from his hike, all Dad gave me was a chipped stone, its edges
like a jagged mountain range, so I’d know
the soil I walked on every day was deep. All he gave me
were words I didn’t understand: Ojibwe, Hochunk, Wonkshiek.
All he gave me was a stare, its point sharp enough to cut.
I was a junior high son who only thought about
hanging out with my buddies by the river, the growl
of mufflers on Chevys, the colors of the girls’ blouses in my class.
I knew just a dozen of years, not six or seven hundred.
I was a boy who lived in water, not in stone.
He ran his pudgy fingers over
the rose-colored surface. Like ripples,
almost, he said, his voice filled with awe. Like there’s a current, or
a wind blowing across it. He studied the stone
as though it could show him which direction to go.
Now his words are sealed over inside that quartz.
I hand it to my son, this stone,
pointed enough to draw blood. Beneath
his fingers its surface must feel
like ripples, almost.
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Bill Meissner’s first novel, SPIRITS IN THE GRASS, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of an ancient Native American burial ground on a baseball field, was published in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame Press and won the Midwest Book Award. The book is available as an ebook from the UND Press. Meissner’s two books of short stories are THE ROAD TO COSMOS, [University of Notre Dame Press, 2006] and HITTING INTO THE WIND [Random House/SMU Press, Dzanc Books ebook].
Meissner has also published four books of poems: AMERICAN COMPASS, [U. of Notre Dame Press], LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDERWATER and THE SLEEPWALKER’S SON [both from Ohio U. Press], and TWIN SONS OF DIFFERENT MIRRORS [Milkweed Editions].
He is director of creative writing at St. CloudStateUniversity in Minnesota. His web page is: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner/
His Facebook author page is:
Three of Meissner’s poems and a trailer for SPIRITS IN THE GRASS are on youtube, accompanied by images and music.
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