At El Mercado, tourists snatch
up sombreros and molcajetes;
on the boats at nighttime,
bored children drag their hands
through the river in spite of the
guide’s warning; their parents allow this.
My best friend apologizes to me for being white
and purchases a Frida Kahlo print. Don’t look
at the men with guitars, she whispers,
they’ll come over and ask for money.
I not only look at them, but I smile,
a smile that says come here, vienes aqui.
Cinco o veinte, they mutter flatly,
a question that has lost its inflection.
It wasn’t always like this, I tell my friend,
when my grandfather was a mariachi
he serenaded women at their windows,
patched up marriages, cured depression
which, like everything bad, was attributed to
the evil eye. After he was old, his tenor dropped
to a baritone, he had a sparkle in his eyes
that cajoled the washed out women,
their knuckles raw, their backs aching.
Even after his stroke, there were songs
on his leathery face, a drawl and swagger
like a Mexican John Wayne. Illiterate
in two languages, he signed report cards,
Agapito Jimenez in deliberate cursive writing,
a little shaky, smears where pauses were
recorded as blotches. I offer a twenty,
and ask for “Alla en el Rancho Grande” for starters;
my friend chatters as the singers begin
their routine; bored and embroidered, they stare
into a distant place. Maybe they can’t bear to see
the light in my eyes. Maybe they still fear el ojo;
looking away is their charm. Their faith
in a god’s eye, they sing in monochrome,
stiff and practiced as a pencil in the hand
of my grandfather, strumming guitars
like scratching their bellies, they fix a gaze
on some place in a memory, somewhere, I hope, alla.