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Bar Xanadu

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A perfect veronica, invisible, scallops air
before the bull, the bartender’s fluttering hands.
Tipped with silken fruit tinseled gold,   
a dusty banderilla hangs above racked bottles,
burnt-orange. Your lacquered fingers streak
the cocktail napkin and the globe of cognac’s

fragrant on the zinc bar. Fields of chamomile.   
Close your eyes and then the night turns to coal
seamed with diamonds. Outside, a girl murmurs
her tired price, in pesetas, to passing men.   
Irita, the barman calls when she wanders in
to wash at the single coldwater tap. Just a fly-blown

café on your functionary’s street of flats, bedrooms
shuttered around their whispering, the shops that gleam
by day with scaled cellophane piglets, mounded bins
of fruit and olives. Irita rewinds her hair
at the bar, a gilt rosette nestling its waves,   
tattered bullfight posters on the wall behind her

and you think of Rita Hayworth tossing roses
in Blood and Sand, the frayed banderilla.   
Such a lovely thing to torture an animal with,
the corrida’s exacting choreography
of life and death. Sometimes it’s soothing to evaporate
in this smoke-patinaed air, abandoning

your imposter’s life of embassy files breathing
the military names and numbers, Torrejón’s
precise cold barracks. Your face wavers, oddly calm
in the mirror as the girl talks dancing and   
flamenco clubs to the barman, absinthe glass shining
derangement in his hand. It’s the place in the night

where you carve an uneasy confederacy   
from vapor and exhaustion, a trio—the alien,
the clownish poseur, the girl with nothing to sell
but herself and straitened, cataleptic dreams.
She stretches, plays idly the slot machines
spinning roses, babies and lemons, the brilliant

suit of lights. The caramel glow of the barlamps haloes
her hair, bitten lips. Another sip and the slots’
click is rosary beads wafting prayers up
to a heaven of slink and spangle, quick bargains
struck in alcoves, that old palm of chapped fingers
slipping coins to the gas meter, of spreading stain

across the counterpane. Around Bar Xanadu
narrow streets fill with the violet steam
of after-midnight, the pigeons’ soft venereal   
cooing that speak of want like this, that deep
original loneliness. There are heartless places
in every city you’ve lived. Cognac spreads

its window of warmth and the drifting years return   
bordered with the crimes of night, with cramped
rooms you’ve climbed to, dead as the money
in your pockets. A “dimestore Mata Hari,”
the bureau chief called you while he snipped
a fresh cigar. On parched plains outside the city

soldier boys drill before the fighter planes, glamorous
with starlight, still floating half-asleep
in some Iowa of vinyl booths and Formica, miles
of hissing corn. But it’s closing hour and beneath
your fingers the napkin snows its raddled lace
across the bar and you must rise with them, rise

to dust with the barman his green bottle, help him
to don the sparkling jacket. Rise to strap   
the magic shoes to Irita’s feet
and then you must walk with her these streets
you’ll never leave, gritty with wind from Andalusia
riffling your skirt in the scent of blood oranges and sweat.

Lynda Hull, "Bar Xanadu" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull. Used by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006)
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Bar Xanadu

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