Iowa Blues Bar Spiritual

Little Tokyo bar—

ladies night, smoky gauze balcony, whispering. Tommy Becker,
makes up words to “La Bamba”—request by Hard Jackson,

mechanic on the left side of Paulie, oldies dancer, glowing
with everything inside of her, shattered remembrances, healed

in lavender nail polish, the jagged fingernail tapping. So
play it hard above this floor, this velvet desert. I want

the Titian ochre yeast of winter, keyboard man, fix your eyes
on my eyes and tell me, handsome, how long will I live?

How many double-fisted desires, crushed letters, will I lift
in this terrain? And this rumbling sleeve, this ironed flint

of inquisitions and imaginary executors, where shall I strike,
what proud stones? Will this fauna open for me, ever, this fuzz,

anointed beak inside the bartender’s mirrors, etched doves,
a cautious spiral Harley tank, hissing, this Indian bead choker on Rita’s neck?

How long shall we remain as wavy reflections,
imitators of our own jacket’s frown? Who shall awaken first?

Margo Fitzer, the waitress? I will say, Queen Margo, sing to me
stoic princess of slavering hearts, three faint lines creased

on your satin belly, toss our planet onto your umber lacquer tray,
too empty now; make the earth spin its dog rhapsody, erotic

through this silvery off-ramp and flake, unfurl. We tumble across
this raceway in honey-glazed traces, our arms ahead, the hands

flying to Ricky’s Ice Cream Parlour, outside. I want to own one
someday, maybe on Thirty-Second Street. You will see me

in my gelled waved hair, my busy wrists—so fast, a clown’s
resolute gloves, dipping faster than finger painting—except   

I’d be stirring milk and the chocolate foam of love, churning,
burning this sweet spirit, more uncertain, than the celestial

sheaths above the prairie frost. See the boy coming, they chide,
leaning, how he crosses his legs, his eyes dreaming, sideburns

just shaved clean. He weighs the sour slate on his father’s breath;
perfume, fortune, cards left on the bleeding table. Milo Wilkens, drummer

at the curve, strokes his nipples with his arms as he hits the high hat.
Somewhere in the back rooms, I know, a shrine, orange sponge cushions,

two toilets and a wire wound wicker box, to leave flowers, occasional
offerings by the Johnson County dudes, detasselers in jersey ties.

Talk no more, enjoy. Darling singer, let your starry blouse sway me,
steal this fresh peach half from its amber juice; I want the moon

in this nectar, too. The flashing cymbals, feverish. Who can strike
a votive candle, love, or sleep in this electronic night? Just listen

to the two-part harmony, laughter, peeling beyond the cemetery, beyond
the Iowa river—where the spike hat rooster bristles his tiny ears,

bows his head, and sips from the dark canister under the carved pearl-stone.
And then, returns. Let us drink, salute the bright spokes of meal, the dying

wands of river blossoms, grandmother’s sacred hair; listen, her soprano
owl, her bluish melody, so thin. Another glass please, we shall dance

once again, our eyebrows smearing against each other’s cheekbones, loud
with a Midwest sweat, a cantata from the crosshatch amp, click it.

Click it, for wild kind rain, forgiving seasons, for the blushed bread
of our shoulders and thighs, this night, everyone is here. Even Jeff Yoder

came all the way from Illinois, to fill a bucket with passion, ruffled,
thick. O sax player with a jail needle tattoo, leap onto this wet pavement,

call my lonesome tempest heart, its buried mother’s kiss, bless us
in staccato, with quivers of oak branch greenness, and sparrow longings

riff over this brutal sky, give us your bell filled, conjure your tropic,
our lover’s breath. Blues bar dancers, jangling gold popcorn, chord makers,

opal-eyed Suzie in a flannel shirt; we beckon the spark, the flaring
this lost body to live.

Juan Felipe Herrera, "Iowa Blues Bar Spiritual" from Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, published by University of Arizona Press. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (The University of Arizona Press, 2008)
More Poems by Juan Felipe Herrera