In my room at the Hotel Continental
a thousand miles from nowhere,
the bulky, beefy breathing of the herds.
Cattle furnished my new clothes:
my coat of limp, chestnut-colored suede,
my sharp shoes
that hurt my toes.
A false fin de siecle decorum
snored over Buenos Aires,
lost in the pampas
and run by the barracks.
Old strong men denied apotheosis,
bankrupt, on horseback, welded to their horses, moved
white marble rearing moon-shaped hooves,
to strike the country down.
Romantic military sculpture
waved sabers over Dickensian architecture,
laconic squads patrolled the blanks
left by the invisible poor.
All day I read about newspaper coup d’états
of the leaden, internecine generals—
lumps of dough on the chessboard—and never saw
their countermarching tanks.
Along the sunlit cypress walks
of the Republican Martyrs’ graveyard,
hundreds of one-room Roman temples
hugged their neo-classical catafalques.
Literal commemorative busts
preserved the frogged coats
and fussy, furrowed foreheads
of those soldier bureaucrats.
By their brazen doors
a hundred marble goddesses
wept like willows. I found rest
by cupping a soft palm to each hard breast.
That night I walked the streets.
My pinched feet bled in my shoes. In a park
I fought off seduction from the dark
python bodies of new world demigods.
Everywhere, the bellowing of the old bull—
the muzzled underdogs still roared
for the brute beef of Peron,
the nymphets’ Don Giovanni.
On the main square
a white stone obelisk
rose like a phallus
without flesh or hair—
always my lighthouse
homeward to the hotel!
My breath whitened the winter air,
I was the worse for wear.
When the night’s blackness spilled,
I saw the light of morning
on Buenos Aires filled
with frowning, starch-collared crowds.
February 1, 1963