Poet's Choice: 'Madonna and Child, Perryton, Texas, 1967' by B.H. Fairchild

By B.H. Fairchild
Sunday, July 19, 2009

This poem was triggered by a visit to the Renaissance and Baroque rooms at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and in particular by my response to the paintings of Francisco de Zurbarán. The boys in the poem have been out late on a Friday night drinking and smoking weed. Afflicted by the munchies (a common term in the late '60s, though I have no idea whether it's still current), they are at the only grocery mart in town that is still open. It is not unusual for the composition of a poem to have its own rewards, and in this one I was interested to watch a rather detailed nativity scene take shape at the close of the poem, although in this case we have, instead of the three wise men, the three idiots.

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Madonna and Child, Perryton, Texas, 1967

A litter of pickups nose into Sancho's Market

south of town late Friday night rinsed in waves

of pink neon and samba music from some station

in Del Rio spilling out across the highway.

Sancho's wife dances alone behind the cash box

while her daughter, Rosa, tries to quiet her baby

whose squalls rip through the store like a weed cutter

shredding the souls of the carnal, the appetitious,

indeed the truly depraved as we in our grievous

late-night stupor and post-marijuana hunger

curse the cookie selection and all its brethren

and Al yells at Leno lost among the chips,

beef jerky, string cheese, bananas for chrissakes,

that if he doesn't stop now and forever telling

Okie jokes he will shoot his dog who can't hunt

anyway so what the hell, but the kid is unreal,

a cry ascending to a shriek, then a kind

of rasping roar, the harangue of the gods,

sirens cleaving the air, gangs of crazed locusts

or gigantic wasps that whine and ding our ears

until the air begins to throb around us

and a six-pack of longnecks rattles like snakes

in my hand. And then poor Rosa is kissing

its forehead, baby riding her knee like a little boat

lost at sea, and old Sancho can't take it either,

hands over his ears, Dios mio, ya basta! Dios mio,

so Rosa opens her blouse, though we don't look,

and then we do, the baby sucking away, plump cheeks

pumping, billowing sails of the Santa Maria

in a high wind, the great suck of the infinite

making that little nick, nick sound, Rosa

smiling down, then Sancho turns off the radio

and we all just stand there in the light and shadow

of a flickering flourescent bulb, holding

our sad little plastic baskets full of crap,

speechless and dying a little inside as Rosa

whispers no llores, no llores, mija, mijita,

no llores, and the child falls asleep, lips

on breast, drops of milk trickling down,

we can even hear it breathing, hear ourselves

breathing, the hush all around and that hammer

in our chests so that forty years later

this scene still hangs in my mind, a later work,

unfinished, from the workshop of Zurbaran.

This poem is from "Usher: Poems," by B.H. Fairchild (Norton, 2009).

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