Willis Barnstone

Room of the Orphans

After my father’s suicide, young Marti,
my Mexican stepmother,
goes back to the iron bed with her mother
Rebeca, a Sefardí
from Constantinople, who normally
calls me mancebito,
young man (in medieval Spanish),
but she is afraid I’ll get
her daughter as my father had.
They rent some rooms behind
the great cathedral, a small hovel
in the old district. I too
live this year in Mexico City,
near Marti, in an orphanage.
If I can’t make it back by ten
(I give evening classes
all over the city to earn some pesos)
I do an all nighter,
reading in a lowdown café, or better,
go to Marti’s and sleep
on a straw mat on the floor
between the tiny Indian maid
and her brother Sam, an army captain.
Often when I am broke
I sell my blood in a clinic, and on
one Saturday twice—but not
in the same place. The nurse
notices the fresh pricks
but she lets me through. Beautiful Marti
is only two years older than me
and before my father made his move
she was my first date.
I care for her and never know
that the mere sale
of my blood is for her a stigma
God will not forgive
but who could not forgive us for
necking in the backseat
of Dad’s Buick. In the morning
when my train pulls out,
she gives me a silk handkerchief
painted with a red guitar.

Wills Barnstone
Wills Barnstone is a director of From the Fishouse. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry; the most recent is Life Watch (BOA Editions, 2003), in which Room of the Orphans appears.
Poem, copyright © Willis Barnstone, 2003
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse