|Winner of the Southwest Book Award|
|Publication Date||October 1, 1998|
|Rights||All Rights Available |
Byrd’s poems open a different door: Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene are spotted in downtown El Paso; a private detective goes south to Toluca to find a revolution in his heart; a sad-faced clown in Florsheim shoes lectures the poet on the mortality of his mother; and Dante and Virgil show up to explain the true meaning of North Dallas.
July in the Desert of Chihuahua
You got to learn to live
in the Chihuahua Desert.
It can be hard.
Especially in the summer
before the pitiful rains of August
come along and wash away all understanding.
Like in July when it becomes so hot
that every year
God has to send along special emissaries
to El Paso
to teach the faithful
the true meaning of heat.
It can be a difficult lesson to learn.
This year it happened so quick-
those two days
during the whole hot summer
when we got to feast on
a harvest of real juicy tomatoes.
Everyone was stuffing themselves with tomatoes,
and the sidewalks were sticky
with the thick juices of those tomatoes.
The tomatoes were the gift of a fat Mexican named José.
He was an illegal immigrant
who looked like he belonged on Channel 44
talking to beautiful blonde showgirls
with enormous breasts.
Instead, he came along and started
passing out the Big Boys
that he smuggled across the Rio Grande.
Meanwhile his wife Maria was doing
a fancy little two-step
to the hard screeching glare
of Mariachi trumpets.
On the second day José had no more tomatoes.
He was done.
He smiled at the gathered throng,
unzipped his jeans and peed lustily
into the dusty hot gutter.
"We are proud and happy,"
he said in Spanish, "to have saved you all."
José and Maria then disappeared into
the downtown Jack-in-the-Box
where they bought two large chocolate milkshakes,
two Big Jacks and two regular orders of fries.
The order was "para llevar."
The exact second they walked back out into the streets
two homeless men
(one a black man, the other a gringo)
died from dehydration
and went straight to Heaven
where they were given clothes, food
and a place at the front of the line.
Rumor has it that
Jesus was watching from Room 333 of the Plaza Hotel.
He, of course, understood everything already,
and, thus secure in his enlightenment,
jumped back into the sack with Maria de Magadelena.
¿Me amas? he asked.
Yo te amo, she said.
The rest of us simply contemplated the meaning of these messages.
We crossed ourselves, we said a prayer,
then we stood in the heat
talking quietly about what had happened.
When finally the darkness came
with its little bit of cool breeze
we went about business as usual,
not quite sure yet if we understood
this newest homily from God.
|"It's casually heroic, this poet's mode. In The Price of Doing Business in Mexico, Bobby Byrd freely occupies space with Elvis, John Lennon, Esequiel Hernandez and Monette from Quality Foods—not in a "pop" way, but more "virtual." In fact, they're all neighbors along some holographic stretch of that word.|
Byrd writes poems like a novelist. Epic ones. His lines are full of fiction, bullshit and beauty. He's an emotional writer. He is often haunted by personal tragedy, his own and anyone else's. Bad things happen in this book. Existence verges on becoming a joke, if not for a sweetness that suffuses Bobby Byrd's poems and says that a life lived, part by part, is holy."
|Stephen Ausherman, Ken Hunt|
|Despite what the title may lead you to believe, this is not a book about NAFTA. It's a volume of poems which comprehend the Southwest, Latin America and humanity's relation to nature and culture in keenly observant and utterly haunting ways. |
Like Walt Whitman (although without the verbosity), author Bobby Byrd uses himself and his life experiences as vehicles for the expression of the transcendent. He relates tales of his drunkenness, episodes of misery and his reaction to being a famous poet in El Paso. Surreal characters drift in and out of most of the poems, such as a woman whose bug-encrusted legs make her a fashion icon, Dante and his buddy Virgil, and a man named Art in America. God and Jesus drop in as often as best friends; in "Poets Have Few Things To Say," God is a woman married to a black trucker from Milwaukee. Byrd has a knack for dramatic monologue as well; the title poem is an abrupt and startling detective story, while "Tury the Fag was Here" ranks up there with the work of Ai.
The death of his mother in 1997 casts a long shadow over the book. The first poem to address the subject is "The phone rings in 6 a.m. darkness," which blends a glancing acceptance of her imminent death with a strange dream about a man eating a bad hamburger, and progresses towards the trio of poems concluding the book, which are as short as they are deeply heartbreaking. Death and illness inform many of the poems in between—a sister diagnosed with an ovarian "tumor the size of a grapefruit, and in the surrounding flesh a garden of cancerous cells," a son so badly burned he requires a skin graft, a brother dead for mysterious reasons. He casts an eye toward the suffering endured by Mexican immigrants and border residents, such as Adolfo Rodriguez in "The United States of America," and Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., the teenage shepherd killed by U.S. Marines outside of Redford, Texas, in "The Rules of Engagement, 1997." The horrors of Central American civil wars factor in as well. "Guatemala 1991" is a gruesome laundry list of crimes committed against campesinos, while "U.S. Dollars in El Salvador" is a much more ethereal account of a war widow who joins the resistance.
With this, his ninth book of poems, Byrd has managed a rare feat—to capture in words the mystery and elusiveness of his adopted land and its inhabitants.
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