The Guys in the Band


I love the way they call each other "mister"—
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Alejandro Escovedo"
and "Mr. David Pulkingham on guitar"—
as well as the way they always talk of the other
bands they've been in, as "I was in a band
called The Nuns once" or "When I was in
the True Believers," because it's their courtesy

and the music they play for others that give them a way
into the best of their instincts, as when the singer tells
how his father's parents crossed the border
to pick fruit and how, at age 12, he missed them
so much that he crossed himself, in a day when
the Rangers were more likely to leave you
hanging from a tree than anything else, and went

to San Antonio and learned that his parents were
in Luly, where he found them. And found, too,
that the father, hardened by work or despair
or something in himself that he couldn't name,
had become cruel and violent, so the boy
left again, age 16 this time, and went to California to become a man.
And as the singer is talking, you think, This is how

language works, not describing what used to be
but creating a world that springs up around
the speaker, around you, as in that Milosz poem
where someone is riding in a wagon, and a hare
runs across the road and his friend points at it,
and now the hare is gone and the friend as well,
only where are they? Or the Los Lobos song which

begins, "Speak softly," and you think, Who's this?
Where is he? Who's he talking to? And then
he says, "Don't wake the baby," and suddenly you see everything:
the man and his wife, so poor they have
to sleep in the same room as their child, and he, too,
has to cross the border, and he'll send for her;
it's just a matter of time. A brush, a little color

or none at all, and you see everything:
just the wolf at the edge of the village at first, but without
the wolf, no village, no sleeping children, no wood,
no little house made of cookies, no witch.
Now the singer is singing of his dead friend; he says,
"You had to go without me," and again you think,
That's right, that's the best way to say it.

Your own mother has gone ahead, your father, too,
and your wife's, and now your wife's mother alone
is among you, and it's nighttime, and she's walking
toward a country she can't see, and she'll find
kindness there and courtesy, people she knows.
They'll welcome her, and she'll forget you,
as the people in that country forget everyone

they knew in this one, but that's okay, she's happy
now, just as she'll be happy when she sees you
again, and you want to say, Let me hold you
once more before you go, but it's dawn now,
and her hair is white, though her eyes are
still as blue as cornflowers, and you can't
say which is brighter, the sun or her face.