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The Admiral

December 24, 1492

Enrique Navarro Lovato shared a tiny cabin below the bow with Juan Carlos Gutierrez Romero. Each boy slept on a three-plank bunk, Enrique’s closer to the floor because he was the younger of the two, and because, according to Juan Carlos, Juan Carlos was part Basque, who were superior sailors, which is why the Admiral wanted him on the higher bunk. This was pure nonsense and Enrique taunted Juan Carlos relentlessly that he could never prove he was Basque, and why would he want to claim that heritage anyway, those arrogant heathens. Juan Carlos did little on board anyway and was a complainer, and so Enrique knew it would catch up to the other boy one day, therefore Enrique kept quiet and worked hard. He was a deck swab from Galicia, and Enrique knew this made the Admiral happy, and also the ship was sometimes called La Gallega.

The night sky was brilliant. After a dinner of salted pork and a new fruit they had collected from the natives of the island—some yellow hooked tube that you had to peel to eat the white flesh—the Admiral let everyone have some wine, even the boys. It was Christmas Eve, after all. The plan was to continue sailing the north coast into the morning to peruse for any more signs of gold or spice.

Enrique had seen a few of the first pieces brought on board. The Admiral himself held his palm open to show the crew. It shimmered on all of its rounded and angular sides, dull in some places, sparkling in others. The Admiral laughed a bit, saying how the Cipangos had taken the beads so willingly and with a childlike wonder. If they only knew it was just glass, the Admiral laughed. And how they just gave over their gold!

Enrique had heard one of the friars who could interpret their strange language say that the Cipangos considered gold to be the waste of their gods. Their excrement. How amazing, Enrique thought, that their gods might shit gold. What could their gods look like? This thought was silly. There was only one true god and everyone knew it. It would only take time for these people to learn that.

This was what Enrique was thinking—in between praying to Santa Maria herself and dozing off—when the steersman wrapped on the cabin door.

“Wake up,” he said, although he was saying it to Juan Carlos. “Wake up, you brat.”

Enrique sprang up.

“What is it, Captain? Is anything the matter?”

“Wake him up.”

“What is it? I can help.”

“I don’t care, one of you wake up, get on deck.”

“Yes, sir.”

Enrique quickly changed out of his dressing gown and into his trousers and tunic. He debated putting on his doublet because it was a warm night but he did it anyway because who knew what he was about to do? What if the Admiral awoke and happened to see him hard at work so late at night? He might be promoted for such good behavior.

The steersman led the boy to the helm and said, “Take it. I need to rest.”

He handed over the ship with ease to Enrique, much like the Cipangos had given their gold, like it was nothing. A trifle. But then the steersman turned back to Enrique and sneered at the boy: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Enrique wrapped his hands around the handles and felt the gentle tilting of the ship grow into his forearms. It excited him in the way the sight of a woman did, how it was strange and foreign and forbidden. He’d held the wheel before. He’d certainly cleaned it. All the cabin boys had. He simply had never steered the ship, and absolutely not the Santa Maria.

At first it seemed to be a mistake the steersman would hand it over to him, but then it made sense with it being late and Christmas Eve and everyone relaxed, the Admiral awake for almost two days. Plus, would the steersman truly hand over command if the seas were treacherous?  With that Enrique inhaled the night air and held the wheel steady, his line of sight being just over the bow. The island was a safe distance and only its silhouette signaled that it was there at all against the backdrop of starry sky.

Once they returned to Spain, they would be famous. Enrique would get asked to venture back to the Spice Islands and bring back more of everything. He could even become like the Admiral himself. Enrique loved this idea, he loved everything about what was happening in his life, how his voice had just changed and how he was growing hair all over his body, his favorite place the line just above his lip. One day he would have a beard like the men on the ship.

Enrique felt a little sorry for the Cipangos, how bare their skin was, how they had no shame to walk around almost in the nude like they did. It would be such a gift when they knew Christ, when they could understand what this blessed holiday was. Enrique drove his hand into the pocket of his doublet where he had one of the glass beads the men had given to the Cipangos. Enrique rubbed it with his thumb and forefinger and he considered asking it the way the natives might, to bless him with prosperity forever.

All of this fantasizing ended the moment the ship jerked forward as though skipping on the water. Enrique hadn’t made any adjustment at the wheel. He’d held it tight the whole time except when he dropped his hand into his pocket. But then again, how long had he been out there? The ship heaved forward, but it was gently, nothing like some of the waves they had endured crossing Mar Atlantico, when it rocked side to side, careening down walls of black crashing waters.

With another heave forward, the ship came to a hard stop, and Enrique’s blood ran cold. The island appeared to be where he last saw it, but then the shadows of the mass loomed closer and he swore he heard wind rustling through trees.

With this a stir below deck made Enrique shiver. The Admiral was awake. The voices of other men rose in both anger and disbelief. Feet banged up stairs toward the deck. Enrique tried to turn the wheel. It was locked. A set of waves came from behind and shoved the boat forward into the tidepools, ripping into the starboard hull. The Admiral rose to the deck eyes sunken and furious. He approached Enrique heavy footed and rose his hand up to strike him.

Enrique did the only thing he knew how: he prayed to the Blessed Mother asking for forgiveness, saying to the Admiral he would never do this—WHACK! The Admiral gave one blow with the back of his hand sending the boy backward onto the deck. A priest held the Admiral back from lunging again at the boy. Enrique turned himself over onto the deck and began kissing the very wood he mopped every day.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,” he said, “Pray for me—a sinner—now and at the hour of my death.”

Earthquick

This one lasted

At least five minutes

And though we are not from there

We appeared to be in South America

A capital in the mountains

High rises reaching up

Out of the valleys

 

We were not frightened:

Our parents had perished already

But we still held on,

Waited for the shaking to stop

 

However, this was less a shake

And more a bounce

Reciprocation

The building itself

An elevator, like the gantry

We rode to numb our pain with

Thrills

 

That all this happened in the

South America of my dreams

Tells me somewhere down there

A family goes through this same

Ride

 

They aren’t scared either

Their earthquick might go

Side to side

Round and round

Or rolling

Endurance

The men
appear
to be
outliving
the women.

They show up now
At the funerals
With their so-called
Friends.
Companions.

How quick to judge
Are the youngest
And supposed
Most pious.

Let her soul rest,
They say.
It’s only been
Six months,
They say.

He’s never been alone,
The others say.
He’ll die as soon
As she did,
Without someone
To talk to,
They say.

Would you?
Would you dry up
Out of loneliness?
Swallowed up by
Solitude?

Not everyone.
Not those who’ve
Learned to subsist
On crumbs.

Not even a scrap
She received from him
All those years in the same home.

And so she lived alone,
Before they ever parted.
She’s healthier now,
And so is he.

He with his man
She with her books and cat.
Where it comes down at
Is endurance.

What can hold out longer?
The conscience,
Or the conscientious?

photo credit: F. Hurley

The Race to Find Presidential DNA

dna pic

While Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards unwittingly cast her as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, she quickly responded to InStyle magazine by saying, “I don’t have the DNA for it.”

So what have the leaders in home genetic testing done? Begun a frenzied search for presidential DNA. Geneticists at companies like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and the National Geographic Genographic Project are racing to identify the specific genetic markers for what it takes to president of the United States of America.

For a high-dollar fee, plus a vial of spit, these companies can deliver a person’s genetic makeup, including racial and ethnic ancestry, whether someone carries the genes for certain diseases, or if they will express such traits as asparagus odor detection, back hair, or unibrow. All of these organizations rely on a robust gene pool to produce a more complete genetic picture for consumers. In short, the more donors, the better the results for all.

To determine whether someone has presidential DNA, the companies have fought tooth and nail for the DNA of former U.S. presidents. Some of these companies are considering exhuming dead presidents to obtain DNA samples and thus enrich the data set.

So far, the National Geographic Genographic Project has successfully collected Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush’s DNA, while AncestryDNA has obtained DNA from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 23andMe, often considered the most popular home DNA service, has confirmed receipt of Barack Obama’s DNA, and is planning to acquire a sample from Donald Trump. The White House, however, hasn’t responded to requests.

“Our preliminary tests are revealing a few common denominators,” said Janet Glover, spokeswoman for AncestryDNA. “Presidential DNA is more than likely male, and of northern European decent, either Irish or English. We’re also seeing potential variant markers for addictive behavior.”

National Geographic has announced similar ethnic and racial findings with Bush I and Carter, in addition to sweet taste preference and male hair loss.

While 23andMe has collected Obama’s DNA, they haven’t revealed what it holds, but a person familiar with the sample says, “it’s some pretty gnarly shit.” The company says the control, of course, is our current president. They believe his sample could show unprecedented findings, some that may debunk Oprah’s claim that she doesn’t have the DNA to be president. 23andMe recently said that if the current president ends up not providing a tube of spit, the company will seek samples from the Trump children, citing their willingness to sell any part of themselves.

When Your Wife Becomes a Mother

cologne

When your wife becomes a mother,
She will not rest until the decorations are up
Or taken down, for that matter.

Before all this,
Holidays weren’t celebrations
The way they are now.

Before, she only photographed
Things like shadows of ducks on ponds,
And rhododendrons, and the dog in a necktie.

A lot, you once thought.
But boy, oh boy, you had no idea how many
Moments she could capture with that phone.
Thousands in the first year of life.

When your wife becomes a mother,
You enter into a lifelong love triangle,
Or quadrangle, or trapezoid, or whatever the angular shape.
Not a circle like it once was, when it was just she and he.

No, you commit to the third or fourth chair,
Sometimes the other table,
When the little warriors,
Your own blood and flesh,
Have won her heart for the day.

But she’ll come back,
And you’ll be there.
You always have been.

With your cologne on,
That new deodorant,
You’ve started putting on at night,
Lying in wait.

My Visit with the Wise One

bobOr,

When Your Dreams Tell You You Everything

Before I met the Wise One, I joined a group of anglers in the night at an old pier, the concrete docks withered by the elements. That night, though winter, felt like any ocean side night: damp, thick, and invigorating. The four of us cast our reels into the sea with the synchrony of familiar co-workers, in fact, that’s what we all were, why we were joined that night—to work on our fishing skills. I was the least competent of all, and I knew this going in, but my form wasn’t too shabby; my wrist flinging back and out with the right timing, sent my hook far into the unsettled dark water.

fishing-village

We began to pull in our lines, and though I thought I hadn’t caught anything, mine stopped, a hard tug fought back. As I wound the reel toward me, a large glob, somewhat purple and iridescent, emerged from the low tide. It resembled a gelatinous pile of nothing at first, then upon examination by me and my fellow fishermen and fisherwomen, we recognized by its dangling tentacles that it was a jellyfish.

No one dared to touch it, though I thought it couldn’t still be venomous now out of the water. It appeared to be dead, then suddenly it came to life, squirming closer to me, until part of it, a yellowish section of its rounded head, suctioned itself to my back. My blue hooded sweatshirt lessened what I thought would the sting. Only a mild discomfort overtook me, like that of a toy dart sticking to your forehead. My fellow anglers offered no help, said little to appease my fear, or try to remove it. They said vague things like, “It’s part of you now.”

And so it was time for me to leave to see the Wise One. I left the fishing dock in a hurry, and ran toward the streets of the village. All the roadways were covered in a fresh layer of ice, solid and clean as a newly Zambonied ice rink. My flat, smooth-bottomed shoes took to the ice with ease, and soon I was skating away into the night, quick and effortless. I thought to myself how much easier this seemed than fishing, how much more suited I was to this new activity versus the last.

jellyfish

I later arrived at the Commune—it seemed as though several hours had past, or least the night had turned to morning. The sensation in my back had vanished, though I knew the jellyfish was indeed part of me, that we were one creature now. The icy streets of the fishing village slipped from my memory, and were replaced with the steamy interior of the Commune. It was a large space with the air of an upscale health food store. Pungent and sweet smells wafted about, mixing with the body heat of tens, possibly hundreds of people. They were all arranged in groups, camped on the floor or on low, soft furniture. They dressed either in long flowing colorful clothes, or very little clothes. Their hair was long and unkempt, matted and thick, or either very clean cut. They were also much younger than me.

Then, the man I had traveled to see, appeared out of thin air, and came right to me, as though we had made an appointment. No one else moved when he arrived, as though they too had appointments and would simply wait their turn with him. He was just as I had imagined: thin, narrow-waist and hips, bony almost, though sinewy and rugged. Only the top of his fuzzy hairline showed, the rest of his ropy hair was tucked up into his striped tam, which rose off the crown of his head like an elongated skull. He wore a green soccer jersey. Here he was, Bob, en carne viva.

 rasta-commune

I told him everything. About the fishing and the jellyfish. He listened with care, and didn’t say much. When I finished pouring myself out to him, he said with dignified equanimity, that, yes, it is part of me, that that’s what jobs do. They stay with you and you cannot separate yourself from them. They are you, the way the jellyfish is now stuck on your back for good.

And then he stared at me, straight into me. I sensed he was about to speak again, and though I thought he was about to smile, he puckered his lips a bit, tilted his head, and blinked once.

“Maybe fishing isn’t your thing,” he said.

bob

With that, the Wise One moved on into the crowd, circulating amongst the rest of his disciples at the Commune. They embraced him and he them, and it all felt so natural that we would be with him in this way, that he had transcended death and was so alive as he once was. Someone off in the distance had offered me something to take, but I refused. I had seen who I came to see.

For Years I Tried To Read Don Quixote

donq

For years, I tried to read Don Quixote,

Revering the Spaniard writer in me,

Skimming a thin abridged edition,

Sophomoric in World History.

 

Later, greater windmills.

Exotic becomes quixotic.

The bookmark stops.

Again.

 

Dare you go on,

Wannabe pícaro?

 

No. Gracias.

We underdogs

Know the ending anyway,

Some will never get their day.

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