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Sunday, 15 February 2009


Christmas Eve of the New Depression year
And as usual Toribio's at his station
In the doorway of the French Hotel cafe
Philosophical, diffident, unhurried
Among his compadres, exchanging words
Now and then with tonight's counter man
Jesus, the joven whose brother-in-law
Cecilio even now tends counter three
Blocks south at Fertile Grounds--the useful
Underground railroad of coffee servers
Floor moppers and sink and basin scrubbers,
Without whom no necessary caffeine jolt
Of temporary cognitive enhancement
To keep anxious Christmas shoppers bent
To last minute buying rounds--the street's high end
Food markets overrun now by busy crowds
Of cautiously intent-on-consuming
Festive season celebrants; Toribio
However half skeptical looks upon
It all and comments bargain sales are good
Business this year, this is good for
Everybody. Is Toribio
Serious? I can't make this out, then later
Chastise myself for doubting, and tell
Toribio so. He nods understanding
It's my fate accorded me by my name
That of the doubting Saint who insisted
On sticking a dubious finger in the wound
In the side of Jesus--the earlier one
I mean, the one born in Bethlehem,
So long ago. Toribio is thirty
Three, same age at which the original
Jesus died, as I once suggested
While he stood on a Saturday night watching
The fancy muchachas prance up Shattuck past
The French--slouched against the bricks, checking
Out the beauteous piernas largas
And sipping an Anchor Steam from a brown
Paper bag. When Toribio washes
Dishes across the street some nights a week
The money he makes he sets aside,
Eats lightly, rides a bike, lets time go by
And on the weekend buys two twenty-
Fours of Anchor and goes through one per
Night, his humor minimally improved,
His philosophy deepened, his mood made
More serene yet his nocturnal routine
Unaltered, and on one such night I
Bring up his age conjunction with Jesus
And ask him, doubting, Toribio do you
Think Jesus had a good time? Of course he did
Says Toribio, he had life didn't he?
And if there were Anchor Steam, Toribio,
In Jesus' time, would that have made his life good?
Somber Toribio nods, por supuesto.

Toribio has no family here yet does,
Toribio will spend Christmas with friends
Toribio's Christmas present to himself
--He's already told me, and when he did
I made a pretend fist, chucked his wind
Breakered shoulder and said Que hombre,
Muy fuerte,
with sincerity--will be ten
Twenty-fours, which he will make grace with joy
The ten days of his migrant's Christmas.

In Toribio there is some Vasquez
Family blood from back in Jalisco
And some Gonzalez, and the Gonzalez
Blood connects Toribio with his namesake
Santo Toribio Romo Gonzalez
The Santo Pollero or Holy Illegal
Alien Smuggler--a Saint, canonized
In Dos Mil by Papa Paulo Dos. All this
I learned one cold full moon night in November,
It was a Saturday night, the pretty young
Woman who cleans the rooms was dancing
And singing--a good feeling in the air--
She insisted the moon was not quite full,
Toribio's bantamweight-sized hermano
Lucho the Antonio Margarito
Fan insisted good natured la luna esta
when I tilted my head I could see both
Points of view and said so, and at that moment

Toribio said Santo Toribio
Is here. Quien I said? Santo Toribio,
He said, he is alive, he is here. I looked around.
Traffic was rolling up the street. The moon
Sat upon the tops of a few scant bare branches
Above the post office. He is everywhere,
Said Toribio. He comes when you need him.
I now know he spoke then of his ancestor
And namesake, the patron saint of the needy
Migratores, who appears in the night
To help them get across the river, provides
Food and water at the other side, soothes
Fevered brows in the desert crossing, heals
Snake bite. I felt a chill in my spine
As Toribio first explained all this that
Full moon night, a ghost story about a Scarlet
Pimpernel priest dead these eighty years,
Killed by federales in his sleep, in
Santa Ana, near Jalostotitlan,
Jalisco. If you need him he will come.
He is here, he is there, he is everywhere.

As the nights went by and times got harder
And nights got colder, I more than once quizzed
Toribio as to when the Saint
Might be expected to show up, given
The evident ambient state of need
On this street of illegals and bodies
Huddled in doorways more numerous
Each night. Toribio sneered
As though I had no idea of the true meaning
Of need. Que, no lo necessitamos?
Toribio shook his head. If saints
Had to come every time you need them
There would have to be many saints, muchos
not just one, Toribio said.

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