Bar Xanadu

By Lynda Hull

A perfect veronica, invisible, scallops air

before the bull, the bartender’s fluttering hands.

Tipped with silken fruit tinseled gold,   

a dusty banderilla hangs above racked bottles,

burnt-orange. Your lacquered fingers streak

the cocktail napkin and the globe of cognac’s

fragrant on the zinc bar. Fields of chamomile.   

Close your eyes and then the night turns to coal

seamed with diamonds. Outside, a girl murmurs

her tired price, in pesetas, to passing men.   

Irita, the barman calls when she wanders in

to wash at the single coldwater tap. Just a fly-blown

café on your functionary’s street of flats, bedrooms

shuttered around their whispering, the shops that gleam

by day with scaled cellophane piglets, mounded bins

of fruit and olives. Irita rewinds her hair

at the bar, a gilt rosette nestling its waves,   

tattered bullfight posters on the wall behind her

and you think of Rita Hayworth tossing roses

in Blood and Sand, the frayed banderilla.   

Such a lovely thing to torture an animal with,

the corrida’s exacting choreography

of life and death. Sometimes it’s soothing to evaporate

in this smoke-patinaed air, abandoning

your imposter’s life of embassy files breathing

the military names and numbers, Torrejón’s

precise cold barracks. Your face wavers, oddly calm

in the mirror as the girl talks dancing and   

flamenco clubs to the barman, absinthe glass shining

derangement in his hand. It’s the place in the night

where you carve an uneasy confederacy   

from vapor and exhaustion, a trio—the alien,

the clownish poseur, the girl with nothing to sell

but herself and straitened, cataleptic dreams.

She stretches, plays idly the slot machines

spinning roses, babies and lemons, the brilliant

suit of lights. The caramel glow of the barlamps haloes

her hair, bitten lips. Another sip and the slots’

click is rosary beads wafting prayers up

to a heaven of slink and spangle, quick bargains

struck in alcoves, that old palm of chapped fingers

slipping coins to the gas meter, of spreading stain

across the counterpane. Around Bar Xanadu

narrow streets fill with the violet steam

of after-midnight, the pigeons’ soft venereal   

cooing that speak of want like this, that deep

original loneliness. There are heartless places

in every city you’ve lived. Cognac spreads

its window of warmth and the drifting years return   

bordered with the crimes of night, with cramped

rooms you’ve climbed to, dead as the money

in your pockets. A “dimestore Mata Hari,”

the bureau chief called you while he snipped

a fresh cigar. On parched plains outside the city

soldier boys drill before the fighter planes, glamorous

with starlight, still floating half-asleep

in some Iowa of vinyl booths and Formica, miles

of hissing corn. But it’s closing hour and beneath

your fingers the napkin snows its raddled lace

across the bar and you must rise with them, rise

to dust with the barman his green bottle, help him

to don the sparkling jacket. Rise to strap   

the magic shoes to Irita’s feet

and then you must walk with her these streets

you’ll never leave, gritty with wind from Andalusia

riffling your skirt in the scent of blood oranges and sweat.

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