Rosario on Sunday Morning

Rosario on Sunday Morning
Oh no, not dreaming: clear as I hear you
now on our way to Mass, and the bells tolling,
I heard him calling in the dark last night.
Charo, he called me: I sat up in bed,
the smell of madreselvas everywhere,
heavy as the bunches he would bring
when he came courting, all those years ago.

Not dreaming, no: I never dreamed of him­—
and seldom thought of him—in all those years
since I sent him away once and for all.
As for my sending him away, I said
all that I had to say then, as you know.
More is nobody’s business, though there are
some in this town who may think otherwise.

He, and those honeysuckle bunches damp
from his mother’s garden, week on week,
showed up on our front porch, where Mama stayed—
or Sara, or Susana—just to show
that the Alvarado girls—even the ripest­—
would not be left alone with any suitor.

You knew my father, how he never said
outright what he could hint at while he chewed
on a cigar. And yet he told me once,
“When there’s no bread, cassava’s good enough.”
Yes, from the start I knew they hoped I’d take him,
worn down by his scrubbed look. He was polite,
spoke as if he’d been schooled better than most,
but after crops and prices and the weather,
not much was left to say.

And in her way,
his mother courted me with smiles and small talk,
urged me to recompense a good man’s love:
amor con amor se paga, people say.
But love you take unwanted is no gift.
And if it were, why would one need to pay?

That’s all of it, whatever some may think:
no quarrel, no advances to rebuff,
no secrets to uncover, his or mine.
I simply said, one day, it was no use
his waiting, waiting for what wouldn’t fall,
when fresher fruit was out there for the picking,
at harvest dances and even private pews.

Before the rains, he left. And here I stayed­—
odd how things happen—married, after all,
reared my two daughters and one bastard son
my late husband brought home, and then another,
taught the town’s children over forty years,
with few regrets. Fewer, I’d say, than most,
and with less to do penance for than many
who’ll kneel at the rail this morning for the host.

He could have stayed; but no, he was the one
who left—my porch, the town, his mother’s house,
the farm, the island, all. If I believed
in country superstitions—but I don’t—
I’d say he left the world itself last night.

Why did he come, unhindered by the lock,
in darkness, uninvited, and then call me­—
Charo—by the one name nobody calls me?
Why did he say it with a voice that rose
out of a well of sorrow?

And today,
although I’ve opened every window wide
to daylight breezes from the orange grove,
the honeysuckle smell lies like a pall

over my bed, as if a wall of sorrow
shut out the town and everything that’s in it
but bells, as they might sound tolled under water.