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Four Poems From Little Latin Countries BY PETER LA SALLE In Little Latin Countries Don’t be tempted By those dimly empty hallways You see in little Latin countries. On a city street, With the sun searing through The smell of citrus the vendors hawk, The filthy buses’ purple exhaust, You might stop at an arched door; And how beautiful is that ceramic tile And its patterns of flowers and birds; And if you could just step inside To imagine yourself living there, To imagine yourself at last home; If you got daring, Possibly to climb the dark-wood staircase Be careful. I am not sure about other things They sometimes say there: The bad luck of putting a handbag With money inside on the floor, The bad sleep of lying on a bed at night From which you can see a mirror. But looking through unlocked grillwork To a Spanish hallway like that, I have no doubt that the shadows Of a strange house in daytime are dangerous For the traveler, Will bring something unwanted In this life, maybe just when You are reasonably sure it is this life And not the next. Keep moving. Touch the hard bark of a palm, Give a beggar in a rusted wheelchair All the change in your pockets, and be grateful. Peter LaSalle is a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas. His published work includes Strange Sunlight, a novel, and The Graves of Famous Writers, a collection of short stories. A Mountain Merengue I On the capital’s grimed sidewalks You sometimes see cast lids over water lines Showing how the dictator once renamed The ciudad after himself; and along The palm-lined coastal highway he built, His World’s Fair of Peace and Brotherhood Crumbles in streamlined art deco pavilions, Out on lots with littered grass scorched yellow. Old men will point out the Cadillac he was shot in; It has been an aqua-painted taxi for years. The record stores now stock an album of His favorite merengues; they call it “historical,” Though just the mention of his hated name Could bring arrest and prison during The civil war that followed his fall. He is gone, And in the bruised blue of the nights now The decrepit movie theater in the central square shows “The Graduate” and “Alfie” with Spanish dubbing, The surf pulses along the sea wall in a thumping spray, And the people sleep, dreaming contentedly under red-tile roofs. Here is something important too: There was his son, the polo-handsome playboy Who charmed fifties’ starlets, wooed them on his white yacht, Who personally tortured to death his father’s assassins. Today an aging man, he has lived in All the important places of Europe, always taking His father’s coffin with him, supposedly often opening it In the foreign midnights of his own arthritic exile. The country people will tell you the Chief is Still dressed in a best uniform; they will tell you The sound of the son weeping often wakes them In the cordillera, and the city people are fools They say nobody is ever safe from anything. 20 APRIL 8, 1988