New Year’s Eve at the Santa Fe Hotel, Fresno, California

by Larry Levis

-For Bruce & Marsha

Smoke, laughter, & a bar whose solemn oak
Has outlasted worse times than my own…
In the ballroom of their last hotel, whose families
Of Basques had come again to dance, slowly,
Some austere polka nobody but Basques
Had ever seen, or learned. Once a year
I come back to this place, embrace friends,
And drink to what got lost in bad translation:
The town we tried to change, changed anyway.
The street we blocked off on a warm day
In 1970, is lined with cute
Boutiques, & that girl, once queen
Of her high school prom, who two years later
Left to harvest sugar cane in Cuba,
Works late tonight, taking inventory:
So many belts, so many sandals sold.
The jogging five miles home before she sleeps.

We drank Fundador late, & I went out
Alone in the cold New Year to find
No one on the street, no trains
Pausing in their own breath in the depot
Behind the hotel, no soldiers, & no lovers
Either. What I heard & saw were a hundred
Sparrows gathering in one small tree,
Their throats full of some ridiculous
Joy or misery at being sparrows, winged,
Striped, & handicapped for life. I thought
That coming back here always showed me just
How much this place has changed; not no. The only
Real change is me. Now, when I sit
Across from two friends at a table; I am
Whatever’s distant, snow beginning to fall
On the plains, a thief’s fire. Someday I won’t
be home to anyone. Somedays, it takes
Two hours of careful talk before I’m me
Again. I miss that talk, although I think
I’m right to be alone, in the gift of my
One life, listening to songs not made
For me, invented by no one I know, for luck,
For a winter night, for two friends who,
Some nights, some days, gave me everything.

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