The Long Vietnam of My Soul, Part 6

If you don’t figure out how to draw things that don’t move you will never depict the things that do.

“Today is not a good day for the watching of long-suffering saints …”

                                               —Dion DiMucci


Grandpop tapped the cork back into the wine carafe with a flat palm, looked at Nieves and said: “Basilio doesn’t think I know what he’s doing up there.”

Nieves nibbled a wafer cookie, black eyes twinkling, flirting.

“What is he doing up there?” 

“Making a monkey of himself.”

It was the end of her first week on Macon Street and Nieves had yet to venture beyond the block, was making good on her rolling promise: I’m clean today and if I’m lucky, I’ll be clean tomorrow.

Wee hour talks with Basilio about painting—Grandpop’s dago red and a joint as Macon Street methadone—had kept her from going on a proper run. And she’d figured out something that had eluded Basilio for months: how to walk down the alley at just the right time to encounter Elisabeth.

Nieves: “He’s over the moon about you.”

Elisabeth, flirting: “I know.”

Up on the Avenue, eighth-wits, who in time would introduce Nieves to the unfathomable depths of America, spat chicken bones on the sidewalk.

And the Great Bolewicki Depression clock tolled: “It’s not too late … it’s only the vestibule of a pickling tub …”


Nieves tucked Elisabeth’s name and eleven other things she’d learned behind her ear, withholding the information from her cousin like the kid who ladles out water to field hands in August.

And so, his ignorant fantasies—if the eye believes it, it’s real—spilled over canvas.

A portrait of a young mother with kids barely old enough to hold a spoon; husband absent from dawn to dark.

“He won’t let me plant a garden,” Elisabeth told Nieves in the first minute of their friendship. “But yesterday he bought a set of golf clubs.”

Above the sink, a pale yellow clock in the shape of a teapot.

Basilio made up a name for her and painted her at the sink with the spigot running, the setting sun shooting wide bands of orange and coral and salmon across the tar rooftops to color the stream of rushing water.

Outside of his daugther’s mother (and not counting Grandpop), he’d never had a relationship that lasted more than five months. But he could paint water, whether from spigot or sea, that appeared to run

And knew without being told—as Nieves would have to be told over and over and over again before she traded her paints and brushes for a high that lasted less than three minutes—that if you don’t figure out how to draw things that don’t move you will never depict the things that do.


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