Hanging on the Wall

I once studied in Valladolid, Spain.

I lived with Maricarmen and Carlos and their two parakeets.

In the mornings, before class, I was always full of angst. The city was slow to wake.

To walk to school in Spain before things opened wasn't good for me. I wanted a street that came alive, but instead I saw dark windows where people were sleeping off their morning because they stay out later and start later over there.

Moving down the Calle Santa Clara, I'd make my way to a park with dozens and dozens of rose bushes there along the river that ran through town. The buildings would stand there with their backs to me and I'd walk through the street right in between them and not be noticed.

It was on a morning like this I passed by a poster for a bull fight. There was a drawing of a bull with a matador in the background, shining light from the mirrors on his garment, agile and coiling his muscles for another leap or sidestep. In his hand was the woven crimson horizon he'd strategically place in the bull's eyesight. The matador didn't have a face - as if we could all be him.

And the bull - he was fatigued and his hooves were heavy. Slowly, the barbs stuck into his sides unzipped his flesh. His breaths were labored and as he stared at the ground preparing to turn and charge again - I wondered if he thought about giving up.

I remember thinking about what John Prine means in his song Angel from Montgomery when he talks about painting a poster of an old rodeo. I don't know anything about old rodeos, but I unpeeled that bullfight poster from the wall and carefully rolled up. I felt like it burned in my backpack as I walked through the garden with the roses.

Later, in the living room of Carlos and Maricarmen's, I unrolled it on the coffee table next to the ashtray and, from underneath the high haze of smoke lived the poster again.

I looked up to the parakeet cage as they screeched over a piece of corn and saw for the first time the wall dedicated to Carlos’ bullfighting days. There were black and white photographs of him years ago with a confidence in his eyes that could've colored the film. There were ribbons and medals and movies about bullfighting.

It was not a complete timeline of bullfighting, but a timeline for Carlos to remember bullfighting as it was for him - to remember it as the thing that made him change. As the conflict he injected into his life to make it more memorable. Fighting bulls was the young risk he fastened himself to so, one day he could walk down a quiet Spanish street in the morning, hung over and tired and quiet and see a poster on the wall of a bullfight and remember what it was like to wager with his life for something.

I think that's what John Prine means in that song. Maybe it's an old rodeo that he needs to think of to bring him back to a time when believing in this living wasn’t such a hard way to go.

It's hanging on the walls in Carlos’s house. It's pasted on the walls in the street and it's hung in the sky and from the tree branches. It's the reminder that there are difficult things to do and when we do them, maybe they get ahead of us and anchor themselves in the future so we can get older and move along with some bruises and see something and remember when we did this hard thing so we could come home in the evening and have something to say.