Mexican Home

Mexican Home

There are no hidden meanings to worry about in John Prine’s Mexican Home. It’s just such a fine poetic, evocative portrait of a place and a feeling well and fully observed. If you’ve ever lived in the desert in summer in an isolated area, you will be brought inescapably back to it. 

It got so hot, last night, I swear
You couldn’t hardly breathe
Heat lightning burnt the sky like alcohol

I’ve been in a place where the air is so hot, you feel like you can hardly breathe, and, if you’ve ever seen heat lightning crack the sky like it was a shattering pot over your head, you will never forget it. I have also seen spilled alcohol on a lab bench ignited by a spark. (Do not try this at home!) It creates a flame that reaches swiftly to every inch of the shallow puddle of liquid, and flames out fairly quickly if you don’t feed it. 

I sat on the porch without my shoes
And I watched the cars roll by
As the headlights raced
To the corner of the kitchen wall

Have you ever stayed in a desert motel by the side of the only road for miles? One where the cheap blinds are no help, and you can actually see the headlights from passing cars slide along the wall opposite of the window as you’re trying to get to sleep? Kind of like this one where Dennis Weaver is “the night man”?

And I feel a storm
All wet and warm
Not ten miles away
My Mexican home

Another desert phenomenon. It may happen in other climates as well, but a tropical storm coming up to the desert is exactly like that. You can both see and feel it coming. 

My God! I cried, it’s so hot inside
You could die in the living room

What a perfect juxtaposition of opposites. 

Take the fan from the window
Prop the door back with a broom
The cuckoo clock has died of shock
And the windows feel no pane

Again, clearly the kind of house that is so shabby that there’s not even any glass pane covering the window, just a rectangular hole in the wall. With the cuckoo clock having died of shock, there’s not even a ticking sound to distract from the seeming inevitability of the desert climate coming to take you. 

The air’s as still
As the throttle on a funeral train

Again, the imagery is just stunning, perfect, and unexpected. What could seem more ominous and unrelenting than a slow funeral train heading to its mournful destination. 

My father died on the porch outside
On an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried
With a friend by the light of the moon

In the place and time the poet describes, there’s no frantic call for an ambulance, no attempt to forestall the end with the hustle of a half-dozen workers all attempting to prevent the inevitable with their choreographed pre-funeral dance. There’s just an acceptance of the humility of human life against an unrelenting nature, and the very human act of sipping bourbon with a friend, while you mourn your loss under an uncaring moon. 

So its hurry! hurry! Step right up
It’s a matter of life or death
The sun is going down
And the moon is just holding its breath

The poet invokes the cry of a carnival barker to drum up a crowd with the empty but urgent threat that “It’s a matter of life or death,” when in fact, the poet describes the reality of life or death in exactly the opposite manner with the steady, mechanical turning of the sun going down, and the moon holding its breath in patient anticipation of taking the sun’s place just as death will always take life in the end. 

It might be worth noting that, although John Prine’s father did indeed die on the front porch of his home on an August afternoon, that home was in Illinois rather than the desert scene that Prine describes, but poets are not court recorders and use real life as only the raw material to construct truth in human terms. We are all the richer for that. 

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