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The Madonna Timeline: Song #129 – ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ – Fall 1991

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Smoke hung in the air, gray like everything at that time of the year. Somewhere, someone was burning leaves. It was already November, and fire would inform everything for the next few months. In summer we smolder; in winter we burn. Though the ‘Like A Prayer’ album had been out for two years, I was just getting into the deep cuts, and ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ came on the walk-man as I raked up the oak leaves in our endless backyard.

I KNOW FOR SURE HIS HEART IS HERE WITH ME

THOUGH I WISH HIM BACK I KNOW HE CANNOT SEE

MY HAND’S TREMBLING, I KNOW HE HEARS ME SING.

The earth was dry, which was best for raking and bagging, and all life had died back in the frosts and frigid nights of the weeks before. From my hands, decayed and desiccated leaves sifted through my fingers, as if I was Father Time sprinkling the sands of history over a barren land. Beneath the leaves was the brown ground, still scorched from the end of summer.

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES. 

Looking up, I peer through bare branches and pine boughs, one running into the other, weaving a tapestry of limbs and needles. A cold wind moves overhead. Soon, snow will appear, but not on this day. We teeter on the edge, not quite ready to plummet into winter. It is dreary weather. It ebbs away at the soul with its overriding monotony, the dull way a barren landscape blunts the viewer’s gaze.

HE HAD TO FIGHT LIKE ALL THE REST

IN THE BARRIO ALL THE STREETS ARE PAVED WITH FEAR

I DON’T UNDERSTAND; AT LEAST HE WAS A MAN.

It is a difficult time in my life. The scent of fallen oak leaves will remind me of it in the years to come. A mournful, earthy scent fronted by the tomb-like mineral mist rising from the soil. I look around. A line of black garbage bags stands closer to the house, a conflux of short, abstract watchers, mute and faceless against the white house. The cleared expanse around me looks neat and clean. A small sliver of pride surfaces, but I tuck it away. No one extols the virtues of a spoiled teenager.

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES.

Seeking a savior of some sort, I search the sky for signs of impending change. Simultaneously, I wish to be rescued and to wreak vengeance. Punishment and forgiveness, banishment and rebirth. I suppose I was seeking God, if God is indeed Love. Where was He? Where was I meant to be? As evening descended, and the grays all around me grew darker, I walked out of the forest back to the house. There was darkness in both places.

In my bedroom, I play the penultimate track on ‘Like A Prayer’ and light a candle in my mind.

This was the album that brought us such emotional tracks as ‘Promise To Try’ and ‘Oh Father’ – and this song was in the same Catholic and confessional vein. The greatest Madonna songs tell a story – either in their lyrics or their video accompaniment. In this instance, a loose narrative of a savior – it could be Jesus, it could be a soldier, it could be a stranger, it could be a lover – carries through the guitar-laden flamenco-tinged ballad. This mysterious male phantom figure, perhaps a ghost of her then-recent divorce from Sean Penn, leaves Madonna questioning herself, her love, and the very existence of God.

HOW MANY LIVES WILL THEY HAVE TO TAKE? HOW MUCH HEARTACHE?

HOW MANY SUNS WILL THEY HAVE TO BURN? SPANISH EYES, WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

In Madonna, I found my savior. In her I found something more resonant than a God who sent his only son to die for others. How many suns will they have to burn? Those suns could be read as sons, and the first-born will always bear the brunt of the burn. 

YOU WERE NOT THE MARAVILLA IN OUR MIND

WE WERE PROUD TO FIGHT BUT WE CANNOT WIN THIS BLIND

STAND YOUR GUNS AGAINST THE WALL, WHO’S NEXT IN LINE TO FALL?

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES.

My ghostly reflection looks back at me from the window, features smudged in the dirty glass, form abstract and ill-defined. In the darkness and haze, I hide my tears. Even if they ran as red as the blood of Christ, you would not see them. Though they burn my cheeks, I do not make a sound. Someone else will have to speak for me. Amid a flourish of trumpets, Madonna cries out in passion:

HOW MANY LIVES WILL THEY HAVE TO TAKE? HOW MUCH HEARTACHE?

HOW MANY SUNS WILL THEY HAVE TO BURN? SPANISH EYES, WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

There is nothing to do but sleep. That fall, it is the only place I find peace.

A guitar fades into oblivion.

A whispered prayer escapes my lips.

Tears betray my eyes.

TUS LAGRIMAS DE TRISTEZA

NO ME DEJAN OLVIDARTE

SONG #129 – ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ – Fall 1991

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