New Orleans 1965
I was once the child who went forth
every day to claim my inheritance.
I went alone, across fields, by rivers.
Ferrymen touched against the shore
offering me a place aboard to ride
but only one way. I said no and went
across that river and on down to see
the sights of New Orleans. My father’s
uncle came out to the edge of the city
to welcome me. Said Ira, Welcome
to my home, let’s go in and sit a while.
Inside the woman with whom he slept
the rest of his days and nights, Adore,
set us out café au lait, warm beignets,
gesturing to me across the street: Hear
that, Juan Flores, those are your people
singing Long Black Veil, Tennessee Waltz
and with the same second-line band
that returns from this street’s burials.
I looked out and I saw in widow’s weeds
no woman I knew yet imagined I could
walk over there, strike up a conversation,
and spend the rest of our lives that way.
She looked like my mother’s grandmother
if her skin were black but all I have is
a daguerretype: She’s lolling by a door
and it’s here somewhere, the little dog
by her feet is looking up and wanting
what she has in her hand, but look out
at the camera she does and he will slink
away, I know, unfed, and I never see
where he goes, nor where she is from
now that I have come here to introduce
my pale blood into the family equation.
Ira asks if I like the Irish playing what
they came to the South to discover, I say
good enough for me, he fills my glass
and we sip and munch our way to be
ourselves yet in concert, the sad music
in our hearts welcoming his tall wife
with her brogue and dark skin and eyes
to the table. Adore, I say, what a name
to cherish, and she replies, Too many
have cherished me and men have died
because I would not choose one over another.
They fought, she smiles, to show how they
would die for what they wanted, just like men
to have to have their way even at the expense
of their own lives. Ira reached over, touched
her softly on the nape of her neck with fingers
he played the music with, when he worked.
Adore, he tells me, is every man’s goddess,
she just doesn’t care as much as they do.
I was here for a long stay. I could walk out
and down the street and back up a boulevard
and see the shotgun shacks and the brothels
preserved for the sake of man’s love of infamy,
his cursed putting upon women the escutcheon
of his greedy shame, and Ira would tell me
stories, the one about the woman who danced
alone all her life and never wanted another,
the one about the man who could never be alone
and made sure no one else could either. Ira did
what he said. He took me to the wharf and there
he picked up his horn left there the last time
he played all night and far into the morning,
Adore standing by smoking a cigarillo, gazing
into his horn and up to his eyes that never left
her dark skin, her dark eyes, her darker smile.
(30 December 2010)
copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander