Monday, January 31, 2011


He came from where water spilling over
was a sign the country was in good health.
He learned to swim jumping from a high place
into a pool his brothers said was deep
enough to let him find the bottom
but not so deep a body would not find
the surface again. River spilled over
a falls where you could walk and sit all day.
The Blue Ridge. Mountains you could see as far
as your eyes took you, standing up as high
as you could find the top of the highest
mountain close enough to home to get there
and back. And the rest of it, why he came
to New Orleans she would hear later.
For now, she taught him to love her, her way.
He didn’t let no chicken foot stop him.
She let him gather her up in his arms
and carry her through the open doorway
touching nothing that would bring them bad luck,
how she made sure the loas were quiet.
She had her ways. He didn’t need to ask
to know what she was, why she was that way,
why any of it had a thing to do
with him. It was no stranger to mountains,
just came from another place, that was all,
and what didn’t have to start from somewhere?
She talked about it like it was human.
She still did. Juan heard the same thing Ira
came to believe was all they ever had
in common, what Adore did not call love.

(31 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Sunday, January 30, 2011


She met him there. He was playing his horn
for the first time where she always stood back,
nobody behind her. He was taller
than the rest up there and he played like it,
big round full notes with lots of breath behind
each one. She had just happened to drop by.
She looked straight at him and saw him look back.
She nursed a cigarillo and a glass
of bourbon filled with ice. He came over
between sets. "What’s your name, pretty? Ira
is mine." "Adore." "Adore? Not Adora?"
"Adore." She was looking into his eyes.
"What do you do, honey?" "Don’t call me that,"
she chuckled, "That’s for fancy men. You’re not
one of them, you’re just a good looking boy
from the country, I'd venture." He nodded
with "How’d you know?" "That’s what I do, honey.
I perceive." Later he thought, That did it . . .
He returned for the next set and she left,
went home, nailed a chicken foot to the door,
the longest claw she could find to sag down
near the dirt that was threshold, that he’d pause
and pass by on his way into her house
tomorrow night, or the next night, who’d know?
He’s a good looking gentle man, tender
too I’d bet. We will see, Adore, you scamp!
She wondered how long he had been in town.
She wondered where he came from. He had eyes
full of water, like pools she could dive in
and glide to the bottom without breathing.

(30 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

After Storm

After all the wind, after the city
falling, standing still, its separate parts
maintained intact by the city fathers,
falling of their own weight down to their knees
to be forgiven and apportion blame
to the higher ups, the bastards in charge,
they said, asking forgiveness for their sins
if sins they were . . . Only the people knew
to blame was not to heal, they pray to die
as lucky as they were to find their love
in time, their sweet bodies aging slowly
because they know nothing so well as love,
caressing, kissing, fucking, annealing . . .
and Juan wakes next day to call Chicago.

I do not need to tell you why you know
most what was not said and never will be . . .
She wants to know how he is. He tells her.
He asks about her. She too tells him
all he asks. Then he asks her to marry.
He had expected her to laugh, but no,
. . . you can imagine her answer and weep
for him. You done chose your company, pal.
He fiddles with the phone, twisting the cord
around the receiver as he goes on
listening. Adore comes in. Her rocker
begins to rock with her body in it,
smoking her cigarillo, inhaling
then expelling all she inhaled in time

with the sound of her chair with her in it,
Maria Teresa telling him why
she is staying home. She can never go
where she would feel a fear of being all
she was, keep part of yourself under wraps
to stay what you are inside and be where
all those you love and love you want you
. . . and he wanted to take back what he said.
He said more. A hush. Stunned, nothing said now
–the click, dial tone, Adore kept rocking.
As he set receiver in its cradle,
Adore asked what he would do with his day,
he didn’t know, but he knew he would write
whatever she could find to talk about.

Honey, she said, you don’t need to stay home,
go out, roam, get your heart to beating fast
but not too fast, use your cane, walk slowly
but know where you want to go and get there
before the witches find you out and spell
your name in the street, Juan, and put a spell
there where the weirds want you to hesitate
and fall. They come out of nowhere, honey.
Use your cane. Beat them down. Wipe the air clean
and keep on going where you were heading.
Stay out of the water. Alligator
took a man down one day, I saw him slip
and splash, a tail thrashing up foam, the man
gone for good, I mean ill . . . Go now and sin.

(30 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, January 29, 2011

After His Dream

She said he could come back if he wanted.
She said it was up to him entirely.
He didn’t know how to wake up from this
but he did know he needed to wake up
before he started dreaming he was back
on California driving her Morgan
and calling it his because she said so,
sweetening the pot, gilding the lily . . .
dream inside a dream, dream within that dream,
no wonder this place was the land of dreams . . .
He didn’t even know that he dreamed this
San Francisco house waiting for Cathleen
to ride the bus from her job on Powell
and ask him how his day was kissing him,
her lips not the day’s, and that woke him up.
He remember nothing but that he dreamed
something about two women in a car
near Stinson Beach looking him over good
or for bad, depending on their reasons,
then he was there hearing Irma Thomas
inside walls, under a ceiling, behind
windows and doors, and she sang "It’s Raining"
and when he looked outside the earth was dry
already, but that was because he slept
not only through the storm but through the sun
light warming up what was wet looking out
for those who’d lost their houses to the wind,
and now it was night come full round again,
so quiet it was frightening to hear
nothing. Adore came in from the kitchen
to say she fixed some biscuits and gravy
and a plate of hog jowl and black-eyed peas
if he was hungry.

She had lived on California all right
but not Seventh–now where would Seventh be?
–but on Divisadero, by Lombard
before getting on Highway 101
to reach the bridge and on the other side
he drank in the Trident, the Valhalla,
and the saloons along Sausalito’s
main street, where Betty lived up high above
the town so she could look out at the bay
and feel pleased that she was at last home here.
Cathleen worked near the City’s Union Square
selling clothing she designed and ordered
custom made for her high-roller clients.
His first wife could live in Sausalito.
Cathleen was his first love in Seattle,
but they never were in New Orleans
together. Betty had been with him when
it happened, the rape, and they were married
two years before she decided the north
was for her after all, so she went back
and after the Virgin Islands she came here
(in his dream) where Cathleen lived (in his dream)
and yes (in his dream), he was a happy
husband, a kept man, a budding poet
(in his dream, all three, but only the last
was dream, the other two nightmares). Poet–
that’s what he told her was what he would be
(in his dream) after many years (dreaming)
of elbows smudging ink across pages
floating to the floor (in his dream) at last.
He got up from the floor and went inside
where the wood stove warmed them both as they ate
the food she set out.

A little wind was still blowing, but not
much, nothing like the wind he’d been dreaming.
Before trees fell, wires went down, phones were out.
Adore said she’d like to go down the street
to see what was gone. So he went with her
as her walker took them quite a long time,
but no one was in a hurry tonight.
she talked about how Ira loved to walk
both before and after a storm. He played
on his horn the sounds he was expecting
and then all those he remembered hearing.
He was my man, she whispered. He sure was
my man . . . There was nothing I loved better
than standing in back of the crowded room
with our eyes connected all while he played
and my word, how we did make love after . . .
When she was talking he thought her walker
moved a little faster, but he knew well
she was coming to the end of her life,
all she wanted out of him was to write
of her and Ira, their life of music
between a night in the club and the bed
at home, and all the talk they would share
day after day, night in night out and love
each and every word she could remember–
and I can remember every damned one,
she chuckled and when he could see Canal
and told her, she turned around and went back
the way they’d come until she decided
to stroll, she said, like Ira and I walked
to the club and back home in the old days.
Juan let her go a little ways, then turned
to help her go back.

(29 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Paolo knocked on the door to wake him.

Juan was dreaming that he was not dreaming.
He was watching over her, on the floor,
sitting against one wall, crouched like a bear
guarding her cubs against what was coming.

Paolo and Georgia were together.

Adore kept rocking, kept praying. The wind
roared. It was all dark. The walls shook and seemed
to bend against his back, then went outward
as though they were gone but tight at the seams . . .

Paolo held Georgia and she let him.

Juan’s nose touched his knees, arms holding his legs.
He wanted to rock but he had no chair,
He wanted to say words but he knew none.
He thought of nothing. That was too painful.

Georgia said, Let’s look in the other room.

Adore knew the lightning came with the wind.
So did the rain. But where was the thunder?
That was another prayer she began
now that she could hear past the howl outside.

Paolo carried her out. Georgia wept.

Juan dreamed he was back on the Pacific
beaches strolling alone, people naked
under the sun, walking to the highway
where a car stopped with two women waiting

Paolo would take her back to St. Charles.

in a black Lincoln as long as this house,
waiting with the engine purring, he thought
he heard, got close enough to see them look
him over . . . accelerating, leaving

Georgia lay on the bed. The doctor came

and he kept walking to where he could start
over, driving into San Francisco,
across the Gate, to her house at Seventh
and California, parking his Morgan

and said, Just suffered a hit on the head

in the underground garage for one car
only, climbing the back stairs to see if
Cathleen was home yet, and when she was not
he put on Irma Thomas and listened . . .

keep a compress of ice cold water there.

Adore was smiling when it was over,
wind gone, a little lightning then thunder,
ah there he was! He was with his beauties
going east . . . there you would still hear the wind.

(29 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dark Morning

Morning is, an Indian woman said
as he passed her walking and as the wind
grew stronger–Morning is bracing, she said
as they met and passed. Out there on the gulf
Oya holds her mirror up to the world,
the world sees itself change and change again
as lightning jags the dark, the wind blows through
the city. The radio says, Get out.
Cars move like ants about to be rained on,
their homes destroyed yet again by the flood,
and no one has done all that was needed,
too busy getting and spending their lives
below and above the earth’s wet surface,
gassing up, getting out ahead of storm
and, why not say? hurricane, the ocean’s
revenge for all that man does to the earth,
the nothing that brings everything to death’s
wide door. Not like the one Juan opens now
to tell Adore what she already knows,
sitting and clasping her hands in the dark
praying rocking in her chair chanting words
he can’t make out nor would he understand
if he could. Her gods are her own, not his.
That woman he encountered on the street
might know. All he can do is stay with her,
Adore, be her Ira but be his own
story, be the storm until the storm ends.
Adore, he says quietly so as not
to stop what has taken so long to start,
Adore, don’t we need to go? She says, No.

(28 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Gates

Nature is the fountain of all we do,
where we drink and sup and make love in shade
before we return to work that we do
not against but instead of the dead world
surrounding us and having its long day
fulfilled, as long as we remain its slaves
as long as we have families who need
our supplication at the feet of gods
to bring back from all our nowheres
what is locked down for the common people:
We who try the locks and hammer the doors
are we who have our nowheres for a prize
that never rusts, nature has no word for
supplication, not even cruelty.

Music flows from the south up to the north.
You’ve heard rivers go against gravity,
well, so does the history of music.
In New Orleans King Oliver taught
him how to stage his trumpet and his voice,
Louis took it on up to Chicago.
I believe he was happy to be gone
from back alley poverty, his mama
turning tricks to keep her family fed,
rough trade everywhere you must learn to fight
not just to get the prize but stay alive
until you were able to play trumpet
and sing people back from gloom into light,
not even happiness but ecstasy.

And so I go nowhere now. I am here
to stay. Adore says, Juan, you are a fool.
She is tired of hearing her own footfalls.
She knows why I am here, and it is not
for her gris-gris to bring a woman there
I love still, but to find the words for what
I could not know I was too young before
I began to remember what I knew
but did not know I knew . . . Just a minute,
she interrupts, no kin of my husband
is more than a fool, is an idiot
in my house. I want it to be your house
but you are going to have to earn it now
that you no longer need my gris-gris to live.

Part of the magic would never return.
Her part. If he stayed to help her die now
he would do what she had asked him to do,
what he was already doing, writing
the family back through memory’s gates.
Ah, the time it takes, false starts, true endings
that lack only a beginning to be
perfect, finished, so that you can live life
anew now, go to her body in bed
if she were here and love her like lovers
must love. If only there were time enough
to reverse the flow of the river north
and make gravity her magic, she would
be here now, you would be able to love . . .

Adore says, You may be a damn fool, Juan,
but I love you. Just say the word and I
will work my gris-gris again to bring her . . .
He should go over to the park and dance
in his head the music of Congo Square.
He could travel north to Chicago then
and carry her back, to the home he has
made for her here . . . He is going nowhere
today. Nor maybe even tomorrow.
Love has its rules, they are not like art’s rules.
You can dream all night but what you believe
is true is so only if it’s not false . . .
Adore says, Cut the crap, honey . . . you must
see if your dream is ivory or horn.

(27 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Once upon a Time

Once upon a time, when I was a man,
I worked as a man, I lived as a man
(they were not necessarily the same
men, they were only boys, playing at men’s
pursuits, poor devils, now you know better) . . .

and I loved like men were said to have loved
to beget such as me, who escaped wars
as easily as undressing Irene
after she took off one shoe, lay her foot
against my thigh, nudging to be closer . . .

In the vineyards I wielded pruning shears,
in the dairy of a hundred milk cows–
both enterprises not monopolies,
this was when Monopoly was a game–
I harvested the grapes, I milked the teats,

I learned to churn butter within my love’s
lovely churn, and I was the first to pour
milk into the separator and turn
her body so she could sit upon me
as long as we took to become pure milk . . .

But that was when Juan was Irene’s lover,
Irene was Juan’s lover, they were in love
and who could blame them, only those who knew
what a car was for when you were in love
and had no other place to go to love.

That was when Juan cut back the naked vines
and stripped each teat of what was left in it,
then went to the fields to play, not the same
fields where he worked, no, here was the contest
between boys pretending to be men . . .

The cows cropped grass and ate hay to give milk.
There was always the day between milkings.
In autumn, after pruning, rituals
of water flowing through ditches, shoveled
and hoed, the tractor entered the harvest

pulling its trailer loaded with boxes
of clusters of ripe grapes like my love’s hair,
not Irene’s but this one, whose name I know
only as Leila Shulamit . . . Dusky
Jewess her friends have named her with their love

unconditional, her head of hair shorn
by her own hand, and if her friends know why,
only I am left to understand why . . .
She has told me until she is angry–
It’s your idea of me but not me . . .

Even now her hair is thick like the fur
I knew from long ago when I once loved
one whose own brown skin nestled her black curls
of hair . . . Irene’s not as thick as Leila’s
whose hair is the weight of memory now.

(26 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Devil

Now the devil is climbing up your ribs
trying to get free of the block of ice
that has held him so long at the bottom
where all the curves and switchbacks have led you.

The world is for loving, that’s no secret
but it’s hard to do without fucking up,
Abner. No wonder Virgil leads you down
to meet your alter ego when you’re bad.

Keep your pen out to poke him in the eye
if he thinks you’re a stairway to heaven.
Like the song says, he’s sold his daughters down
the street, and it ain’t the garment district.

Therefore I risk flames to shake him off me
sending his jealousy, hatred, and fear
back to the bottom of the lake to freeze
for good. Virgil’s in Purgatorio

by now and I’m leading you hungrily
up and around where I came down. I need
your company, I need your wondrous love,
and it’s okay, honey, if you look back.

(25 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


He could make dreams come true if he wanted.
Adore told him this over all the days
remaining to her. He could not have been
with anyone more akin to his dreams.
Not like a mother, not like a sister,
not like a lover, more like a wise friend,
though if she were younger and he older
she would have been all he ever wanted–
a wise friend who was also his lover.
Therefore he envied Ira in his urn.
Ira, who stole his three brothers’ money
and rode south, Memphis to New Orleans,
and met Adore in the same bar he played
and could keep all he earned passing the hat.
She was a tall black woman with long hair,
Ira said at the kitchen table once
that was the last time Juan saw him alive
and never did see him dead, in his urn
bones and ashes Adore wanted kept there.
Ira looked straight at her out in the crowd,
and she was already staring at him.
As simple as when the music ended
she never left him as long as he lived,
redneck white boy from southwest Virginia
fleeing south with his fugitive brothers
one of whom murdered a black man in town
because he taunted his brother in town
when the three of them went into Woolwine
to sell their sorghum. Ira never went
with them, he wanted to practice his horn.
When they returned with black blood on their hands,
and their mother gave them baskets of food
and the horses were saddled, fed, watered,
and had three men astride their backs, the fourth
was for him. He caught up with them later,
just as he would rob them and be the first
to go farther south while they would go west.
In the first and only city he’d known,
he told her the tale of smalltown murder,
the reason he robbed them to come down here
and find her, with whom he never parted.
Juan listened until Ira went silent.
Adore came in and said, Let’s go to bed.
She never called him honey or darling,
her love was all in the tone of her voice.
Now she told him she had this dream she dreamed
more than once or twice because she wanted
to keep on dreaming she had found the man
custom made, it seemed, for his horn’s mouthpiece
–and she had to laugh, what a thing to say!
She did her version of what she called dream,
pretty soon there he was playing the horn
as though it issued from his very lips.
She offered to teach Juan how he could dream
the same dream over and over again,
as long as you had to to find what lived
out here once it no longer slept in you.

(25 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, January 24, 2011


The Sanskrit word for "it vanished." It did.
Adore arose one morning. She said, No,
no use making something out of nothing.
That’s all she said. She went to the kitchen.

Suddenly, it seemed, he had a hard time
walking, was limping, almost took a fall,
’righted himself in time, balanced himself,
ears ringing, feeling vertigo come on . . .

He sat down on a bench in Jackson Square.
People were coming in and going out
of the church. He fell asleep on the bench.
A cop came up and poked him till he woke.

He stood. His head reeled. What was happening?
He was a ways off from Adore’s. He did
not know where to go. He was alright then.
His head cleared up. He would walk upriver.

Where did he think he was? What port was this?
He began staggering more than walking.
He found a bench. Someone came up and asked
if he was all right, and could they help him.

He asked them to take him to the doctor.
The hospital of the poor, he called it,
like the one in Chihuahua where the burn
victim, penniless, was returned to life.

Up here he might sit for hours quietly
unless he raised his voice and the cops came,
so he didn’t. He sat and he waited,
after thanking the person who was a blur.

He fell off to sleep, head swirling at first
then nothing, until a nurse awoke him,
led him to a room where he waited still
longer. He was where he could sleep, at least.

In his dream he was looking everywhere
for her. When he saw a woman 5'4
he pursued her until she called a cop,
whereupon he fled, waiting to see her

black hair grow as far as her dark shoulders,
listening for her to begin speaking
and couldn’t help himself, he was in love
but if he were with her he would die soon,

though at least he knew he would die happy,
turning a corner and there she appeared
taking his hand and saying, It’s okay,
honey, you just got lost back there somewhere.

The nurse woke him, the doctor checked him out.
It would take days to find out, but he did,
going back and back, sleeping at Adore’s,
listening to her footfalls in the dark.

A week went by that way. She said nothing.
After the last test, he brought back the pills
and took one. She asked him what that was for.
My heart, he said. I am going to die.

Not before me! she laughed. How could you die
with so much left undone, hardly started,
years of work ahead of you left undone
if you don’t get started. Take some water.

One side of his heart was pumping too much
blood to fill the reservoir, spill over
but not flooding, just a river running
along until it came to the same dam.

Gotta keep my blood thin, he said. She said
Ira died from a stroke. He didn’t take
his medicine, thought he might as well go
and leave me here with a lighter burden.

Trouble is, she said, love ain’t no burden.
He went to sleep again. In the same dream
everything was in past tense now, the clouds
moved backwards, out of the sky to the void.

That Sanskrit word, adhvanit, came up
as high as it had to to make it rain,
and there she was again, that gamine smile,
her soothing words, the flesh he could not touch.

(24 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Morning Call

Like every other thing that lasts out life
the past changes what the present is like.
If a kid is a solitary back then,
he becomes a hermit as an old man.
If you read this far you want to stop now
and go back to Cervantes, who makes sense.
That’s where I, Juan Flores, wanted to go
now that I had saddled myself with debt
not only to myself but to Carlos.
Carlos, dead in the morning in a gorge
so far east and north you need a compass
much less a Rand McNally map to find
where Chesterfield is. It’s only Carlos
I believe maps should have been made to find.
Wring their swanlike necks. Send them home ravens
or crows strutting out the window all day
Paula stayed home, night coming on, then sleep.
Paula, too young to be wife to a drunk.
And I was the drunk. I, Juan Flores, drunk
from drink the moment I left my office
and my only friend willing to submit
to my errant ways, the tall typewriter,
a Royal upright that I did not own . . .
until bars downtown closed at two o’clock
and after Paula was gone, drunks came home
with me, their huge German shepherds killing
my cherished kittens, but another drink
and more to follow and you would forget
until the next time, starting the engine
and blood and fur flying from the fanwheel.

If I, Juan Flores, could go back and live
bad days over again and make them good,
don’t you think I would take you up on it,
Mama Fate, Daddy Doom, Sister Dreadlock.
I have a penchant for beauty and love
that beggars the question, How long to live
does the hermit have? As Susannah braids
her hair, Nell’s coffin floats, and daddy dies
daily in the Honolulu Punch Bowl,
I go out now to drink café au lait
and munch on a beignet and plan the words
I am not writing now. Now I am slack
in my mind, limp at my elbow, lame thoughts
blossoming faster than weeds in a field
of flowers that grow only in the south
so thick you can call them a field. I know
I need to walk. It’s early. I will stay
out here as long as it takes a woman
in her eighties to recover from sleep.
Adore, who insists I stay in her house
where I will look after her and have time
to do what I must. She says, Don’t worry
your sweet young head over this old woman,
I’m tougher than you are, that’s why I walk
at night without even knowing I do,
I’m doing dreams, I’m working on the life
that comes true only if you want it to . . .
I want her to tell me about Ira,
she insists her work is in the future,
mainly Maria Teresa and me.

The only bar open at dawn is Ray’s.
The Saloon never sleeps, he likes to say.
Today I go by and I find it closed.
Paolo will be sleeping with Georgia,
giving her all the money he brought here.
Rocky is planning Big John’s arrival.
I find a phone and use my card to call
Maria Teresa. And she answers.
I ask again the inevitable
and she promises to think it over.
If I tell her I love her she tells me
she loves me too. I ask her to sell out
and start something here. She wonders aloud,
Can a Chicago girl go that far south
and be satisfied without going on
to Mexico, Guatemala, and south
to Patagonia. I will be there
as soon as you call and say, I am free.
I want to hear you say it without doubt
in your voice. I want to hear you want me
to be with you wherever you want me
to be. You must let me love you like men
want women to love, without the paper
and the pens and the keyboards everywhere
I turn. You sent Paolo to get stuff
I gladly gave him. When will you be through
writing about everything you don’t know,
leaving what you know for others to do . . .
I say I don’t know. I say this is work
I must do before I die my own death.

(23 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, January 22, 2011


You knew Paolo would take up with Georgia.
The Flores boys had a penchant for whores.
But you knew that already. You knew it
from the first, Cathleen and Juan in a bed
big enough for half a dozen others
one night at a time. Why was it Carlos
who had to pay for sex in the cities?
You know it was because he wanted to
support the women his mother madam’d,
or would if they’d been in New Orleans,
also a city, but one with no peer . . .
But you knew all this already. You knew
not only that Paolo would take up
Georgia and lay her carefully abed
and Juan would clash with Betsy over names:
He called Maria Teresa a lot
more names than Betsy could think up, ever–
you knew that already, you’ve come this far,
you’ve even been let in on the secrets
nobody else knows because they don’t read
anymore, they watch, listen, talk, and go
places, but paper no longer exists,
and that’s OK as long as there’s music
and fucking after the talk, the drinking,
the good dope you grow to smoke not to shoot
and birth control and legal abortion
to keep the Flores family intact.
You knew Maria Teresa loved Juan.
You knew Juan loved Maria Teresa.
What else could you possibly want to know
before Mama Nell/Madam Doll’s coffin
turns up? or lovers are reunited
for life in the American Paris,
Madrid . . . and don’t pawn off any other
cities for this one, mix oil with water . . .
All you need to know to bring this story
to an end is Ira and Adore’s tale,
that’s going to take a few days to find
in this catacomb with all its bodies
fresh as a daisy and warm with new life
once the doors are propped open, air let in,
the sun streams through and the rain falls gently
into the bowl in which we live, truly
grateful to gris-gris conjured in our names
one at a time until they are all there
ready for resurrection, but not here,
or at least not now. New Orleans floods,
coffins float up and off, and Adore knows
Ira’s is not among them. His ashes
are in the urn on the mantle. Adore
can see where the love of her life ends up.
Any woman’s love, when the men die first,
and they do no matter what charms you make
in the one light in the dark you can see
shape themselves the talismans women know
when like Adore they take the time to do
what they were taught by their hoodoo mamas,
O mother mine! she would like to cry out
in the glowing dark to hear her own voice
echo those generations of mothers
whose wisdom filled the lines in her own skin
and there was no horror she could not face
down like demons some nights there was no moon,
you could hear his horn from across the lake,
he was never alive when Ira was
and no gris-gris could bring him back to life,
legends stay dead, how they become legends . . .
Adore could hear Ira’s horn even now,
twenty years gone by to settle ashes
in his urn she never opened because
this way she could memorize his music
playing all of it inside her body
standing far enough away to hear it
note by note inside the syncopated
silences she could see, she was that close . . .

(22 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, January 21, 2011

Paolo in New Orleans

Paolo came down with what he wanted.
Ray told him Juan was staying in the house
on St. Charles, "You know the one, Paolo,"
and yes he did. Here on leave and he fucked
his brains out, he said. Mama was alive
in those days. She had a girl in each room
and one waiting downstairs getting ready
for the next guy in line, or so it seemed . . .
Enthusiastic Paolo, wicked
looking but soft as a creampuff down there
where half the heart was and his other half
rictus with desire like unending grippe . . .
Ray sat with him a while and told him Juan
should go home. Paolo said this is home.
The way Juan loves that Chicago woman
should stick, Ray said, but I doubt that it will,
Juan’s too determined to have his own way.
What does he want? Paolo asked. Ray smiled:
He wants more than the world can offer him.
Paolo picked up the suitcase and walked
when Ray went back to work mixing a drink
for the latest tourist on Bourbon Street.
He took a cab to the house on St. Charles.
Peggy met him at the door, shushing him,
"The girls are sleeping, a late night last night."
Paolo could now remark to himself
how very much she looked like Mama Nell
when Nell put on her face of Madam Doll.
In the kitchen, on the intercom: "Juan,
Paolo’s here. He has a suitcase full
for you." By the time Juan got there, a girl
named Georgia, unkempt but voluptuous,
tall but slouching in an inviting way,
was listening to Paolo tell her
how during the war he snuck on down here
to see his mama and do some r ’n’ r.
Juan asked Paolo to take him to eat
somewhere they could talk about what he knew
Maria Teresa was up to now.
Paolo knew nothing. He just dropped by,
made sure he had it all in the suitcase
she gave him, took a cab out to O’Hare
and that was all the Chicago he had . . .
"She was alone, I can tell you that much."

You had to love him, his stringbean brother
putting on weight, with his still furtive gaze
like a conning tower sweeping the scene
making sure he left nothing on the ground
untouched, something he learned when he came home
and drank with the money he found down there
on the floor: "Waste not, want not," his slogan;
"Four things in this world are all a man needs,
he swore: Fighting, fucking, drinking, gambling.
The war teaches you how to do all those.
Gambling is the hardest to learn, to win
you have to cheat some times but that’s not good
for your reputation or your chances
of staying in one piece let alone two . . .
Be nothing if not philosophical."
Juan leaned back and liked to hear him go on
about the book he was writing he called
How to Wipe Your Ass and Wear Brooks Brothers.
But it was always the same shtick: He knew
the punch line but not what it came after.
He asked Juan if he appreciated
where he lived now and Juan said, Not really,
I would rather Maria Teresa
be here not there and the two of us home
in New Orleans, get some little place . . .
and suddenly thought of Ira’s old house
Adore still lived in, deep in her eighties
now but more gris-gris in her eyes than what
was in them watching Ira play his horn.
Twenty years? Twenty years. They do go by,
she drawled. I had the best man I could find
and I did give them all the benefit
of the doubt. They loved me and broke my heart
one by one until Ira came along . . .
Juan kept it to himself. He would see her
tomorrow. She would use what she had to
to get Maria Teresa to leave
that big city up there and come down here
to make Juan happy, her own self as well,
put her mind to what she would have to do:
a woman needed more than she could give
herself, she needed sunshine in her eyes,
the blue under her skin that came through gold,
and a man’s warm body in the offing.

(21 January 2011)

copyright 2001 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The World

Just tonight, for once, let me see
your smile emerge out of your face
like sheer life. My old railing ways
will veer off the cliff of surprise.
On the way down I will go up,
a fool having his way with you
or a magician of sainthood,
whatever it takes to float out
where nobody can keep you from
being with me on my banquette.

(20 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

The Reckoning Is Around the Corner

There were bees humming in his head.
A whole hive, worker bees around their queen.
In his human world she was called Cathleen.
It was her nose and lips that were perfect.
And in the old days, honey in her hive.
Old? Not so long ago. Before this house
there was her Citadel. And he lived there
not at all. She fucked whomever she wished,
and once her whoring days were at an end
she prayed to God to take away her urge
to go to bed and get to know this man,
any man, maybe even you, better . . .
Take away my libido. I am Yours . . .
And now they no longer slept together.
She slept above, he below. And the stairs,
when he had to take them one at a time,
only she climbed and descended. Happy,
she called herself. And he was happy too,
he worked more now, he devoted himself
to words, too many, too few, all the words
he needed to go along with the sights
he saw, the sounds he heard, the memory
of maybe a little vision thrown in
to sweeten the pot. Stir it up and pour.

Betsy, when she cooled, asked him if he called
Cathleen, like she had said he ought to do,
so he did. Other things always come first.
He wanted to feel like she had nothing
to give him now, and he still had nothing
to offer her, even if he wanted.
It took him years, a lifetime. Here he was
in his mother’s house with a loose woman,
the fathers would call her and dismiss her
to the back of the room, put her on sale
in the dark corners, and auction her off
between her regulars and first timers.
Where would he walk next? Where would he stop next?
Wouldn’t he be better off in his own car
turning north now as he had turned south then . . .
He called Cathleen and left her a message
saying, See Paolo at Susannah’s,
I need him to go to Chicago now.
He knows Maria Teresa. He knows
where she lives and how to get where she is
keeping for my sake, she said, manuscript
I wrote and the one Carlos left behind,
ask him to get them, tell him I said bring
it all down here, ask Ray Fox where I live.

She asked him how he was. She was worried
he wouldn’t be taking care of himself
now that she was not there to care for him,
O she didn’t blame him for going there,
she said Chicago was too cold, windy,
all the weather came off Lake Michigan
and curdled the marrow between your bones,
anyone in their right mind would go down
to New Orleans to live, even me . . .
He did not invite her. And you know why,
don’t you, dear reader, if you’ve come this far,
touching your way like a blind man with cane
or braille, naming the smells one at a time–
good food, good women, perfume, aroma
from the kitchen, your nose between her legs.
Who was she if not the one who lived where
he was lost when he stepped into the air.
Who was she if not the one who called him,
Come home, wherever I am . . . in his dreams.
Ask yourself what you would do, dear reader,
if you were here and she was there, and Hell
or Heaven was right around the corner,
wouldn’t you set about moving the earth
around until the north was in the south . . .

(20 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Lisa Alvarado said she
knew all Johnny Flowers needed
to know was this, in the Gaelic:
Cad is feidir go deireanach gra
ann go dti go bhfuil nq realtai
nach mo.
He could find the accents
and translate what there was to know
to break up this fictional spell
and bring life back to poetry
that had nothing to do with names.

Lisa Alvarado said she
was born in Chicago and moved
around, listening, asking . . . and
learned Spanish, French, Italian,
Greek, Russian, Yiddish, and English
American style, Ladino,
and now Gaelic. This magpie was
nothing if not a true magpie.
Iago said, I am nothing
if not Criticall. Not Lisa:

She tells Juan to find his own names
and leave hers be. Ask Betsy lass
what to call me if you can’t think
of an imaginary name.
I would like to have my life back,
Johnny, I mean Juan. Give me back
my name. All you do is use names
belonging to the authentic
souls of the world and put them on
fictional figures who never

existed, and they never will . . .
Go see a priest. You do need one
to listen to your confession.
You took my name. Give it back.
Since you know only the anglais,
all you can say is poetry,
which doesn’t do anybody
any good in this very real
and cautionary existence
fraught with peril and naked skin

in deep winter of the world’s end,
I’d like a break, Juan, go call her,
Cathleen, invite her down to live
with you and Betsy happily
ever after. She knows Gaelic,
ask her what it means. A poem
is waiting, Juan. All you can do
must be done and not a moment
to waste, dear friend who has become
my bane. Not that I don’t like verse,

it’s the poetry puts me off
that can’t afford to tell the truth,
it has so much to lose if thrill
replaces thrall: Iago will
get his way, Othello murder
Desdemona, and jealous rage
be canonized as a genre
replacing tragedy, and kids
will no longer know what to do
but go off all those that dis you . . .

Juan read what she wrote. He showed it
to Betsy, who said he oughta
be ashamed, using her real name
the way he does. Go call Cathleen
and get her down here to translate
that Gaelic into everyday
English. Anglais, he corrected,
and she hied off to her own room,
and told him, Get out! through her door
as though she were the real madam.

(12 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To the One I Refuse to Call by Name

Now he thought of the people Carlos knew.
Colin and Marie, he was all but dead
and she wanted to die alongside him.
Colin’s ticker beat on and she took care
he took his pills, ate the proper diet,
and she took him to bed to get the sleep
he needed to have energy to move
after years of sitting still, running down . . .

It depressed him to remember them now.
Thinking of Colin resembled looking
in a mirror. It bummed him to look there
and think of going out into the street
and seeing himself wasted like the drunk
he was. Two beers and that was all it took:
He was swearing off and he would get by
being with Betsy’s naked blonde body.

She woke and walked into his room
and kissed his ear, and he thought of Colin
waking too sapped of life to fuck Marie
and she offered him pleasure with her lips.
Betsy obviously was doing the same.
She said, I ought to get paid, I’m so good,
and laughed, staying up to catch a long breath.
Come down to the kitchen and eat.

Carlos loved Colin and Marie. They loved
him back. Old soldiers never let buddies
down, they keep on knowing them for life
or, with Carlos gone, for as long as death
kept vigil awaiting the samsara
to come wheeling by and this time stopping
to carry you into the next short life,
but how did you know which one was karma?

Betsy fixed them gumbo with dirty rice.
She said it seemed bland today but filling.
He said it was fine. He asked how her night
had gone. She pulled a wad of bills from her
brassiere. She liked to brag without saying . . .
She stuffed them back between her breasts and pulled
her kimono closed. He asked her about
spending the day with him and she said, Sure.

They walked all the way to Tchoupitoulas,
he wanted to tell her about Ira
and his wife Adore. The place was called now,
inexplicably, Ira and Adore’s.
He bought an Old Fashioned that Betsy sipped
while he drank water with chipped ice sloshing
over the edge of his glass but slowly
so as not to finish before she did.

Ira brought his horn down here and Adore
stood while he played and commanded the room.
Betsy asked about her and he told her
Adore was a gris-gris woman, Lilith
not Eve: How could she be, not being white?
Betsy laughed, Does that make me Eve? If so,
Juan, does that make you Adam and still Juan?
He laughed and never reached who Lilith was.

They stayed at the table. A trio played
all the way through its repertoire, and then
the drummer soloed, the man with the horn
played a long riff, and the bass walked away
before they came back together and did
the rest of Careless Love. They listened close,
Betsy mouthing the words, Juan leaning close
so he could hear what she wanted to sing.

His day would be very slow from now on.
To shake Colin and Marie from his thoughts
he was here. The music was not as good
as in Ira’s day, and he knew Adore
made the music swing without any help
from the loas. You had to go back where
she came from to learn what the loas did
and how. How you dance, what you do to walk

out the door after all the music’s through,
her hips sashaying against Ira’s . . . move
through the dark to the light that was their house.
Betsy asked how Adore had got her name,
and Juan said Ira had come up with it,
it was the name of his feeling for her,
and Betsy asked what Juan would call her now,
and he suggested they walk somewhere else.

He called her She Whom He Shared with Others.
She thought that name was too long. Try again.
He said, Body Belonging to Others.
She said he was stuck, he shifted into low
and tried this one: Baby with Her Blonde Cunt
Spilling Money out of Her Black Brassiere.
She said no and he went back to Betsy.
That was how they spent the day together.

That was why they would never get along.
He knew the woman he wanted and thought
of her while he excused himself to write
the rest of the day and into the night.
Maybe she would bring his stuff in person.
Maybe she missed him much like he missed her.
Maybe it was love after all the years
he never knew her, she never knew him.

That was what some said: You wait long enough,
the world comes around, galaxies flicker,
men die a little more each day women
wait for them to get out of their system
shooting stars, asteroids, planets, the works,
and soon here comes samsara one more time . . .
She says, Wait, I have a life to give you
that’s rain on your skin and sun in your eyes.

(18 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, January 17, 2011

In One Corner of Her Boudoir

He got so he liked to go in and out
the back door, It’s always open,
he liked to say, and to himself
only. It was his avenue.

He liked to dream. A room of dreams,
he christened his quarters. Boudoir,
Betsy called the corner their bed
occupied. The rest was all his.

And she came by invitation
only. She sure had her work cut
out for her, keeping him happy
when she knew his head was elsewhere.

He started drinking at Rocky’s.
Twenty years sober and then this
Jax beer, just to see what it was
he remembered, if anything.

Rocky wanted to talk. Big John
was ill. Rocky said he could stay
at his place in the Vieux Carre
if he could find his way down here.

Rocky said John had the Big C,
liver most likely, way he drank
and never got drunk. Well, Rocky,
whatever it is he will die

happy if he gets back down here
from Alabama. He had one
more. Check you later. He walked out
in sun against his shielded eyes.

He had two beers and that was all.
He didn’t need to be in love
to be happy. He was alive
and intended to stay alive.

Betsy was making clam chowder.
She dished some up for him. He sat
at the kitchen table, spooning
one spoonful after the other.

She said, Honey, I have to work
tonight. She meant an all-night john.
He could use the time. He was back
writing Calle Tchoupitoulas.

He stayed in his room with his pen
and pad of paper, and he wrote
this to Lisa Alvarado:
Where I am is Mama Nell’s place

You know how I loathed Chicago,
the wind off the lake, snow and ice
I hope you got with him again.

He wrote that and wadded it up,

threw it on the bed. Soon the night
of festivities would commence.
He didn’t need to see the girls
who were women under their skin,

everybody had to get by
and he was one. He loved Lisa
Alvarado but so did he
who went with her to Oaxaca.

That was what he wanted to say
and refused to say it straight out.
Besides, he had other worries.
If he wrote to her, and he would,

he would tell her exactly where
to find Carlos’s manuscript,
ask her to send it C.O.D.,
if the p.o. still delivered

waiting at the door for the cash,
only then handing it over,
Rum and Lemonade, that would keep
him busy: two books, one his own

and the other his dead brother’s,
plenty to do till the next storm.
He sat down writing it out straight
and telling her the truth this time.

He left out Betsy’s name, the room
he called her boudoir, and the bed
Betsy wanted to call Boudoir
because it was the only bed

she could call her own. The madam,
Peggy, Doll’s old flame, was happy
to put up her dead lover’s son,
happy to let Betsy love him

if she could still do customers
especially her regulars
and work as always the night through
and begin again the next night . . .

He found an envelope and stamp
in Betsy’s desk and went out the back
and began walking all the way
to Canal, mailed Lisa’s letter

and walked down to Tchoupitoulas
to order rum and lemonade,
and the lass taking Rocky’s place
asked him, How do you make that one?

(17 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lion and Lamb

The lion has no need to chase the lamb,
only problem is knowing who is who.
A lion can get lost in a city,
same with the lamb who must be more careful.
Lambs have wool lions like to get lost in,
and they are small when love is to be made
by making her hungry for his penis,
lips meshed moist and warm, their bodies conjoined.

They may lie down together but they war
with their bodies in explosions of love.
She shows him the sights and he takes them in,
wants to run in the park of her childhood,
cavort with her in all the various
ways to be gleeful, to be young once more
without thinking, My body ain’t what it
was then, not even close, I’ll have to rest . . .

Tenderness . . . the glee gets lost there . . . gentle
caresses and hands everywhere they want
to be paws, little hooves, noble couplings,
embraces that make increase the sad world
forgets when it puts on its shoes, goes out
to get to where the money is flowing
should you know the man who keeps the jungle
and shepherds the flock in fear of the wolves.

In the baths the eucalyptus leaves rubbed
over the still-steaming skin makes human
what must rest, walk home, be animal there,
yet tap the mind for memory’s stories,
those that wring their hands and want to run off
and find love. She did. He taught her that love
with her body holding his was beauty
and like all the men to come could not bear

her tongue, the poetry running away
from nothing, making words themselves shimmer,
the glow more than blinding, moving too fast,
a lightning field crackling all around him,
and when he waited for the rain rain fell
between their legs, his love like gravity.
And the others? All of them wonder struck.
He did not know how to tell her he was.

His life too, what was there to be with peace
with him inside her, moving as slowly
as she had hoped he would with his deep voice
as soft as hers when her electric charge
gave way to where they were and what they knew
would please the mind and calm what frantic nerves
they loosed one upon the other with fear
of change: What happens when you tire of me?

She walked out of her house at seventeen.
Was he waiting somewhere to pick her up,
take her to her new home, his old one . . .
The intervals? Who measures time that way?
Not in a city where you can find love
without waiting as long as on the land
you can sometimes see off in the distance
where you are going to be in no time,

time is that long in the fertile country,
not like turning a corner, there he is,
he can’t help but love the way your mind moves.
If he’d been the same man, how would he know
where to go with all he could not give up
now in the offing, he would not know then
in church holding her hand and on the hill
above that town undressing each other.

Irene, then Paula, Cathleen. For her Bill,
then married the man who loved with both hands
born to calluses, couldn’t understand
her when she said, I am going to be
what I have to become, I can’t say why . . .
and then there was another, a marriage
lasting fourteen years, as long as he could
function but when he could no longer pull

from inside what was always there till now
they quarreled, he said she was the trouble
and left her. Later he said, You were not
the cause, no other woman took your place.
Betty took Cathleen’s place, Paula took hers,
but Paula had her own way of loving
him back when he stayed home and did not go
where he went too often and came home drunk.

Cathleen gave up her teaching, went with him,
she left him when he went back to being
what he thought he was when he was alone,
a law unto himself. She would get by
just fine. Until she started missing him,
said she was bored with other men, no thrill
in them, no waiting for the mystery
to show itself in all the forms she knew.

Or so it seemed. To her. She left again.
And went to other men who showed her how
to love with her body alone. Nothing
held out would be taken and therefore lost.
Willie himself had done it. He knew how
to lead her without giving her too much
to do at once. There he was, her dark side.
But her black Irish was not his own black.

The lion lies down with the lamb. You think,
How nice there are animals in the world
who can teach humanity how to live . . .
How impossible it is to return
to that body that this body comes from.
You think God must have waiting a surprise
that will be yours if you will obey Him.
You are too much animal to obey.

(16 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, January 15, 2011

El Sabado

Propinquity: Saturday then Sunday.
Insanity of days, horror of nights.
And here we are in the middle kingdom . . .
Falling short of where we thought we would be?
If we were near each other, where were we?

He made himself a pallet on the floor.
He went down to St. James Infirmary,
she was stretched out on a cold slab:
Baby you can look the wide world over
and never find another man like me,
Easy rider, look what you gone and done

He had himself a dream or two, or three.
Saturday, today, they strolled the market
to buy flowers to make their room smell sweet.
Or they would go for a ride on the El.
Or walk by the lake. Make love afterward.
They went on making love until they slept.
When they woke they ate together and talked

until she had to go to work, and he wrote
the rest of the story, how he found her,
Mama Nell, Madame Doll, madre dulce
still in her coffin, among flamingos
in bayou ravaged New Orleans wind break
letting the Gulf pour through, the wind get in,
and nobody brought her home, she stayed there
waiting for her son to send some money.

She would if he asked. She was in his dreams
telling him what he oughta do for her
now she could no longer do for herself.
He could live in her house full of ladies
who would love him whenever he wanted,
but Lisa Alvarado loved him now
in Chicago, said he could stay inside
till she returned, then they would walk and talk
how the day went, for one, then the other.

Home now, where he knew no one, no one knew
Lisa’s kept man, what did he do? He wrote?
Poetry? Shit, girl, how do you get by?
You work, why don’t he? Does he have money?
. . . and they told the truth, they shared the laughter
and the sorrow they met so late in life . . .
She went to synagogue, he went to mass.
She talked Spanish mostly, but French and six
others: "I moved around a lot, I was
a magpie." She was an intellectual

who didn’t show off what she knew but said
what was on her mind and behind it too . . .
She was the brightest in his firmament.
Her dusky skin gave off its own shimmer.
She wrote poetry too, but on the sly,
she had a day job, running an upscale
café. High hats and heels came in for lunch,
returned for dinner in tux, evening gown,
and a roll of bills to show they enjoyed
what she had to offer from the kitchen.
He was a kept man all right, kept quiet

and at his keyboard where he did his time
all day long, his own prisoner. Of love.
What do you do with a life that’s ending
soon but not yet, don’t you have to try out
all the scenes you have in her head, play back
one by one a life that almost ended
more times than one, and those stories needed
telling too, but first there was this story
of a drunken papa playing Russian
Roulette with his baby girls and laughing
as they shrieked, but nothing roused
their beautiful mother passed out on pills.

Don’t you try to learn about this city
like you once wanted to learn Seattle,
San Francisco, New York, Boston, even
Albuquerque, from earth covered over
to where the sky came down and settled scores
between people and they went off to make
life more or less what it already was,
everywhere he went, walking all the time,
writing down what he saw, whom he saw, what
they said, how they said it, why they said what
they said, he didn’t ask why, they told him . . .
Lisa said, You don’t have to go out there,
you can get lost in your own head, honey.

Here’s how it went. Stayed the night in the house
on St. Charles, placed a call and here she answered
and the fawns in her voice followed the doe
into the middle of the clearing, sun
brighter there than anywhere for the bear
shambling through trees, crashing into bushes
and on through till they lay down together
as though they were the lion and the lamb
of legend all gussied up to take on
skeptics, doubters, cynics, who don’t believe
love thrives any way but theirs, and they may
be right but Lisa knows and Juan’s learning
Chicago listening to her tell him
what happened after she was born and why.

(15 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, January 14, 2011

El Viernes

Friday was a good day to see Betsy,
to go to bed and let her make him nap,
stay for oysters Rockefeller, the dish
Antoine’s was famous for, but she knew how
the kitchen worked, she had a client there,
and talk for dessert. She asked where he was
staying. She seemed a little shocked. Why not
move in here? The madam has a good room
for you to work in, she loved your mother,
I’ll ask her, I bet she says, Why, of course!

He walked around all afternoon, alone
but not in his head. Lisa was waiting
in Chicago. And somewhere, out in those
Elysian Fields was Mama Nell, her coffin
like an ark perched between lake and river,
or maybe whisked by the Mississippi
out to sea . . . he would do right even if
others thought he was wrong. Like Lisa would
if she had no one new yet she could love.
He wasn’t going anywhere, he knew

this was where he was and where he would stay.
He had dinner at a nondescript place,
tried to find Larry & Katz but couldn’t,
he must have forgotten the way Big John
took him all three times he was here before.
He was walking past a house, shotgun shacks
they called them, and heard a man scream, You whore!
and a woman sobbing so audibly
he paused a moment, wanting to go in
and help her, then he thought better of it,

turned the corner and there it was, the place
called Larry & Katz, still with the boxes
of whiskey filling up the floor, bar stools
for white people to drink inside, the wall
window raised to sell to the black people
who stayed outside, or that’s how it was once,
the first time, Big John of Alabama,
formerly of the CIA and loved
Allen Dulles, he said, like a father,
Kolbs’ headwaiter: Try the Wiener schnitzel,

he suggested, and they did, and Betty
enjoyed it most, he could have had tacos,
enchiladas, refritos, and gone home
happy–but he was not home, and Big John
met them on Canal and showed them the sights,
Larry & Katz among them. Now black men
and women sat on the bar stools with whites.
There were two men working behind the bar.
One of them he recognized, the other
was new to him. But where was the woman?

He drank chicory, talked to the black man
next to him, learned just how tough the times were,
how many of his kin had been wiped out
in the flood, others gone off to someplace
he was waiting to hear from, to know they
wanted to come home, and he would help them
come home. The man looked him square in the eye
and asked what was wrong with the president
who said he gave a damn and then didn’t,
never sent us a penny he promised . . .

He walked the long way back, he didn’t care.
He might get mugged but he had no money
or not enough to turn in a night’s work
for any thief, and pretty soon was back
on Canal, walked down Bourbon, saw Ray Fox,
who wanted to close up early, get home
and be with his grandkids, in town only
for the weekend. He told Ray he was fine
when he asked, and no, no word of Mama’s
coffin–saying Mama because Ray did . . .

And back in Hotel HOTEL he called her,
she was gone, he guessed, there was no answer,
she should have received what he mailed Monday,
the card with its nondescript photograph
of the city, as bland as tonight’s food . . .
He let the phone ring, nothing else to do,
and put the receiver on the table
next to the bed, but so he could hear it
ringing and let it set the beat to which
he brought marimbas in, then drums, then horns.

He woke at three o’clock in the morning,
the real dark night of the soul, someone said,
and the phone was dead. He got up and dressed
and walked past the sleeping night clerk, and out
the door. He didn’t have anything there
to go back for. Let it all stay, to pay
the bill. He walked all the way to St. Charles,
took a cab because there was no streetcar,
directed the driver to the alley,
and entered, as usual, the back door.

(14 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, January 13, 2011

El Jueves

The catacombs. The Absinthe House.
The St. Charles Hotel. Jean Lafitte’s
Blacksmith Shop. And Kolb’s Restaurant
–for years vengeance went through his mind
when he got drunk but not too drunk,
nimble on his feet, maybe more
than sober, but it was his tongue
betrayed him, as that night they met
Plaquemines’ own J. B. Borel–
from Algiers, I’m drunk as a lord,
up to no good, wife kicked me out
and Leander Perez won’t speak,
never did to my wife’s husbands,
Let’s go have a drink, I’m buyin’–
and were led to the pirate place,
he liked to call it afterwards.
The catacombs came after that,
the blood on the sheets, all of it,
Hurricane Betsy on its way
and what could be a better start
to the season but a gang rape.
He said he was a stevedore,
must have known you had an office
by then, said he made more money
than you and danced with your redhead
and J. B. decided to go
and the guy with his lawyer friend
from D.C. followed, out the door
at closing time, the street a throng
of revelers, mostly drunken,
and she was gone. The Catacombs.
The St. Charles Hotel. A suite big
enough, but too big after days
on the road, the back road the guy
with red eyes sunk back in sockets
rimmed with moonshine, teeth busted off
and many gone altogether,
showed you the way, you beat it out
of there, only Oklahoma
and you had Arkansas to go
due south to Louisiana.
In the bar the languages flowed.
He had come to the only place
in the States he knew was the complete
America, the immigrant
America. The civilized,
Civilization all its own.
When the Mexican stevedore
took her away and she let him
disappear her until finished
with her, they dumped her at the door
the doorman recalled no one was
with the red haired woman bleeding,
and Chaplin’s Immigrant showing
in a courtyard next to the stairs
also outside they were climbing,
leading her through a door and in
there she remembered nothing more.
Next day Big John, Kolb’s head waiter,
and Rocky, tending bar that year
at the Absinthe House, and Ray Fox,
just having gone into business,
all went looking with him and found
no one, nothing, not even that . . .
but zero, something after all
but of no use to civilized
Northerners, wet behind their ears
and dumb as stumps about the way
to find the needle in the hay.
That was the story Juan Flores
told himself many years after
Betsy, after Katrina now,
his mother wasn’t even here
but next year came to apprentice
in the St. Charles house. No wonder,
he thought, I didn’t care to come
right off, but put it off and then
once I returned she kept me close
and not till Carlos disappeared
did she write a letter to me
asking to know how it happened
and I could not write what I had
to say so I came here again
and she bawled worse than a baby,
she moaned on my one wet shoulder,
said she was never the mother
she had hoped to be. I listened.
That was my last time here till now.
Catacombs was what I called it,
that Thursday in my memory
no gris-gris could alter for worse
or better, might as well accept
the past, no use trying to change
what was gone for good. I don’t know,
he said to the mirror just now,
what I ’ll do if I lose my mind
over Lisa Alvarado,
she won’t come and I will not go
where I have no roots, not even
the dirt you have to shake off them
to see what’s there, then be patient,
stop remembering what Betty
endured, be glad Lisa won’t come . . .
vengeance a meal best left alone.

(13 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


or milagro, the middle of the week
another miracle of endurance
wherever you were, and here was the worst
conundrum: What do you do with a drunk
when you know he has everything he wants?
Why does he keep on dancing if he does?
Is he celebrating his good fortune
or is he looking for a miracle
he didn’t even know was possible
until the music began and his feet
stepped out, found the floor where flowers blossomed
where bear learned to dance happily with deer.
After that she had nothing left to say
because he had said nothing important
much less miraculous. He was fucked up,
he knew that much and he rued the city
for calling him here with the false promise
of making up for missing his mother
on view at the funeral home that day
he told the undertaker what she was,
dress her in what she loved, provocative
and bold like they say in the fashion world,
and he heard the man titter, clear his throat,
and assure Mister Flores, You got it.
Lisa, you don’t know how much I miss you,
but I don’t know if I can come back there
now that I know we would be happy here.
He began to lumber from side to side
and sound upset and she didn’t know why
and wanted to turn tail and leap away
into Chicago’s demimonde thicket
where she went once and got away alive,
and he kept on shambling going nowhere
and she said, Sure, I’ll come if you want me
to that bad, but I’m Mexican, a Jew
as well, and you know how they treat black men
taking their women to give them babies
and flaunting their power, taking money
and shaking it in the face of the man
whose wife lies moaning and he can’t reach her,
a Mexican woman they would throw out
the door when they were through with her, a Jew
–well, baby, you know they’re worse than any
down there, and he said this woman’s father
was a Jew and the most powerful judge
in New Orleans, she married white trash
and he warned her but she wouldn’t listen
and one night he was stabbed to death down there,
Calle Tchoupitoulas, he liked the French
Carlos brought home from Saigon, Tu Do Street
Rue Tu Do, and she said she was staying,
and he didn’t want to growl his way out
of this thicket, he had to go around
following what light he could see from here,
hoping it led him back to where she was.
You won’t fly down to be with me a while
till I find what I’m looking for, you could
. . . and he did go on, promising this, that,
and as much as he could think of to lure
her where he was now, so she said Not now,
I have to think about what I’m doing
before I do anything, you know me,
how quick to love life, and how long it takes
to heal.
               It was the middle of the week.
There were miracles every goddam day
and here was his, the freedom not to love
and suffer all you fucking want, it ain’t
worth it, loving a woman if you can’t
give her at least as much as she once had,
protecting her from the New Orleans
she didn’t know and he knew she was right
to shy from the rednecks, mafioso,
all the wrecks of the human retablo
of greed, murder, slavery in the church
of Pandemonium, John Milton’s own
Lucifer in his tux and tails and out
for a night with what pleasure he can find
in this Eden where even snakes wipe off
flood scum wrapping themselves around the tree
of doubloons hanging like moss from the limbs
and waiting for beauty to come walking
his way and talking her into a night
on the town, all she has to do is rub
him dry, let him buy her all that she wants
and let her go home, back to her Adam
naming things and wholly unto himself.
My god, boy, you are being literary
like you used to get when you were a kid
who had too many books secluded from
the maid not to take one to the levee,
a long walk from where his mother lived now,
sit a while to let his mind disappear
into those black letters where he would go
nestle against the white space and turn down
her fancy collar, feel her all over,
do what he had to do to have his way
and her smiling closing both eyes kissing
him all over where she knew he would like
to take her hand and lead her out of here.

(12 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Tuesday. Always a day behind.
After the nap he showered off
all that was there he had paid for.
Downstairs she asked how he was now
and invited him back to have
dinner in her room some Sunday.
She repeated condolences
and he went out by the back door,
as he had entered, knocking first.
Waiting for the streetcar, he tried
to remember her name, couldn’t,
tried again before his stop came,
remembered names of some others,
but not hers. Suddenly Betsy

came to mind, Betsy was her name,
same as the hurricane that came
before years ago he left town
for good, he swore, but mother Nell
said, You’ll be back someday and I
will be the reason. That’s why Ray
was his only friend now, Rocky
was more like father than brother,
Ray had a mother when they met,
Betty’s red hair falling to her
slim hips, Juan’s black hair and black beard
shadowy in her radiance
in the after-hours club Ray knew,
where he said, You’re a liberal,

aren’t you? and back in The Saloon,
which Ray Fox said he’d never close,
Ray’s wife came up and Ray said so
many women he had loved all
the time his mother was alive
were already gone when she died,
either dead or married or left
town for good or ill, and his wife
turned out to be Lady Macbeth:
"Unsex me here!" she prayed and God
did what she asked, and that was it,
she went to church and he opened
The Saloon seven days a week,
she must be in a nunnery now . . .

Juan wondered when he woke Tuesday
when Lisa would get his postcard.
Maybe by Thursday. Be patient,
he said to himself. At the desk
there was no one to say, Hello
and good morning, and he walked up
one street then another, then off
to see the ruins. Lower Ninth
and plenty all around to share
the hushed grief broken now and then
meeting outside their broken homes
a man, a woman who thanked God
they were here and they would live here
again, as soon as they could build

what Katrina filled with water
from off the lake through the levees
that collapsed, too weak to begin
with, the beautiful city gone
under and only the high ground
stayed dry and even there the rain
drove the habitues on inside
or in Ray’s place under the roof,
but down here people declared God
was good, they could at least breathe in
and out, it had not been their time,
and a lot of folks would have stayed
if they could have kept their head up
above the attic, on the roof . . .

And Juan didn’t find a coffin
down here, it cost money to float
off far enough to lose the dead,
money only a madam had
whose house was the only one here
anymore making its own way,
nor was he going to find her
in Audubon, among the birds,
or anywhere he went looking
today. The cab let him off at
Hotel HOTEL. He placed a call
and Lisa answered. Her voice leapt
like fawns chasing their mother deer
deeper into the wood’s bright sun.

(11 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, January 10, 2011


O yes you got your rain all right,
Ah it was the wind put you down
and out, broke your house and took you
in water was over your head,
until the lungs would hold no more,
hands at the ends of arms began
to flail like paddlewheels with no
power or me when I go down
to Congo Square to meet and hear
those ghosts who never stop dancing

. . . now and then he would wake up bright
and bushy-tailed like Nell would say
to her own girl and baby boys
before she moved east, or was it
after she became Madame Doll . . .
Carlos would say, I stay away
from her. My town is Fall River,
Paolo declared. Susannah
preferred Seattle, Carlos death . . .
something of his own left behind

for Juan? All it was was made up,
Carlos said. Maybe worse, Juan knew:
too much left out that might have saved
him the walk through Chesterfield Gorge,
Carlos could have made Northampton
home and put it all in the book,
the war that was the back story,
the great love that would never die,
his greater love for the many cats
born where he held them in his arms

when they died, he never wept more,
and Juan could say the same old thing,
Gotta get yourself a woman
worth her salt and make her happy
so she wants to keep you alive,
. . . he tried again, no Lisa home
in Chicago, he would write her
later, all he wanted to do
was crow over sobriety
live in the bowels of Antoine’s

last night, money shelled out to have
bisque, lobster and crepe suzette
flambe, bottles of Pinot Noir
unopened on the window sill,
waiting to christen her coffin . . .
After lunch at the Two Sisters
Juan knew he would drift to the house
and see if a girl were awake
and if she was, have her take him
upstairs for the nap he paid for . . .

At dusk he wrote Lisa: I love
this town, could you get away now
for a week to be with me here,
I’ll send you money for the flight,
I need to do something for you
and me before I lose my mind
looking for my mother’s coffin . . .
and he meant every word of it
even though he knew she believed
it should be him who came for her.

A postcard for the world to see,
happy to get it in the mail,
he never knew what she would say,
that’s why he loved her like he did,
though he knew one thing about her
if he knew anything: she would
no longer go to any man
as she had in her misspent youth,
what they had he said in common
even though he remained Old School.

Lovers were always here, then there,
like tides coming in, going out,
and he wanted to keep this boat
from hitting a reef, taking on
water, having to ditch and swim
with no shore in sight or thought . . .
Juan was sick to death of the love
that fed on memory, promised
what could no longer be performed,
he might as well be in the grave

as walk around here looking for
fresh balm on the skin of women
all of whom knew what they could do
to make a man happy, wealthy,
but not wise, he would have to do
that his own damn self, do it fast
if he wanted more, all for free . . .
Soothe me honey, let me go now,
find my own way to The Saloon,
Ray’s bar on Bourbon, quiet place

in the open air. What you do
in hurricane season? I pray,
Ray said. How long you been God struck?
Since Betsy. But that’s long before
Katrina, was it your mother
gave you religion? She never,
Ray said, had any of her own.
Then what? Ray took a while to say:
It was this woman I married
made a believer out of me . . .

(10 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, January 9, 2011



Pretty soon he wakes. He dreamed somebody
he knew said his name following the phone
ringing all the way to where he had slept
without dreaming and looked out, it was dawn,
and he could smell the city in the air
as always. An old friend whose name he can’t
pull up and damn sure won’t ask who he is,
he knows the face, the body, the gait in his walk,
how he seemed to love to listen to Juan’s stories.
Juan has one sister and three brothers. Did they have,
ever, a mother, sure never had a father . . .

Asked where Lisa was, he hesitated,
thinking, You mean Lisa Alvarado?
but waited, kept quiet, thought a minute,
Why’s he asking? He have a jones for her?
and said, Home, I assume, where she lives now.
Now? the voice seemed startled. Yeah, where I live with her.
Oh. I tried to call, there was no answer.
Well, maybe she’s with a friend. Try again.
He didn’t know he was doing it until phone
sat once more in its cradle, looking like Buddha,
and that made him smile. Where was the bo tree?


I woke when the phone rang.
I wanted to sleep, so when I hung
the phone back on its cradle, I slept.
I had nowhere to go, today was Sunday.
I could go out for the Times-Picayune but why bother?
I’d just wind up drinking café au lait con beignet and a tear
would drop off my numb face thinking where I wanted to be

All those trulys, you’re beginning to mimic Hemingway . . .
Why can’t you find your own words, hombre?
You don’t have to weep for where she is and you are
until you know you’ve been here too long and no way
you’ll get back in time . . . not to Chicago, where you know
so little you get lost every time you go out on the street alone.
Not that you know New Orleans any better, it’s just known
from way back and that way something sticks in your craw
you love.

If I were there what would I do now? What would she do?
Where would we go? Who would we see?
Why would we love each other
if this was all there is?
Why can’t we be happy
living alone? Why
do we feel all this and let it go back to where it came from . . .
that dark place I always remember as Goya’s
Prisoner on the bench straining mightily to break his chains
and can’t.


He has no plans but that fits him to a T now.
He still thinks he may call her but he knows
that is not enough.
He walks the long way, the very long way
down all the streets on the way to the wharf.

Here once Irish Cathleen saw a body slide into the lake
and what was it came up and dragged him down,
he couldn’t recall, thinking she said, A shark,
well, were there sharks in Lake Pontchartrain.
In the Mississippi. And when was that? Way back . . .

Irish Cathleen was alone here that time.
Here twice, with a husband the first time.
Planned a trip together after that,
cancelled, like the trip to Cuernavaca
to see the gully Malcolm Lowry’s book ended.

Now he could compare the last twenty years
to those he involved in living now.
Mama Ju-Ju could tell him all about
the future. Why fuss about the past?
There were swarms of tourists on the wharf . . .

He wanted a drink but one only led
to more. He was here to kick the habit,
kick it for good. No better way he knew . . .
kick the fucker where it was all around
to stay.

The guy behind the desk grunted hello.
In his room Juan dialed her number, waited,
no answer. He lay back on the bed. Hard
mattress, ideal, he knew, to keep your back
waist high.

Sunday was the worst day in the week.
He got up, spruced up, and went to dinner.
Antoine’s no less. The Court of Two Sisters
tomorrow. That way his money runs out
in no time.


I don’t know why I’m writing this today.
It’s the most boring thing I can think of,
going from one place to another and in
a tizzy worry worry worry about your honey
when you oughta worry about what you do
to her.

You oughta not drink and go spend money
on the phone, stay on it till she answers,
she will, she always does, you gotta persist,
you know what happens if you don’t, first
thing you know you’re back to being
a fool.

So he goes down to Bourbon to see Ray Fox.
Ray Fox’s mother is dead. She had a life
that was good, Ray says. Juan knows why
she said that before she rolled over and died.
He went with Ray that time to make sure she
was alive.

Then he goes to Tchoupitoulas to see Rocky.
Rocky’s pal Big John, who was head waiter
at Kolb’s before it closed, has been gone
a long time. Rocky says he must be back
in Alabama.

Juan sits a while listening to the music.
He would come to New Orleans to hear
the music if he didn’t know he must have
at least one other reason to come down here.
You know

why he’s here, why he’s staying on, you know
as much as he does by now. You don’t know
where she is.

You are bored beyond tears by now. No need
to read on unless you care what happens
to him.

Even then you may be sorry you stuck around
until he found the place where the water stopped
for her.

His mama would be resting easy, she’d be dry,
why did he have to know where, he was a glutton
for sorrow.
(9 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Introduction to Nell Flores


I had a friend once never tired of asking me
to tell about my family, more than I knew . . .
I had no heart to say no, I went on
through the night telling stories I had heard
like this one, the one about my mother:

(We were in Cambridge, sitting in Harvard Square, that dusty carbuncle
of the fountain of the immortals. I knew I was considered progeny of wealth,
how else could a Southerner have entered Harvard? I knew how, I knew who
came from here and chanced to cross my path or me his, and my mother could
not dissuade me from leaving the South, for this man was not from the South
but of the South, though I was not talking to him but of him, eventually.)

She was a newborn baby, nearly, when her mother was widowed, her father
dying in a cell in McAlester, Oklahoma, in the state penitentiary, of natural
causes, the warden declared, and her mother had to carry her along all the way
there from Sallisaw to gather up his bones and take them home to bury.
After that, she mourned a whole year. Her son came home. He held her close.

My mother learned to walk by watching. She learned to talk by listening.
She would make out in this sadly incredulous world where nobody survived
capital. It was I’m against you because you’re against me, or you should be,
otherwise what are we waking for and sleeping like a baby with all the flesh
of beauty at our disposal and nothing said by those sweet lips to contradict
my mother toddling out the door and finding the horse her father had stolen

for her brother, it was way up in a stand of pine so thick with brambles light
was forbidden entrance. A fancy way I was taught to say "dark," I admit,
but no one could find that horse but my mother and her brother grown
to be a man by then, and it was he who preceded me here courtesy of the man
who sent me. We never met. He was dead by the time I came here. I was happy

not knowing how he died or where or by whose hand . . . My mother knew all
the facts, she had to put them all together to even come close to knowing why.
Her mother taught school. She always wanted to and here she had her chance.
One room schoolhouse. Big boys and big girls and little ones of each. So funny
she thought, here I am a grown woman learning as much as they but not about
reading, writing, arithmetic, and all, but about what it is finally to be a mother.

And so the time was passed. My mother was sixteen when she met her husband.
A callow youth who cared only for the wild life. She learned to love what he did.
She was twenty when I was born. She was working in Fort Smith. She whored.
It was her husband. He loved The Row. She did not last long. She tired of a life
that knew nothing but money come from flesh, she had been born of flesh.


I don’t know why my mother had to marry a man who only wanted to make money
that way. He was a blackguard and I grew to hate him more each year he lived,
until he was gone when I was twelve. My mother knew nothing else she could do
to make a living. She knew New Orleans had a history. She found a woman whose
name is now famous even though she’s dead, and she learned what to do from her
to be a success in the Crescent City. I was sworn to secrecy. I went on with my life.

She was a haunted soul. Her past was lost to her. No mother, no father she could
share her troubles with, her mother dead from cancer not long after she started
teaching, and as I said already her father long gone by then. It was in New Orleans
she took an interest in voodoo. She wanted to learn from Madame Ju-Ju, whose
lineage came down somehow from Marie Laveau. Most voodoo women were from
Marie Laveau’s bloodline, or so they would say, whether it was true or not . . .

She began spending as much time with Madame Ju-Ju as in her madam friend’s
brothel. It’s on St. Charles and you can ride the streetcar out there and it’s plain
like any other mansion, and nobody knows but the customers what happens there.
Or so my mother used to say. How could I believe her? She bequeathed to me
a healthy skepticism that included even her as I grew older and grew more willful.

I did not befriend the women who worked with my mother until the madame died.
My mother took over, heir apparent by proclamation from the dying woman’s lips.
I learned to tend bar, wait tables, and I had steady work and lived in the Vieux Carre.
Then the man who I talked about when we began this conversation came to town.
Come to find out he was a friend of my mother’s, loved her, but she did not love him.

My mother could no longer love anyone, she said. Her girls shielded her from all men
they believed had a design on her and wanted to take her money and her house from
her. My mother knew this man did not care about money or the house. He wanted her
to marry him. My mother said no, I don’t know how many times. He never took no
for an answer. He did talk her into letting me go with him to Boston and there we were

briefly living in his mansion in the Back Bay when I was admitted to Harvard University
with his great assistance, for like all of the school’s graduates or even friends of graduates
a word of commendation quickly served to take your name to the top of the brief roster
of those who were considered candidates for admittance to America’s original bastion
of higher learning. Thus I joined the pantheon of Emerson, Thoreau, Norman Mailer.

Why did I mention Mailer? Because he was my first acquaintance there. He loved books
and pitted his entire concentration not only on engineering but, more forcefully, on books
like Studs Lonigan and U.S.A., and was determined to write a novel as great as anything
Hemingway had done, especially in A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises.
When he graduated from Harvard he joined the army and from his time in the war
he fashioned The Naked and the Dead. I never saw him after that. He was too famous.


I was the one who sat with Juan Flores
in Harvard Square the day he said all this.
I had no reason to doubt anything he said.
He was bright enough to graduate with honors.
And he was my friend. I loved to hear his stories.

Recently I’ve lost track of his whereabouts.
Last I heard he was living with a Chicana Jew
in Chicago, she had lifted his heart by the roots,
he reported. He described her in great detail,
none of which I need relate here, not publicly.

Juan had a great love affair with his mother,
as he liked to say, always one who loved to shock.
He had turned to poetry after Harvard, turned
inward, said fuck it, his phrase, to the real world
of corporate power, trickle-down weltanschauung

When his mother died I heard from mutual friends
in Chicago and New Orleans he was heartbroken.
It was another kind of heartbreak the Sufis meant.
He had not seen her in so long he thought his absence
might have contributed to the way she let go of her life.

That is what I heard. I wrote to the last address
I had in Chicago and my letter was returned
undelivered. I tried to find a Lisa Alvardo
by telephone but there were far too many,
and I abandoned the search until now . . .

Now I suddenly have a dream of where Juan is,
in some dive in N’Orleans called Hotel HOTEL.
I find it, amazingly, and call and there he is,
his voice drugged with sleep, or so he claims,
and I don’t care, I tell him I tried all I could
to track him and he says, Lisa is still there . . .

He tells me all about Mama Ju-Ju and how
she let him see again what he missed forever.
He tells me how he is going to stay here
as long as he must to find where her coffin

floated to when the Katrina flood took it off

and left him forlorn, unforgiving of what
he had done to Lisa, to himself, and to her . . .

(8 January 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander