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