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