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

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