Monday, February 28, 2011

Juke Joint

She didn’t have no business being there,
all the men looked her over, women gawked
and chattered, the place was too small for her.
She was far too beautiful for her age,
men told her, she’d never been touched down there,
the moon full, river water roaring by
the juke joint on the edge of town full up
with laughter, bodies dancing filled with drink..
One man after the other hustled her,
she let them go on, what more could she say
than politely she was pleased to meet them,
why yes, she’d loved to dance, if she knew how,
she was here with her mama over there,
and when he followed her pointing finger
he’d look stricken, look back at her, and go
away. His place filled by one just as old
and drunk, trying to put his hands on her
until she told him who her mother was . . .
The music made her dance, not with her feet
but all over, shivering with joy.
There was this man picking guitar, singing
a blues the room stood still to listen to,
his eyes lidded, his fingers sliding down
the strings and back up again fret by fret,
his words floating out through a haze of smoke
touching the ceiling before it settled
with the whiskey smell, the sweating bodies
mixing some kind of brew her mama knew
how to do until it could change men’s souls
from dust to clay, just like the Bible said.

Did you read the Bible? Juan asked. Adore
said, Sure, everyone did, even Mama,
who thought it had a lot of poetry
but she didn’t believe a word of it,
she had her own religion, her mama’s.
I went to church. I would stand in the back
where I could see what all the people did,
all at once except for the gangling kids
who didn’t know no better, how could you
if your mama never let you go out
of the house by yourself and had no
way to come to terms with what the truth was
once they learned why the truth was a matter
they ought to deal with on their own, make up
their own minds what they might do and not do
to keep living with yourself from the first
so your mama could be proud of her girl
and the other mamas in her circle
agreed. Then they went back to their ju-ju
saying the words, drawing the lines, singing
what she would always know as a chorus
of creatures in the dark making low sounds
grunting, snuffling, scratching, moaning, crying
but not sad like the women who replied
could be, wringing their hands down on the floor
scissoring the light with their naked legs,
dresses pulled up around their waists, rolling
their bodies touching then pulling apart
as she watched, as she walked to the doorway
where on the other side she could see him

or her, what was it? It had no face. No,
she would never see it, just feel it there
inside her, and out here, the women so
far off they would never know what she knew,
how simple it was to go to get where
the animals were, and seeking her too,
climbing her, entering her, in her skin
where it seemed to disappear into flesh,
the creature did, it roiled her inside out,
then she knew it was all the way inside
and would never leave her unless it did
and then because she had loved it to death,
she liked to think, in her little girl’s words,
it was just like the Bible at the end
where that man John had his revelation.

Next time she went to that juke joint, she fucked
with her first man. He let her smoke with him
and shared his bottle of moonshine with her.
He made her feel good. She loved his slow way,
his slow moves, must have been like the serpent
in that tree that day that white girl found him
and took the apple he offered and sin
got hold of her and she let that Adam
have a bite of her, just enough to get
sent packing out of the garden to stay
forever and ever and that was all
the same as him making her feel so good
she wanted more but he said he was tired,
had to go home and see his family
so she went in and found her a young one . . .

(28 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Once More with Adore

He went by anyway, the kid asleep
on the day bed in the front room, snoring.
Juan went in the back door. She welcomed him
again. Afterward they lay on the bed
talking, mostly her but he asked questions
to keep her going. She loved to tell him
stories about her life and Ira’s too,
but never mentioned men whose names he did
not know, and never would now that his name
could be found among theirs, in her backroom
where all delight and mystery began
and if he didn’t watch out now would end . . .
She would worry she was too old for him,
he would run his fingers along her skin
then kissing what he was touching with what
you already know all you need to know.

But you’ve come this far. How could I refuse
to say how she loved to have him love her . . .
Wouldn’t I leaving out the story
of their coupling so strange to the real world
you find in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions
his chosen mother teaching him to love
by welcoming him to her bed, yet where
before Rousseau would such secrets be told?
You could make them up, but why? Ask Juan why
he can’t keep away from this widow’s bed.
He’ll tell you she knows how to love better
than any woman whose pleasure he had
enjoyed already in the days before
Adore: Irene Castenada, Betty,
Paula, Manuela Roma, Irish Cathleen . . .
all other names forgotten on the way

to Maria Teresa, whom he missed
more than he would say to her if he could:
you already know how the telephone
up river stalls and hangs up on a reef
and if she won’t come down here, why go there?
Like his mama, Juan loves New Orleans.
Maria Teresa says, Come to me . . .
Why leave Adore who can not only love
but wants him to know, to feel, to write her
life before she heard Ira's horn one night
and loved him as long as he stayed on earth . . .
Would you desert her? You would have to go
to a city other than Chicago,
somewhere you learned, even if the hard way
–getting lost–how to start over and find
the shortest way was never the way home . . .

(28 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Love Piece


I don’t know what I did to go this way.
Was it something I said, the way I pray
staying away from church, singing in bars
for the souls who want my scars to be theirs.

Who could blame me? I want to help you live
by showing you authentic life, not mine.
Show me, you say, don’t tell me, take me in
the house that keeps away all shapes but love’s.


No doubt we’re on our way now I have you
with me and it will not take long to go
somewhere you never thought was even there,
what you always knew would not keep you here.

You knew why you went, thought I was some saint,
believed I’d be true, never disappoint
the child in you hoping the child in me
would help you build sandcastles by the sea.

(28 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The kid and his henchmen were back in town.
How was Baton Rouge? Like always, a wash.
Catch anything? Nothing. Nothing to eat.
Want a drink? No money. We have to go.
Would you mind staying at Adore’s tonight?
I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on.
Sure, man. We want to get something to eat
first. . . . And off they went. If this was his son
Juan thought he must have a defective gene
to turn out like him. Where did it come from,
and who was his mother, was he his father?
like the kid said, who was not growing younger
and would soon require a new name. Who was
the kid? Juan wiped tables, puttered behind
the bar, remembering seeing Iroquois
carry the child in her belly around
town, and naked at Puffer’s Pond, bathing
at daybreak, Red Man the dog frolicking . . .
Cathleen could never have children. She had
nothing there. The doctors took it all out
to save her life. Because she was barren
Cathleen could experiment with her sex,
letting the pimp talk her into tricking
one night: she would take calls, he would marry
her that way, beyond the law. She liked it
when she gave men pleasure and they said so.
A month later she retired. He lost it,
she yelled back, her Irish temper against
black rage. O my! Juan wondered how in hell
she got herself in such a fix, fucking . . .
When it was over, she asked to come home.
Her black Irish, olive skin, Gypsy eyes . . .
Her mind like a net catching what there was
in the air she breathed, the accurate view
of this world humans were always building
and unbuilding, wasting humanity
by not listening, never talking back
to respond to what was said, not what life
on earth threw up indicating no way
in this world would words save your sorry ass . . .
She didn’t talk like that. He did. He had
a name that made you think he had Spanish
origins. The name did. He was anglo
sired by Manuel Flowers, killed in the war,
in the Pacific; renamed to become
adopted children of Manuel Flores
of Mexico City, a businessman
whose mother, Magdalena, was an heir
to those here before the Spanish arrived.
He wed Nell, loved her and her four children
without compassion for any but these
anglo kids, their anglo mama, and his
mother. Magdalena was a Christian.
She talked and prayed to Jesus every night
in her Tarascan tongue. From Patzcuaro
she came alone down here, outlived the man
with whom she had one son before he died,
and now smiled inside to see these people
happy in Manuel’s hands, his only life
cut short one day, being on the wrong street
to live to see his anglo family
grow old with him in this largest city
in the Americas, some said the world,
where Johnny Flowers became Juan Flores,
Charley Carlos, Paul Paolo (which was
Italian . . . Garibaldi Manuel’s
European ideal, someone who got
things done, like Juarez, Zapata, Villa . . . )
and Sue Susanna, the old-time anglo
girl’s name during gold rush days in the north
American continent. And then now:
Manuel Flores passed over into land
above the clouds, where he would dwell ever
after, and Nell crossed the border. Back home
she set up shop. She loved New Orleans.

(27 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Churn

She welcomed him to her bedroom. She was
with him as she was last night, this morning,
mouths and limbs lacing their love together.
She was younger than Ira, but older
than Juan. By now Juan was no longer young
but he was old to himself in mirrors
only. Her body loved his like a girl’s
her boy's. They did what grown men called fucking
and women, making love. Churning butter . . .
his grandmother called it, birthed nine children,
her husband gone from home but here enough,
Juan’s grandfather away so long between times
he sent for his sons and they were happy
being with him. Juan’s father and brothers
never understood why they could not love
when not in bed. And there were three daughters
one of whom survived, unhappily so.
When that man Juan never met went away
and stayed, his body was killed, his soul saved . . .
Times were always so hard they quit one school
for the other when the work migrated
across the river and back. With him dead,
the boys quit school forever. Like their dad
they cropped shares for their mother, the widow,
then left Oklahoma for Arkansas
to work in the coal mines until cotton
was ready. Their mother’s long life made up
for his brief days, her nights were always long . . .
Adore did not know her. Juan knew her well.
She told him she was his second mother,
for he was with her, his mother elsewhere.
Adore could have been his mother. He knew
what he was doing. She knew more than he.
And she asked him what he was feeling now
that he was both horse and rider, loa
and host, newly endowed with the knowledge
she was sworn to keep from him until now,
Erzulie red faced, eyes swollen, ravaged
by passions unrequited in the rooms
she was called to visit, but here she smiled
and left by the front door. Who could see her?
she was more mother and lover than they,
she knew all that issued from her dark womb,
she knew the thrust of hot love in her cunt,
she knew the way, the way knew her, she went
nowhere humans would go looking for her,
this was her city, the islands were her
cradle, she was nowhere but everywhere.
Adore slept on her back. Juan put one hand
on one breast. As she slept her nipple rose
and his cock grew until she had to wake
to give him the warmth he needed to sleep.

(26 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Part of him did not like who he was now.
The other part had never cared for him.
They were not equal, any more than sin
replaces goodness. He could be untrue,
God knew, having experienced the way
Juan grew from boy to a man happy
to feel all the new things within himself,
cataracts of joy, ecstatic rewards . . .

You were young when you saw the horses mate.
Now that you are old you know how that feels,
but you are never happy to know that
this is all, these years, all the surprises
that do not last. They no longer surprise
once you know you cannot change anything.
The mysteries remain, but not the songs.
Trample the grass, watch it turn sere, then burn.

We have no way of listening to God,
say what you will. The devil has his tongue.
That is why God is silent, can’t be seen
save by madmen, fallen women, babies,
greed merchants who offer nothing the priest
can use. Priest who takes a child’s innocence
because he seeks to undo what was done
to him when he was gulled by innocence.

What was Juan now? What would Adore say now?
Would she go on with her need to teach him
how to love? Or would she send him away
once he confessed he was grateful to her
for love no one on earth had given him . . .
She might say, Thank you, after the next time.

He hated himself. He called Chicago,
lost nerve, hung up, dialed again and listened
to the phone ring until the ringing stopped.
The kid came in, ordered drinks for his friends,
the man with the file, the man who could drive
but could do nothing else and was ashamed.

The kid asked about Adore. Did Juan want
him there tonight? No, stay in the hotel.
We will drive to Baton Rouge then, swamp fish
by moonlight. They would stay out of trouble
that way, for once, they knew all the jails well.
Juan gave them one for the road: Good riddance.

(26 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, February 25, 2011

Japan; or, Tenderness

In Carlos Reygadas’ s film Japon
a man leaves the city for the country,
to kill himself. The Indian woman
who puts him up is an aging widow.
Her house is on the edge of a canyon,
about to collapse into such abyss . . .
Near death herself, she brings him back to life,
Paolo would love the film, would Carlos?
When Juan leaves the theatre he goes back
to Adore’s house. He wakes the kid and sends
him off to HOT HOTEL with the room key.
Adore is waiting. She helps him undress.
Like the widow in the film, she makes love
to him slowly on her back holding him
inside with her thighs still firm for her age
and he pours himself out into the cup
she shapes between her knees drinking him in.
Then he tells her about the film he saw
tonight. She tells him about the horses.
The old man on the street was her rider
when Ira died. Juan asks if it’s him now.
She tells him he may have made her happy
but no, this is what comes of the loas
getting inside you, they seek their own kind
and you have no choice, you invited them . . .
In the full light of morning she guides him
into her and she smiles again. He knows
he’s hers now. She says no and she means yes.
What does he have to do with what happens?
The world may die around him, he has her.
But he knows that she will never be his.
She would die and leave him much more alone
than before he found her in her garden
and believed the loas had come to help
him give succor to Big John’s cancer.
As though they would save a man of evil . . .
all his life a lie, such harm he had caused,
such havoc wrought. He loved Allen Dulles
like a father. He helped kill Kennedy,
maybe, no one would know when Big John died
like all the others, innocent as well
as complicit. Men were not eternal,
only women were . . . Juan was walking down
to the lake. He would breakfast, then shower
at Peggy’s, look in on Betsy, she would
know what to do to dispel the sadness
he did not even know he was feeling
until she rose and went to the bidet.
Paolo was glad to see Juan, told him
he’d found this uncommon whore his soul mate
whereupon Georgia arrived to ask him
to take her uptown for the exercise.
When Juan arrived at The Saloon, Ray left
after telling him his eyes had new light
in them, what on earth had he been doing?

(25 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Healing Hour

And what of . . . what keeps you remembering . . .
Do you move that to the back of your mind?
Most likely, if you’re inside you go out
for a long walk and end up at Rocky’s.
You learn Big John, John Biggs the Third, is back.
Got cancer in Alabama. Rocky says
he wants to die here, he loves this city
and when Kolb’s closed he had to find somewhere
to work, what better place than his birthplace . . .
Juan, Rocky says, go by and see Big John.

Juan does. John opens the gate. He is frail.
Chain-smoking, drinking. You have a drink, Juan?
Juan waves one hand and asks him how he is.
Small talk, the kind a dying man prefers.
John brings up to Juan the first time they met.
What was that redhead’s name? Betty, Juan says.
She was a work of art, John says. Pauses.
Asks Juan if he’d like some of his salad,
Juan declines, John says it’s got crab in it.
I’m a responsible person these days,

Juan volunteers, announcing he’s going
without saying so. Rocky has a cat
John seems to have no use for, saying Scat!
each time the cat comes around to brush up
against him. Juan calls it over. It comes.
Male or female? Juan asks. Goddam female,
John says, lighting up from the dying butt.
Sure you don’t want a drink, just for old times . . .
Juan says I’ve gotta go, Big John, Too much
to do and less time than ever, you know . . .

John follows Juan to the gate and locks it
after him, waving. He should have stayed home.
Juan was feeling guilty John was in town
and knew Rocky would want him to see John.
The way this ex-CIA head waiter
was smoking and drinking, with the cancer
metastasizing like crazy, Juan knew
he could remember all day and all night
that time he brought Betty to New Orleans
and John went with them everywhere that week.

Big John even wrote them a long letter
near the time Hurricane Betsy happened.
He was hoping to get back with his wife,
who had expressed a desire to come down
and wanted to stay with him if she could,
and he told her Sure, let all our old days
die off, I’m making good money, I’d like
your company. Juan wondered what happened.
His next time in town Rocky told him what.
She arrived, John was drunk and she went home.

What of it then? Why was it too banal
to waste time remembering? Good to walk
away from the past, in America
after all, you see only the future . . .
Adore in her garden back of the house.
was weeding the lettuce and collard greens.
He told her all about Rocky and John.
She asked Juan if he’d like for her to do
something. He wanted to say he sure would,
but he kept still, knowing he didn’t care

that much. She sprinkled water on her plants.
He wanted to say something anyway.
He told her about Betty being raped
and Big John helping them look everywhere
and finding nowhere she could recognize
as that wall around the house showing those
Charlie Chaplin films against the bare wall
and outside stairs they took her up to fuck,
how long, how many she could not say.
Adore was silent, standing listening.

She said, I’m putting things together now,
I know you must care if he lives or dies,
and if he dies die painlessly. She walked
to the house. He followed. She said to wait
in the front of the house, where he had slept
before the kid came to take care of her
arriving after dark, staying till dawn.
She said through the door, Come on in here, Juan,
there are some questions you need to answer
about what you see when you stop to look.

It was the first time. As always she knew
she didn’t need to say what was going
to come through the back door, go out the front,
once the answers were carried to the street
and the old man bent like a questionmark
stopped Adore to mumble something to her,
she looked back at Juan, and the man was gone.
You would think he would ask her what happened
but you would be wrong. Now he was inside
whatever it was and feeling the hooves.

(24 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Paolo and Georgia: An Interlude

Paolo will never tire of Georgia.
Vietnam's fate took the fight out of him.
He has lost the war to her, he loves her.
He never does care if the other men
pass her by, for he has money enough
to get lost in her long silver blonde hair
and take her to dinner and buy her drinks
after hours. Being born poor, tall, and curved
like an hour glass is no help when she’s named
for the place she’s from. Even if he loves
Georgia he isn’t going to say so.
His rule was never fall in love with whores,
that was the romantic story he read
in high school, From Here to Eternity:
he would leave it there, between hard covers
with the relevant pages all dog-eared.
He was too tall and gangly, however,
to be sure he knew what he was doing.
He could love Georgia’s body and she his,
so what did it matter where it all led . . .

Peggy was okay with Nell’s middle son
keeping Georgia busy and off the floor,
Doll had given her the right to say so
over Nell’s three sons, one of whom was gone
in New England and would not be back soon;
the oldest one, Juan, was waiting for Doll’s
coffin to surface and Betsy would pine
for him by getting it on with the johns,
Peggy couldn’t afford this family’s
peregrinations. They were not tourists.
And she wasn’t running a stud service,
her clientele were high rollers only,
the best people, those with reputations
to protect, but they still had the same needs
as boys, only with a lot more money . . .

Too bad Storyville has been so long gone,
you could talk about it in the open.
Now you don’t close a house the mayor likes
to keep open. Though bluenoses may blanche,
working girls use rouge to keep men coming.

(24 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Down the Page

There were maps in his mind, you followed them
where you’d been, where you were going,
those whom you knew, who knew you, never mind
strangers, always the majority now.

You sing a hymn after the sermon ends.
Then you pass through the line, as politely
as the reconstructed Southerner you are.
Never fill your plate too full. Eat it all.

His computer failed after dinner. So
he had the night off. He took paper and pen
to the street, began walking through the dark.
When he found the house, his friend was waiting,

or so it seemed, her greeting so earnest,
how glad she seemed that he’d come, her embrace.
When she asked him where he was living now,
he told her the flophouse. She was unmoved.

She was a woman he met in the line
putting out food, filling plates one Sunday
on Skid Row. They got to talking, she said
he ought to come see her. So here he was.

He’d told her his life after she said where
she came from. Maybe it was important
that they remember, but how would it help
discover in each who they would be now?

He took a bath. Washed his clothes and dried them,
loins wrapped in a towel. She poured a drink,
bourbon on ice, and then they had one more.
The paper and pen stayed in his jacket.

She was a plain woman with no makeup.
Her hair was short, her embrace full, warm.
In the morning she asked him to come live
with her if he would like. Think it over . . .

She had no one. He had no one. Why not?
he thought, said he would. She drove him to get
his computer and his bag, all he had,
and near noon they drove to Fairfax to eat

hot pastrami. In the bookstore he found
poems by a friend. Among the chosen,
the way books of poetry got published,
someone would take a liking to the stuff,

it was even money it would wind up
between covers. He lugged his books around
and between her covers he read to her
what he once wrote down the page from one world

to the next, precisely as he wrote it,
lips moving his breath keeping time
where the white space provided the silence
between her eyes, his eyes, her lips, his lips.

(23 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

His Bowl

His bowl. You sat through the sermon for this.
Los Angeles filled with infamous fog.
The drone of the freeway was over there.
He’d like to dosvedanya all this crap,
but he had no car. He had his laptop.
His bag full of a church’s history
and his own. A week in Lecumberri
made a believer of him when they let
him go. That was only fifty years old,
give or take a few foggy London days
and nights. He went to Paris now and then
to see if he could still speak French. He could.
He even wrote a poem if he could,
if he could find no other way to get
it out of his craw. If that didn’t work
he would walk on the beach and talk to gulls.
Reynolds had his resources and used them
sparingly, after all he was now old.
Or so they said, who knew all about age.
Friends of his died, those like Borges he read
still, Norman Thomas di Giovanni’s
renderings, secular breviary
though it was, you could do better than that
without learning Spanish in a college
as he had learned Russian in the army
to get the duty no one else could land
who didn’t know Greek, Latin, or Francais.
There was the night in Austin Borges said,
That voice! Is that Tim Reynolds? and it was.
He had a certain cachet then, a kind
of reputation, as a good poet
who knew more than verse and could hold a job
in Classics, getting out and all around
the planet when time came to catch a breath
of the new, or new to him, like Pound said,
Make it new. Well, he had. His lines were lean
and staggered in the rhythms of his speech
weaving their way carelessly, so it seemed,
yet only he could read them the right way
and left, leaving the audience hungry
if not happy, ready to buy the book
and read it page by page, remembering
at first, then taking it in, making it
their own yet never as new as it was.

(23 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of the Two Manuels

The death of Nell’s second husband Manuel,
named like the first for the itinerant
horse rider with songs and Spanish guitar
and a hat to pass in the public square
of the many towns his horse knew by heart . . .
In Mexico the second Manuel died
and Susannah drove Paolo back home
to Seattle, and Juan went north, then west
after the many years passed between loves.

In Mexico City there were no laws
but Napoleon’s. Have a wreck and sit
in jail until you mustered the money
to buy your way out. In New Orleans
Nell sent him money, she was hardly home
when the call arrived relayed south to north
through Susannah to the Chicago phone
and then down where the wind and sun were fierce
and unrepentant. Honolulu was
Juan’s first destination that came to mind,
to see the grave of Manuel, his father,
in the Punch Bowl, among the dead fallen
in the war. That old war. Hitler and all.
Hirohito and his kamikazes.
Mussolini meathooked on a Rome streetcorner.
How many fathers with the name Manuel
did you get? On the Periferico
he was surprised, maybe even ambushed
by the thought of so much patrimony,
too tired to drive and think at the same time
hoping to reach the highway going north
before dark, and that is how it happened,
the car veering, passing him on the right,
cutting in front of him, going too slow
for Juan to brake in time. Napoleon’s
code invoked, escutcheon of the French,
Maximilian and Carlota, gone
but remnants hung around Mexico’s neck
like a noose that pursued to the border
Juan’s kind, the bastard sons of nowhere now
that Tijuana, Juarez, Nogales thrived
with funerals of their own, these cartel
empires where the poor sought only entry
over or under the gringos’ new wall
stretching to Laredo, Brownsville, and on
to Gulf ports where the product came in boats
or by plane all the way down the line west
and the widows and orphans multiplied.
His mother sent him the money to pay
his way out of jail, have his car repaired,
and go without sleep until the four lanes
returned, and like all his other returns
to the States he could feel his empty soul
at odds with what they called freedom up here.

And then the years passed. In Massachusetts,
where Carlos walked off and was gone to stay,
in Chicago where the gamine loved him
in her home, in San Francisco when word
of Nell's death arrived after Katrina’s
bursting levees, flood waters floating off
caskets interred above the shallow soil,
hers among them, the last madam alive
until her heir apparent, and he went
where he said he would go but too late now
to fulfill his promise to bury her
proper. And now he was in HOT HOTEL
down here, waging war with his own white heat.

(22 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Laws of Nature

The laws of nature. Adore knew them all.
How rain was harnessed to the ocean.
The way the sun moved over the river.
The horses, creatures feeding on her breath.
Smoldering ashes we were all made of.
The color of blood the fire licked and fed
poor things, the living and the dead, the weak
and the strong, whatever moved inside her
and made her own blood flow like a slow creek
that delta’d the high grass in the bayou
and let her sleep the sleep of the griots.
Whose stories kept her up nights as a child.
Filled her dreams with fables of a lost world.
The laws she knew were like nobody’s laws.

Juan wrote all this without thinking he knew
what lay behind words whose meanings he knew
were lost to him and would go forever
when she left her body to the furnace.
Adore told him Ira’s story, his story
laced with the language of a lost village
harbored by mountains, occupied by owls
and the big cats the people called panthers.
Ira had lived the life of a lost soul
finding himself only in this city,
and then only in music and her arms,
her dark skin against his, white boy come south
to get brown and learn how to play the blues
with men whose lips filled the night with sorrow.

They lived touching, one inside the other
when their blood was roused, but mostly gentle
caresses, a tenderness like flowers
whose beauty flowed up from their own deep roots.
There would be no children, they were too old.
She was unwanted. Her mother taught her
everything she knew now when the back door
was open as long as it took the sun,
the wind, the rain, the heat to come inside
where her aging, glistening body sat
awaiting her friends whose spurs dug her flanks
and reared her aloft on her own two feet,
the candles flickering as her sweat dripped
to feed the hunger of their orange flames.

(22 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nights of Doctor Vallejo

The doctor likes to emerge with too much
on his tongue.
His family name is going nowhere.
The poet died.
The railroad worker does prison labor.
The doctor writes and writes and writes
and writes.

The senora would like to know
his plans. She has her own. How do they mesh?
The aging parrot is in full voice.
The doctor says he will never finish
if life is like this
turn of events, the workers of the world
erupting everywhere.

The senora walks out here and walks back.
She has a house to keep up, meals to serve
to the tourists and anthropologists
in Cuetzalan.
She loves it here on top of the mountain.
The doctor needs her simply to get by.
Are you writing your life? she wants to know.

The doctor says he has no life.
Why would he write about nothing
if he only sleeps when he can’t go on . . .
He rarely walks through the jungle
to town, there is always too much to do
and what is not done inhabits his dreams,
his parrot more shrill the darker the night.

(21 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander



He’s growing anxious to know how it ends.
Men die and women too, the earth lives on.

Outside the city you can see from here
two pyramids you never see inside.

Up here you can pace, having the money
and the time to keep you out of the fray.

People throng the streets. They overthrow God.
He’s revealed to be a mere man, fleeing.

In Mexico the doctor was writing
his history of the revolution.

Who did he think he was? Leon Trotsky?
No, he objected, I’m not that damned cur.

He explained. Orders to fire on workers . . .
Lenin dying, Stalin named, Trotsky gone.

Guillermo and Cynthia in D. F.
He is seeking Frida and Diego,

how they greeted the Bolshevik Trotsky
unfrocked, Mexico in revolution . . .

She is assessing la casa azul.
She tells Guillermo to come to bed now.

Up here, the revolution triumphant,
everyone who worked to overthrow God

can make the Bible a true story now.
They will put back in what was taken out.

They will open the pyramids to us,
the tourists who were born in Mexico

of no mother, no father, orphans all.
We write Mexico City from Cairo.

Guillermo writes back. This is the moment,
he declares, to ask the doctor’s advice . . .

The doctor is shut up in the jungle,
writing between sleeps, unavailable.

Guillermo will go see the Vallejo
in jail, the railroad worker, the striker

whose skin knows no tears, bones no surrender.
The senora says no one can see him.

The doctor told her to call Guillermo.
Watch Eisenstein’s Que viva Mexico!

carefully, the senora says for him,
weather crackling in the telefono.

Guillermo is struck by how the peasants
are buried up to their necks and murdered

–or executed, as the judges say–
by men on horses whose hooves ride them down.

There you see the true price Mexico pays
even now, the senora says, freedom

exacts its toll before it is freedom.
When God flees, the weather changes itself

into new elements, each its own
fire, water, earth, and air. The galaxy

pulls through black holes all sucked in and swallowed
so constellations might wait until now

to sweep space of its cargo of fragments
and open the eye to show the unseen.

That’s all very well, Guillermo would say,
the world is a concept. This is the earth.

Two pyramids shine in the morning sun.
Revolution puts the world back on earth.

(21 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Volume Three

Russell and Sartre convene the war crimes tribunal.
No one will pay the price of Vietnam
on the gallows, in prison, or in life
abbreviated; McNamara, say,
whose mea culpa amounts to little
more than outcries over the book he writes
and sells well because outrage demands it
be read to be condemned, and so it is . . .

Russell and Sartre are both dead by the time
McNamara heaps his share of wet earth
with words from unrepentant celebrants.
Mourners? There were none. The right wing said so,
. . . Danton rose in outcry, Robespierre frowned
and ordered the guillotine greased to fall
without a sound, the revolution saved . . .
this country’s defense industry salvaged.

After Vietnam accountants are hired
to track the map of wars: Kuwait, Iraq
the same war with Afghanistan between–
O they forgot the little Balkan wars!
Why do so many die in little wars?
The Khyber Pass closed, but nobody leaves
without a body bag, the enemy
above and below and hidden in caves . . .

Russell’s History of Western Philosophy
sells. Principia Mathematica
not so well. Nobody reads volume one
let alone volumes two or three. I don’t
and I alone talk about volume one . . .
I loved too many women to be wise.
Each woman thought she was the only one.
Lately I read Sartre’s Nausea once more.

That was before the spontaneous strike
against the pricks who would set the country back
on its back, enslaving labor again
eighty years after the movement triumphed.
Not so fast! the people cry and raise fists
ready to be used when the scabs come through
and push up against their collective face.
Our brothers and sisters form a phalanx . . .

I like to think I’m young enough again
to fight the fire dragons would torch us with,
blow it back upon them, set them afire . . .
or kneel covering our heads as the blows
begin, billy clubs and boots in the ribs
once upon the time America said,
Enough! Johnson triumphant, Civil Rights
gives way to the great mistake, Vietnam.

I do not know what to make of this day.
I wish Obama were our FDR.
I wish Sartre would return to tell us why
he wishes he had been more radical.
Why did Russell die believing thinking
wasted the time he could help heal the world,
and all he had left to do was confess
he regretted nothing, then die with pride . . .

(20 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fragmentary Life

Al Scott wrote after forty years had passed
since we drank in Yakima Roy’s cabin
after he died at seventy-nine. Al
drank with Yakima day in and day out
after coming back from Cambodia
a drunk. Yakima gave Al the cabin,
handing over the key before he died.
Then I wrote "The Death of Bertrand Russell"
in Rico’s the night of his death. Paula
was sitting, drinking with me. At that time
I loved her and no one else, and I thought
we were together to love forever.
Years passed. Now she says it was so good before
it got so bad . . . writing this from Portland
where I found her forty years since our last
kiss. I still carry her around in me
like another heart. She always thought I did.
She could talk and laugh and tell me new things
any time of the day or night. I came
home for lunch, we had soup, made love. She mooned
her beautiful ass, no panties under
her apron, as I was backing the car
to the street; stopped, parked, ran to kiss her ass
and tongue her pussy before I drove off
to the office, where I no longer write
for money. I write now to remember
what memory mixes with desire
and yields such concoction I cannot call
back from my youth or hers but celebrate
here what I was lucky to have happen.
It’s too easy to remember bad times.
Waking one morning alone in the bed,
seeing her in the Kennedy rocker
in front of the picture window looking
upon the grain elevators below,
and when I went to kiss her she told me
I was talking in my sleep to Betty,
and asked, Did I take you away from her?
No, she didn’t. She said, It was wrong
to marry you when you are still in love
with her. I told her I wasn’t in love
with anyone but her. She said she had
a wildness lodged in her body somewhere
she couldn’t touch but had to let it go
wild when it was hungry, had to be fed
no matter what the cost . . . and she meant it.
At least she knows where she has been and why.
Not like my life now, so fragmentary
it’s like some jigsaw puzzle absorbs you
when you hobble to the day room and write
somebody else’s life before you write
yours. And you let Al Scott’s letter get lost.
You were reading Bertrand Russell’s memoirs
and it seemed two old men, one poor, one rich
as well as bright but born in the right place
at the right time to fight against instead
of in Vietnam or Cambodia,
and did philosophy instead of work
on construction sites, Larry Lunchbucket
Scott called himself. Never got past the first
volume where Bertrand Russell the lover
left off, until volume two, where I learned
what a man was. Finished one at Paula’s
family’s home by Manito, across
the length of that park where Irish Cathleen
grew up, and now she wakes on her birthday,
soixante-neuf in her fifty-first year
of knowing me . . . How can I call it love
we were in? No other word exists now
and always did, and we were not married
until seven years after Paula went
away. She came back for her belongings.
"Swimming in Lake Union with Irish Cathleen"
was on the kitchen table. Many years
had passed since Seattle, the houseboat. I showed
Paula the poem after she loaded the car.
"That’s the woman you should marry,"she said.
I did. Twice. I’m still reading volume two . . .

(19 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, February 18, 2011

Via Negativa

" . . . capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."–Keats"Negative Capability . . ."
you must stay inside long enough to know
where you are

shed of the frantic need to be master
of nerves, of the way
to go

and the word was No
to every Yes, or Yes to every No . . .
and no middle ground

to be crossed
between sun and moon
as though sky needs clouds.

He who scours the streets for fallen pennies
works until he has dinner on his plate
and eats alone

She who spurns love has learned the reason why
she can love only what she needs
to be free

And only the middle way goes nowhere
The soul stews in the heart’s blood
. . . better to be nailed to a cross,

say those condemned to silence
in dank rooms whose bars are bones
with the skin still on

as others give orders
and the dead do not rise ever
and the living fill the lines in their skin.

(18 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


You never step in the same river twice.
Please step aside so I can see the sun.
We do what we are, we know what gets done.

All the way down we read the posted signs.
All the Abandon hopes and Here you are
in Circle One all the way down through Nine.

Winter thaws, the sun flares up like a torch
raking the bayou for runaway slaves
who stand their ground, moving only by choice,

fleeing Madison to delay the vote
to undo all their fathers died to do,
moving through Illinois, down river.

The governor is the pawn of the rich.
He may have the numbers but not the souls
of any in the state house but his own

claques clucking American mandarin,
and soon they may bring in predator drones
tested already in Afghanistan.

The people fill the open space he sees.
He weighs his chances for reelection,
his inaugural words his sepulchre . . .

Heraclitus knew what Diogenes
discovered. The sun is like a river.
Every wall in the way of water falls.

The powers-that-were banished the poet.
Dante stood outside the gate in the wall.
There the way down was the only way back.

Madison, Florence. New Orleans, Kabul.
Redress of grievances, the poet’s No,
slave auction blocks, wilderness that conquers.

Go with me  . . . into the streets. Barricades
come later, if the powerful decide
to risk their power. That will come around.

And these words . . . What do they know mute men knew?
A father’s instinct to quit the coal mines
before his friends went down to be blown up.

Always tragedy, and out of it comes
knowledge. Give it away and it comes back.
Then the bosses could not stop the union

from becoming the force it had to be
so the living could feed their families,
be remembered down through generations . . .

(18 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vade Mecum

                                                       Go with me

As cursed by words as by the lack of words.
Dilettante of scars. Dictator of nerves.
In Madison the streets look like Bahrain,
so full the tyrants believe they must kill
or be killed, the crowds adamant with rage
in this absence of taking their complaint
to heart. Those who would deny their own hearts
always, insistent on having their way
now that these crowds of common people speak,
who were never ordinary, their hands
empty, their hearts full, their voices lifted . . .
The crux of the burden they carry weighs
upon us all, even the dilettante,
the dictator. Try to separate them
inside, take an X-ray of scars and nerves,
see how this goes into that and stops there . . .
on the outer banks of the pillaged skin
a blade slicing crossways tattoos the name
you have savaged with your mirth and brought grief
to the bone. Her joy is turned inside out
by your delivery of the laughter
that catching in the throat, flays all the words
that follow. There are more important lives
than yours, those in the streets of the world, say . . .
no silence compels them to be quiet
when the rich growing fewer send their rant
down to the poor, their numbers increasing,
fed up. A statehouse of materiel
covered by tarps awaiting appeasement
of those who order other hands to arm
and flank them round and leave no space unmanned
to fire on the crowds, whatever’s needed
to cast a pall over those who refuse
such insult . . . they vow to never submit,
for they recover power in their words
to overcome what is called condition

and speak what the human has always known.

(17 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Of Iroquois, Red Man, and You

When I am working I am happy now.
I meet new people, the good and the bad,
some like me, neither one or the other,
scapegrace or scoundrel but never the good
boy I wanted to be when I grew up
and here I am, too old to tell my age.
There’s this guy who carries around a file.
There’s this guy who drives a car and that’s all.
This is where you come in, my younger friend.
I could be your father. You’ve lived places
I loved in: Seattle to way down here
and south of the water in Mexico,
north again, up to California,
and east: Manhattan, Boston, and western
Massachusetts where you were most likely
conceived if you are my son, and you say
your mother was called Iroquois, in name
only. I remember she brought her dog
at first. He slept by the fireplace and scratched
at the bedroom door when he wanted out,
she went to open the kitchen door, wait
on him to pee in the gravel driveway
sometimes following as far as the grass
above the river and the sycamore
felled by hurricane, and she was naked,
her great breasts still high, she was very young,
as I was but still a little older,
and when we made love her ass moved circles
to completion. And how do you do that?
Try letting a woman do what she wants.
She will always come through for all of you.

Iroquois was stout–she laughed when she heard
me say stout and interrupted, I’m fat!
even though the beer she drank had not yet
taken hold of her. She listened to me
read what I wrote and always had her say.
All the time Irish Cathleen could not stay
home because I drank, stayed out very late
and frequently neglected to come home,
Iroquois lived there after the bars closed.
How old are you now? He said, I don’t know,
I can’t be sure she’s the same one you named.
What was her dog’s name? I poured him a Coke
to go with the ice left. Red Man, I said.
Really? That’s not even funny, you know . . .
Why, what did I say? You asked the dog’s name.
I never heard of a dog called a man,
he protested. I didn’t name her dog,
she did. I was ready to close up now.
You needed to pour your Coke in a cup
as you always did when The Saloon closed.
I walked to Tchoupitoulas to go back
the long way to Adore’s to check on her,
then to HOT HOTEL, leaving you to sleep
in her day room. Adore told me stories
only I wrote down. The stories you wrote
were the ones I had to tell you to live
with myself. I never heard a dog called
Red Man after Irish Cathleen came back
to stay until we returned west. I saw
Iroquois in town every day. She was
fat now. She was said to be great with child.

(16 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Company Juan Keeps


Juan’s Cronies, of Whom I'm One

It’s just past midnight. I hear the moon roar.
You mean you can’t? Is the music too loud?
Why don’t we go into the spare garden
and scoop wet loam from the earth to plant seeds . . .

I have an idea how to take time
for a ride. Load up the granddaddy clock
in a ragtop car you won’t hear tick tock
for the wind. That’s how you get nowhere fast.

Who am I? I’m Juan’s friend, the crazy one
from Angola Prison, the escapee
who carries his file everywhere he goes
in case he’s thrown in jail and knows no one.

That one over there is Juan’s friend, the one
who listens endlessly to his stories.
He’s younger than me, I’m younger than Juan,
Every time we go out we take a chance.

Juan has stories of how much he was mugged
when he came back from Mexico after
living in the jungle on the mountain
where he and Leila stayed in Cuetzalan.

His friend, the one younger than me, can tell
seven lovely stories from that journey.
How Juan was in love with his first lover,
second wife, one who was his third and fifth,

and Leila Shulamit. (That's four stories . . . )
Leila is sleeping upstairs, she is tired
of dreaming his lips are her bath water,
while his fingers lave her between her legs.

The garden out here is freshly planted.
Let us pat down dirt to cover our seeds.
See how quickly the present is passing
and all its future forms a hairpin turn.

Which of us will take the clock to his room?
You know the price. You must listen to Juan
or go with us to the country. The boy
will stay behind writing Juan’s stories down

before he forgets. Juan taught him manners.
Took him to meet that sweet lady Adore,
as old as he is young but who would know?
She is dying, she tells him her stories.

I’m on my way back to Angola now,
I know well what a thrill it is to have
a file to smuggle in and work on bars
until they give and I can climb the wall

and leap to where my friends,
you and Juan, wait with the car for me
to stash the bars, one more cache for our jail
to serve as a swimming pool, a sweat lodge,

somewhere to go you feel might well be home
someday if you don’t watch yourself step out
too far and take her with you to the end
to begin all over where the wind blows.

You haven’t told me, friend, what you can do.
You have no skill, you say? Why not drive car?
I can file through anything, why not banks?
Then Juan will have a new story to tell . . .


Juan’s Tale within a Tale

The tale I just told was a lie. I’m no
ex-con, I have no file and if I did
it would take me years to become adept
enough to escape prison or rob banks.

I’m the young one Juan tells his stories to.
No one but me watches over Adore.
I love Leila Shulamit but don’t dare
tell her. She has given her heart to Juan.

I wonder how long she has loved him now.
I wonder how long he has loved her now.
I wonder how long I will love her now.
I wonder how long she will not love me.

Adore can do wondrous things in the dark.
You stay awake all night in the day room,
you will hear what happens when she opens
her back door to let her companions in.

Nor was there a newfound friend who drove car.
I have told too many lies now to go
on. If I were a man and not a book,
I write so many words that are not mine

but Juan’s, all of them, I would love Leila
so much she would know by seeing my face
open and go so close to her my lips
would brush hers and kiss. She would give up Juan

for me. For her I would give up all things
I know to pursue what I could not know
until her. There is a marvelous moon
tonight, the same shape as New Orleans.

What I do not know is what Juan writes down.
The two words he says, Leila Shulamit,
are those he whispers only in her ear.
I only imagine I can love her.

She has sworn her love to Juan, his to her
freely given from the first day they met
in New England talking over the phone
only. She moved back to Chicago then.

Her first home. City he had never seen,
nor could he find it with the map he had.
So he has come to this bowl of pleasure
to live, where his mother’s coffin floats off

entering the mouth of the Gulf when levees
break and flood New Orleans. He came here
to find her body. Now he loves Adore
like a son his mother. And Leila loves

them both. If this tale lies within a tale,
Juan will need to unriddle it slowly
as long as winds rile up the lake and roll
its waters over and through the levees

no one will repair ever, no matter
how many times New Orleans is drowned.
Only Leila Shulamit is real now for Juan.
Adore tells Juan her life. Leila listens

and they go back to HOT HOTEL and sleep
after loving. Juan paid up the money
he owed when the first night manager came
to the door and asked him, Are you the one . . . ?

and what could Juan do? Where was the money?
Why did the music reach this far tonight?
He paid cash. The man thanked him so kindly
Juan wanted to buy a gun tomorrow.

Juan had come to New Orleans to trust
no one save those he had already known
from his three trips here. The third was the one
I might hear if I lived here long enough.

The problem of course is I have my life
to go on with. I hear Adore talking
in her sleep and walking on the loud floor,
her door opening and closing once more.

Also, I must stay long enough to hear
the three stories of the seven I heard
him say Leila so loved she descended
the mountain, they loved forever after,

and one day soon I know they will return
but farther south now. Mexico City
is too large, Juan needs a small zocalo,
Leila the family she never had.

(16 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Juan Tells Me of Stories behind Stories:

"My friend fills in the lost spaces I lived.
He knows where I was, with whom, what I did.
He is my teacher, brother, confidant.
Now he no longer hears as well as I
we write back and forth with the space between
allotted only for the work we do,
must do, need behind us now we are old
enough to anticipate the next world.
If he is half a dozen years older
and hears less than I, I wobble as I walk,
my heart beats too many times to push blood
along, and I was the one who took Keats
at his word: '. . . half in love with easeful Death,
. . . before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain . . .'
though he and Irish Cathleen say Shelley
is my ghost. Who saw Ozymandias.
Who knows 'the daughter of Earth and Water.'
The Necessity of Atheism
hammered into the church door down the street . . .
Howard, I swear, knew all the poets once
who answer to me only with the name
they have in common: Anonymous.
He traveled with them to the ends of earth.
The leper saint, the madonna whore, all
those from whom I learned the savage lessons
only he knows because I told no other . . .
for my first teacher drank his death swimming
from one end of a pool to the other,
a glass of whiskey his prize at each end,
and his young, tall Irish black-haired beauty
named Beatrice, as God knew His Dante
awaited him, the greenhouse keeper’s son
so much in love with her, his only wife,
he knew there was nothing he could not do,
for there she was letting him be a boy
again, believing that because he was
her poet, her teacher, her lover,
he would husband her as long as she lived . . .
or so she thought until she saw his lyric
body taller than hers floating face down.

"I am more like the dead than the living,"
Juan tells me. He can rarely bear to know
the truth. Then he tells me what McCord said–
what he, memory’s paragon, had done:
"There was the black bear crossing the highway
near the summit of Lolo Pass, no moose
like the one Howard’s son Asher saw there . . .
With Drum Hadley in the passenger seat
and I in the back seat with my Christine
and Howard watching us chase that black bear
down the hill, loping across the meadow . . .
No way I could have, I insisted then,
somehow forgetting Howard had four doors
to his car. And then Howard remembered
the last time he saw beautiful Paula,
the night before he flew to Ohio
where he lives now jogging my memory
like the long-distance runner he once was,
telling me the three of us wandered out
to the balcony where the party was
high above the pool awaiting our dive,
so down below we stripped to underwear
and the three of us frolicked in the face
of loss, Paula and I about to leave
each other, she going north and I south,
and all I recalled was the bus she took
was a Greyhound left from downtown Pullman
on a Saturday; bought her a ticket
in the hotel where Dave Hill died of drink.
She said she would be back, I watched her go,
and she did return, just once, but who needs
miracles when he is so blessed with friends?"

(15 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Monday, February 14, 2011


Ray showed him the ropes. Juan knew Rocky well
enough to know some strands of braided ropes
were more tenacious than others. That meant
the bartender’s attitude was crucial
to knowing how to mix drinks well enough
to please. Juan had the hang of it by quitting time.
He closed up and strolled across the street filled
with turistas. He was staring at the door
of the bar where a half century ago
the words out front heralded Lili St. Cyr
here tonight! One night only! Once inside
they sat waiting for the famous stripper
to show. He bought drinks for Betty and him
and an hour went by until the waitress
returned with his change on the tray. She started
to pull the tray back but he retrieved the cash,
she exploded with a furious rage:
Leave me no tip? Get out! I hope you die!
As they walked away Betty told him when
a pregnant woman in Manhattan failed
to tip her cabbie, he shouted at her:
I hope you lose your baby, lady!
Juan said, chuckling, Thank god you’re not pregnant.
And a few nights later Betty lay
in her own blood soaking the hotel sheets.
A few months after that, in Seattle
she awoke unable to stop bleeding.
After a day and night he took her home
and two years later, living far apart
by now, she had a hysterectomy
after losing her child, not his. Divorced,
he drove to Mexico City to stay
with Manuela Roma. He sat apart
in her house in Colonia Prado
Churubusco while the young Arturo
and Che’s ex-wife Hilda Gadea
reviewed with the roomful of insurgents
the day’s events and planned for tomorrow’s.
If Betty were there, she would ask to leave
as she had done last year on Hamburgo
in the Cuban embassy where the man
introduced to him as a cultural
attache asked him when he was coming
to Havana and Juan begged off, declaring,
I can do nothing, I’m just a writer,
and the man said, Then you can write, can’t you?
Not a year had passed since Guevara’s death.
In those days young romantics like himself
discussed The New Man. But he just listened,
writers being less loquacious and prone`
to writing on paper, not on the air.
Unlike that New Orleans working class
waitress, he knew too little to lay
a curse at the feet of the haute bourgeoisie.

(14 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Silver Avenue

Clerk asked him, You want gold or silver paint?
He’d chosen gold before. He said silver.
He lived on one side of the cottonwoods
running down the median. He was young
enough then to keep choosing. He could walk
all day and never have to drive his car.
How could you find a better way to live
other than on your feet, total control . . .
Cathleen liked silver. Paula chose the gold,
but that was years ago, when she was young.
Irene didn’t wait to choose, she was tired
of his plans. Nor would Leila wait to choose.
Cathleen had the wheel rigged. It was her call.
Paula simply left. Irene found a man
worthy of her needs. How about Leila . . .

All this he was pondering while driving
back to Crescent City by the half moon
route: turn west, then south, then east, riverbound.
De Soto never made it all the way
via the Mississippi. In those days
you got killed for killing other people
and their family and friends, even if
you were a Spaniard looking for the gold
your king was promised by Coronado,
to whom Turk from Zuni said, Mas alla
so those in their armor, on their horses,
would keep going farther away from home,
Turk’s pueblo not even by the Rio
Grande. These were cousins of the same men
chopped off a hand and a foot from each one
taken prisoner atop Acoma
in reprisal for failing the first time
they scaled the great rock and were beaten back.
Other people, on the Mississippi,
made sure DeSoto and his soldiers died,
even the obligatory friar;
in exchange for gold Spaniards offered God.

The more impossible it seemed to love
Leila the more he yearned to be with her.
Cathleen lived on both Summer and Silver.
But not so she didn’t take vacations
from him when he went far away from her
in the same room, the one with high ceiling,
and like the one on Summer, a fireplace.
This house even had a big porch with couch
they set out so the passing drunks could sleep
above ground rather than under the house.
On both Summer and Silver, Cathleen left.
She always returned. She said other men
bored her. Only he could satisfy her
appetite for cultural enrichment.
All other men did for her was fuck her.

He drove to Ray’s garage to stash the car,
took a taxi to Bourbon, and told Ray
he’d changed his mind against Albuquerque,
he couldn’t give up on Leila this time,
Ray said Leila? Maria Teresa,
Juan assured him. And Adore, I told her
I would stay with her as long as she wants.
I’m a fucked-up hombre, Ray Fox. Do you
know how I could find work to get by on?
I’m running out fast. Not that I can work
full time, I just need enough for Adore,
we split the food for electric
when candles don’t work. I rented a room
in the hotel before I went to Nell’s,
I mean Doll’s house that Peggy runs if she
can stay downstairs instead of going up
by force of habit when she was a whore.
Why don’t you take nights here and me the days?
I should spend more time with my family.
Agreed. They spit on their palms and shook hands.
Walking back to Adore’s, Juan passed the HOT
HOTEL keeping one eye on his shadow.

(14 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Summer Street

Susanna loved living in Seattle.
Juan could remember that city with pleasure.
He did not care for the drizzle but slept
very well when rain fell so you could hear.
He did not like cities where the wind blew.
He decided to go back to driving
and got his car out of storage and drove.
He wanted to be free of everything.
Where did he go? It never would matter
where, he knew why his heart was breaking fast
like the stampeding of the wild horses
when he held on tight and ran them to ground . . .
He had been in the house on Summer Street
alone, back from his usual night’s work,
stopping to stand in the doorway to hear
portions of a midnight mass. When a man
on the other side of the door offered
a seat in the pews, he shook his head no.
The town was too small. He needed cities.
New England would never be home country,
When they were not in church they were all stern
in their judgments of his brash way of life.
All of them, even the cajoling ones,
Yankee bred to the bone, their skin like hide
of a rhino, or gator. He went home,
started the fire and drank from a bottle
and was warming up when the horses broke
his way. Was that before Carlos went off
to the gorge, or after? He had lost sight
more than once of the crucial way to live,
remembering what you loved, why, and how
you lost track, lost the trail, had to walk out
all the way to reach civilization
or whatever it was called where he sat
still. Where he felt safe from the horses’ hooves.
He was driving up river to Natchez.
Or was it Vicksburg where he was going?
He felt free, that was the important thing.
He might never be happier than now.
He thought of all he had not done thus far
and then of what he had done to love her . . .
turning west to make the loop south, and home.

(14 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Awaiting the Wheel

And there were amends to be made.
You don’t leave forever until you die.
Who is an orphan and not an orphan?
There were red berries on the tree that year.
Your sister picked them and put them away.
He told her, They’re no good to eat, watch out.
She replied, I like the way they are red
and stay that way until they shrivel up
and disappear into their own wan skin.
He said other things to other people.
Then he stopped talking. It was easy too.
His heart came back to normal. What was that
like? You turned over on your side and slept
on your heart. You could hear it beating twice
where once sufficed. Then he looked at faces
that did not look back, whom he’d never see
in this life, maybe he would in the next
if it were true the wheel of life followed
death and in time karma its samsara.

                 O well, the stars were out tonight.
You could almost see them from the bayou.
Flicker here. Blinkout there. One even fell.
Wave washed up near one shoe, he would get wet
if he stayed, and so he drew his poncho
tight under his chin and returned to town.
Winter was about to die, where was spring?

(13 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


In the dark you can feel the mustiness
of old houses better than in the light.
I like to smell what moves through a house left
to right or right to left, no matter what
you see out of the corner of one eye.

Adore went back outside. She liked to roam
through the vacant houses, the empty yards,
the gardens gone to seed and overgrown,
watching where the birds would go and not go,
she knew they knew all about life and death.

A house she could have lived in with Ira.
A house Juan’s Chicago woman would love.
A house where she heard a man shot himself
over his lover he could not marry.
A house New Orleans put up for sale . . .

You had to admire dreams and the dead man’s
grief-stricken lover grieving forever.
You had to mourn yourself that house was lost
because her mama lacked the money down
to buy and could not even pay the rent.

It was the cooking smells, not the love smells
she loved. Love’s smell was there for an instant
and long gone by the time the house was closed,
to be opened again only when folks
who had serious money came around.

Her mama moved one way, she the other.
Her mama kept up her ju-ju. Adore
learned gris-gris. What could the difference be?
Her teacher told her, and said never tell
anyone whose tattoo cannot blossom.

Adore had no tattoos, mama either.
Adore went to the skin shop for flowers.
Amaryllis would cover lots of skin
with deep red and white umbrella flowers,
so why did she choose a Venus fly trap?

Eulalie would admire Aphrodite’s
Roman name wailing and taunting the world
with one foot following the other out
of the tide flooding the sand, the wonder
of it was it fed on insects not men . . .

Adore was still young when she was tattooed.
No man ever saw it in her dark house.
The shape went from her neck around her thighs
beginning to curl where her wet place was.
When her mother saw it she liked to die.

Goodness, child! you gone crazy? Eulalie
will be coming to you when she needs help
with her own inconsolable, red grief
and she won’t leave her loas at the door
but bring them on in as fast as she can.

Would the loas have wanted blossoming
flowers like iris with its rainbow plume
or nasturtiums and their pungent spiked leaves . . .
That was the year she kept flowers alive
by letting rain drop through the ceiling cracks.

(13 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Lean down to kiss me in your fancy shoes.
Take my legs, pick me up and set me down
before you undress and remove your shoes.
Lay your clothes across the bed’s wrought iron
stead. If there’s one thing I have it’s a bed.
Now come over here and give me some love.

She could remember those times of her life
once Ira was hers and she would be free
to live that dream she had once and again,
moving across that long wide room to him,
the valves on his horn barely moving now,
she was looking up into his dark eyes . . .

How could she tell her husband’s kin these things?
Juan had so many women he wanted
one more. He wasn’t any spring chicken,
or rooster, he might have time for one more,
any one named Maria Teresa
born and reared in Chicago, U.S.A. . . .

And why did he keep his shoes on that long,
Juan asked, was he a fancy man to boot . . .
She smiled putting away the clean dishes.
She looked at him a long time and said, No,
I could never do what my sisters did,
those like the girls you and your brother know.

When he left her house she would find a charm
fit for another spell, to bring back he
whose love kept her in touch with the old gods,
and while you’re at it, Erzulie, pick up
the one Juan loves and bring her here to stay,
then she gave the bones and ashes to her . . .

There Juan was paying in advance to keep
the room, looking through dark glasses at hands
holding the paper tight so he could scrawl
Paid to hold . . . his third time in HOT HOTEL
finding no one he knew or who knew him.
If his luck held that guy was history now.

She spread her best red and black bandana
on the table by the bed, stretched between
the orange glow of the burning candles,
kneeled down on one knee and then the other.
What she said only she would ever know
besides Erzulie, who listened closely . . .

When she was finished, she waited for it
to mount her and ride her and ecstasy
was no name for it, she didn’t know words
like that, she knew only the old feeling
between her and what it was rode inside
her, like she was what her prayer declared.

She prayed to Erzulie to bring him back
and he could have his horn and they could love
and put the house they could always live in
all back together or they could find one
where they could grow a wildflower garden,
peonies for Maria Teresa . . .

What was wild she would never tame. Why try
to tell the horses where to go or why,
let them ride, they were weary with burdens
their fleshly counterparts were forced to bear . . .
and among the begonias, dahlias,
bougainvillea, acacia, her words rode . . .

(13 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, February 12, 2011


She loved to make love and so did Ira.
When they met they were already lovers,
didn’t matter what they did before that,
when growing up is all you ever do,
and now nobody was around to know . . .
that same old frightful daddy and mama
put the fear in you, twist it, and it stays
under the skin, out of sight but not mind.
He told her all about the back country,
she spoke of never going anywhere
nobody lived she knew or wanted to.
He painted the blue mountains with blue notes,
she listened close to find out the weather
from the rhythm section and Ira’s horn.
His horn! she had to laugh. It was his horn
she loved entirely, even after hours . . .
Her back against the window, Adore sang
words she found to go along with the notes:
I am your mama, didn’t I seem sweet,
she started, then thought it over, and sang,
When you love me, don't I seem sweet . . .
got so much honey you could eat all night,
I rise up singing what you know
I never meant to be a blues . . .
don’t get me wrong, baby, I’m so weary
I can’t help but be black and blue . . .

and she knew Bessie got hers from Louis,
knew she said Ethel was high toned, hincty . . .
Adore knew how to languish against glass
and stare until he stared back, not like they
do in Chicago, the end of the line . . .
while he didn’t need Chicago to play
what he knew every night New Orleans
would turn out to hear and she came along
flouncing, sashaying, humming her new song.
She undressed him and put her mouth on him.
She climbed aboard and the train left on time
and all the way to Chicago they came . . .

(12 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


With Maria Teresa and Adore
there is much to do.
As is said in New Orleans,
you have a drink to decide what to do.
Juan doesn’t drink (not that he never did),
and he used to eat too much to keep down.
Now he eats what Adore cooks, nothing more.
One meal a day, if that. If she’s feeling
poorly he fends for himself. He can cook.
He fixes her broth and she feels better.
They sit together hearing the music
from down the street, the Cajun Crawl it’s called.
Tourists go there to slum: It’s in the dark,
Cajun music is all they want to play.
It sells. The neighborhood can dance to it.
Better than nothing, Adore declares.
In daylight it’s St. James Infirmary,
Careless Love, C. C. Rider, St. Louis Blues
by an ensemble that puts her in mind of
Ira’s. "I painted my nails black and blue
because my skin was light brown verging on
being coal black in parts you couldn’t see.
The blue was from ‘What did I do to be
so black and blue.’ It may have been a song
but it was one of the first ones I heard
and how old was I? Old enough to know
what being black and blue was for women
who loved men, sung by one who loved women
or soon learned to." That was how Adore talked.
Starting with something physical, painting
the nails of her toes and fingers, then on
to a disquisition on race the way
you saw yourself in the midst of turmoil
that only the music could answer to
catch your life, turn it right side up, set it
on its feet, go walking, dancing, make love
in your head the way your body would do
if ever that sweet man would come over . . .
or that other one, he was okay too.
What does a girl do when she’s all grown up?
Where does all she is come from? She looks up.
He asks her who her daddy, mama were,
She says, I don’t know who anybody was,
honey, I loved only the nobodys . . .

(12 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, February 11, 2011

In the Sun

Adore said, Honey, I don’t mean to tell
you what to do but you wait long enough
and she will slip out of reach forever . . .
Juan went back to HOT HOTEL to ask when
he could rent a room for his wife. He lied
with sun hiding his eyes like dark glasses.
He had no excuse for renting a room
in this flea-bag establishment, please God
if she came they could stay in Adore’s house.
The man reserved a room until he paid
in advance to hold it. He would come back
tomorrow with the money. He went out
into the sun. He liked Johnny Flowers.
He would return with the money to pay
for the room. Regardless of what happened
with Maria he would wear dark glasses
going into and out of HOT HOTEL . . .
He decided he needed his own place
away from Adore, a room for telling
the blank page what she told him, her story
of where she was born, how she named herself,
her study of the elements. Gris-gris . . .
ju-ju . . . air, water, fire, earth . . . and music
even a white boy from the blue mountains
picked up on his own listening to jazz
coming from a horn that was no bugle,
the one collecting dust on the mantle
back home before he took it up one day . . .
worked on the docks until he had money
enough to buy a horn from a pawn shop
and stay up all night to play it to sleep.
He started playing at the club at night
. . . well, the early hours when the band was paid
. . . a pick-up band and he stayed on
finally walking away from the docks
to play for money, he was that damned good . . .
She saw him across the room, he saw her.
That’s how she started telling him the tale,
mothering him and talking of Ira
all the time because Ira was his kin,
His mother was dead. That’s why he came here.
If he couldn’t find Nell in her coffin,
he could make a lonely woman happy
before she went to the cemetery . . .
All he had to do was tell the blank plage
what she told him. He walked to the water,
sun glinting off the surface blinding him
until he reached shade. Half of him was day,
half of him night. How could he turn the moon
into sun? . . . in his soul . . . would Maria
have magic now no other woman had . . .
And would she bring her magic back to life?
She called it Santeria, her magic,
the kind of sorcery she said turned night
into day to let the light in to breathe . . .

(11 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

A New Orleans Full of Ghosts

The man behind the desk Juan’s never seen.
When it’s night the neon HOT for HOTEL
lights the street so far off the tourist track.
The man doesn’t know if there is a room
for two. Juan says he expects his woman
to arrive and he wants to find a room
early on. The man takes his name, Johnny
Flowers, and address, Adore’s little house
not far from here, and offers Paolo’s
address as backup. The man writes it all.
Check back in a day, I’ll be working here,
the man assures him. See you then, Flowers.
Juan walks off asking himself the question
obvious to any man whose heart weeps
when it’s broken open, not like the heart
opening to let love in and keep it
safe from harm. He knows she will never come.
Adore keeps saying Maria will come.
He keeps saying there’s nothing to come for
here that she wouldn’t find better up there.
Adore is like Maria asking why
he gives up hope and buries it early
like someone still breathing, asking for love
and nothing else but lips and a body
and her voice telling you she will love you
until your flesh goes into the oven
and comes out bones and ashes, beloved
still though she knows she must care for herself
as always, from the time she was seven
in the shadows of that house without doors
to hold her father’s rage, her mother’s pain
and at such an age she worked for others
and when she was paid she went to the store
and brought home food for her sister, brother,
and herself and they ate while father snored
and mother slept. Ten years passed and she left
for good or ill, it didn’t matter, she
was gone. Adore knows the story. She groaned,
such a father to drive his children mad
holding a gun with one bullet in it
to her temple and squeezing the trigger,
and then her sister, her brother the same . . .
The crippled man who loved her taught her love.
She was seventeen, he thirty-seven;
all this a story Juan had heard before
he first heard it, told it here to Adore,
who thought of Ira again and how love
can come upon you all of a sudden
and leave the same way, but never over
even when a body gives up its ghost.

(11 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, February 10, 2011


One thief brings in the others, Adore liked
to say. They come in her house, all they get
is grief, her gris-gris tools and little else . . .

In her youth there were the thieves of her heart.
She broke it open so they could get in
and all she got for it herself was grief.

Worst of all was the thief of death, Ira’s.
Neither she nor Madame Ju-Ju could break
the dams built to stop his river of blood.

She’s got a client now in her back room,
a lady who wants to be immortal
and thinks that way she can buy groceries.

Adore lights the candles after the door
is shut that was open all morning long.
Then begin the hours there is no time for.

Juan went out for a walk that turns out long.
He could go by Ray’s, see Rocky, stop in
to see his brother at Madame Peggy’s.

Juan had so little money he went by
Hotel HOTEL just to see if they knew
who he was. If they did, he couldn't pay.

Except for the Quarter, New Orleans
is quiet. There is no need for parties
to pay the rent except where the thieves were.

If the thieves are poor, they feed on the poor.
Who else do thieves know as well as their kin?
Where else can they go to be forgiven?

When Adore is through and the woman walks
through the back door opening to the sun
the shades are raised with the front door open

and any thieves passing by know better
than try their luck on this gris-gris woman
who sends the immortal for groceries.

(10 February 2011)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Simultaneous Dream of Maria Teresa and Adore

for Lisa Alvarado, in memory of Rifka

As though there were a choice, she says,
I’m standing where I was born
albeit with Rifka present.
I’m not wearing my cocktail dress
nor hand-me-downs nor even rags.
I'm not even busking without buskins.
I’m happy being in the sun,
though I need to learn to play violin
or Spanish guitar
and have a horse waiting on the corner
to mount to ride to Mexico.
It might take years then to rhyme cocktail dress
with horse. Rifka’s people learned tragedy
in Spain in 1492. Rifka never was
in Spain, certainly not in 1956
when I suddenly appeared here
where Juan could never find me even if
he knew how to read a map. He would come
on a whim he might find me. He gets lost
in Chicago. Better he stay
in New Orleans. Rifka would (Adore says)
if she had not learned tragedy in Chicago.
Juan must think I don’t know where he lives now
(Maria Teresa replies). I do
know nothing about busking for money
and may be too old to learn. The mind needs
a body to stay alive . . .
If this is a dream, Adore, wake me up
and we will walk down the street for beignets
and café au lait and see what’s shaking
where only the poor pay for the music
and tourists anoint musicians with air.
Come here, Adore says, and live in my house.

(9 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where Life Was

It’s beyond his measure what must be done.
The bliss of age will come upon him soon.
He will know what Adore must know: music
around you, in you, everywhere you go . . .
She cries Ira! in the night and he hears
her feet falling on the bare clapboard floors.
She walks a while then sinks into the springs
and waits until light to get up for good . . .
He remembers what it was like to be
in Mexico, the jungle silence, rain
followed by sun always, her love touched him
there, she was one of them, she was herself.
Chicago? Not for him? How does he know,
he will never learn to live in cities
bigger than New Orleans. He is lost
in Mexico City, San Francisco,
Manhattan, Boston. Only here he lives
as though he were born in this place to be
what he is. He is working on his own
fiction. And like any lie it must tell
the truth or lose its way like any fool
who depends on memory and must fail
because all he can do is imagine . . .
Adore slows at first then eats, picks up steam
and walks with her walker out her back door
down the alley where she hears the sweet horn
and it must be Ira back, back in town
from his long trip out to find a new song
and maybe this time she will sing with him
across the length of that room where life was.

(8 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


Monday, February 7, 2011


First he said Eulalie . . .
Then Erzalie . . .
How hard is it to spell
. . . you must mean
Erzulie . . .
It’s like she wants
to keep you in the dark,
where she can be reached
in a pinch if all
the loas are not
too busy
and if a conjure woman
like your host Adore
would reach to her . . .

The spells are many, the grieving endless, the suffering always near at hand.
If the hand lifts the elbow falls and the wrist shakes and what do you hear but bones inside
the body’s walls, rafters and joists, beam and lattice.
Then the walls will bend as they did in the storm.
She looks like she’s praying when she conjures.
Her guest can’t see that she’s in touch with the one who scatters the foam of the air,
smooths the wrinkles in the earth beneath her floor,
spills what you can’t know if you’re nothing but human and beyond her touch,
spills it over the eyes of Adore
and there she is,
skin tight, eyes suns, tongue a fire, listening to what you believe you might be thinking
and telling you what she would like to do
to get rid of the ire whose ashes are all wrong for the wren in her nest of rye
with loons glistening and wreathing the world where the room is.
O who could fly through, who could pierce the skein wound around such patois?

(7 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander


                        "It’s the old fear that keeps out the light of the present moment."

You have to know where the sun goes to know where it comes from.
Sailboats on the lake tip in the wind, some capsizing.
You have to know how to sail to keep the boat right side up.
Skiing too is an art that requires balance, not falling
the first lesson. In the factory on the edge of town
you can find work if you’re seventeen and know somebody
works there already. You must fill out an application,
she says behind her typewriter and handing you the form
goes back to typing between phone calls. You interview
over the phone and if you make the cut you can go back
to talk face to face so the boss can watch your slightest moves.
We will call you if we have work . . . Words to grow old with
memory’s sideshow, hootchy cootchy, Hey Rube! Step in here
to view the sex sirens of the Azores! . . . and they have work.

Juan was reading about the good life. Sailboats, skis, what else
do the beloved products of America seek
before they go mad? Adore is sleeping, he thinks. He can’t
see her conjure up what the loas have to say now
about Erzalie and the color of rage. Who knows why
she suffers so? Adore does when the back door lets her in
to sit a spell. Meanwhile, Juan throws the book across the room
and because he can’t see or hear through the closed door he goes
to the street that if he were in Chicago he would not know
enough to negotiate without Maria Teresa
and she’s got enough to do just keeping her life together
as she always has had to do since she was seventeen . . .
He walks over to Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop just to feel
the way it was that night over fifty years ago . . .

The shades are drawn. The music’s from the jukebox. He has time
to drink a Coca-Cola. He could be doing worse.
If he were in Chicago he would know nowhere to go,
he would know no one but Maria Teresa, and why
would he care not knowing anyone else?
The bartender wants to talk about football. Who dat?
he grins, Weren’t those Saints a sight in that goddam Super Bowl?
Fuckin’ Colts didn’t know what hit em! Drew Brees made up for
the levees breaking, besides we’ll be getting a new golf course,
I hear, where the lower Ninth Ward used to be, that’s great news . . .
Why do you have the shades drawn? Juan asks, if you’re so happy?
Can’t stand the light this time of day, the bartender replies.
Juan thinks, Fuck you, buddy, you’re a pain in the national ass.
See you some other time, he quips, When the sun goes down . . .

(7 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Old Fear Blues


If you thought the night was going all wrong
the night what did go wrong was your doing,

if you thought the earth was a place to stand
the way you stood up to what went so sad . . .


Going down the street to get a bottle
and a pack of smokes, and coming back all

the street lamps were out, you struck a match
to see where to go, and walking keep watch

on the revelers, sloppy drunks and wives
too gone to care about their drunken lives.

Now you’re home it’s okay to breathe easy,
and drink a toast to the lady’s birthday.


If life were this easy, you had to be
crazy to want to go to Chicago,

if Adore wanted you to stay with her,
watch over her, be with her, care for her . . .


He called Maria again though he knew
it was no use being so black and blue

in a house where the gods would come and go
when Adore summoned them to her back door,

but Maria said what he didn’t blame
her for: I can’t marry you, we have love

but God knows neither of us have money,
and all I have is a hive of honey.


If what happened was over, why did years
have to pass before he lost the old fear,

If only he could have found her that night,
if only he had been blessed with such sight . . .


If only . . . sure, go back and do it all
over, and come up against the same wall.

Never marry for love, she said, the one
who wanted to be loved and left alone.

That’s what she wanted so he let her stay
where she was, and neither had to ask why.

That was Betty. This was his newfound love
saying good night after vowing her love.


Adore said, Juan, let’s have another drink
to keep on going until I’m ninety . . .

Honey, if you can’t keep it in the bank
all you can do is love her. Why marry?

(7 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander