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