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