Didn’t I know? the kid asked. I said, No,
dumb shit, you took your mama’s word for it
and she was nothing but a drunk. Me too,
I added, careful to make sure the truth
got through. You are not one of the foundlings
of the world, I assured him, and he said,
My mama was fine with you, why you want
to put her down? I said I had to work,
did he want a drink? The kid shook his head,
his pal with the file and the one who drove
following, disappearing in the crowd.
I had some bad news of my own. Rocky
came by tonight, and he came by rarely,
to make a point of saying I should go
see Big John, he’s getting worse, drinks all day,
chain smokes, and weeps over food like a sky
full of rain. If you saw him, it might help.
I didn’t need grief about Iroquois,
presumably the kid’s mother. I went
to see Big John at closing time, he was
very drunk. I couldn’t understand him,
kept holding out his glass and cigarette
as though they were gifts I should not refuse
an old friend. Con un fuerte abrazo,
I left. The gate was ajar, I closed it
and waited until I heard it latch, locked,
then went down to the wharf to see Rocky.
The kid and his companions were there too.
Rocky said they were busy getting loud.
I said, Don’t cut him slack because he thinks
I’m his daddy and pours his heart and soul
on your floor, I’ll help you eighty-six him
and the others, believe me, Big John’s dead,
he’s a walking corpse. Rocky said, That’s right.
And the night ended with Rocky and me
making arrangements for the funeral
music. For a racist, I said, Big John
sure knew a lot of folks. He’s a bigot,
not a racist, Rocky corrected me,
and I wasn’t even sure about that.
He said he’d ask Big John to pick the people
to play to the cemetery and lead
the second line. Big John had known them all,
Rocky said. I may not have known him well
at all, I answered, I do know he helped
Betty and I that time, and so did you . . .
and I don’t need to know anything else.
Rocky nodded, knowing what friendship was.
I walked back to Adore’s and slept with her
after we did what we would always do . . .
Nobody in New Orleans wore clothes to bed
of any kind, any time, anyway.
After lovemaking, you went to sleep wet.
Hot nights you’d dream you were taking a bath.
(7 March 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander