In Memphis Ira stole the money and went south.
Rich woke Abe and Dave and they looked for him.
Resigned, they went west, as planned, horses fresh
from the livery stable, fed, watered,
rested. Crossed the Mississippi, rode days
to the Arkansas, put up in Fort Smith,
looked for work. Nobody worked here. Outlaws
roamed the countryside and came into town
to spend their loot on the usual fare
history records of all renegades . . .
The brothers McAlexander found work
in Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale’s
coal mining town Abraham’s son Manuel
would be born in when it was Mine 19,
his father’s labor underground passed down
with a cotton tenant farm legacy
on the other side of the Arkansas,
crossing the river twice each year for work
to feed five boys and one girl, then two sets
of twins, the first alive before Abe died,
the other twins dead not long after him.
Family at the end of normal life . . .
and in the life that died with Abraham,
imagine the family going on,
if the past was but half of the future,
no going back to Virginia or south
of Memphis to New Orleans. Beulah
and Lahoma gave birth on the red dirt
of Oklahoma, living in Fort Smith
where the first married and then the second
followed into the servitude of wives.
Imagine Manuel going through high school,
Hitler, Hirohito, Mussolini
names only, the first son, Bobby, living
to die of old age, without a brother . . .
No one would bother writing anything.
Day would begin at dawn and night at dusk.
The old feud between white and black would go
unnoticed, Jim Crow not even a name,
for nobody may roil the populace
with impunity, the poor whites taught well
from birth to label all blacks with the name
that has never disappeared from the earth,
proving history is not fantasy . . .
When I wake I go straight to the bare desk.
The night leaves papers strewn over the floor.
After this is done I will gather them
and read what I dreamed, all the wild stories
not even I can believe easily,
and go back to the pulsing screen to write
what was left from sleep, I a lucky man
nearing life’s end, gambling that my four score
and ten will stretch to twenty more, ninety
an age ideal for sleeping sitting up
and beginning where the dreams always end.
The woman who shares my work, who does all
my sloughed skin did and all she must do now,
I move so rarely from my perch up here
spreading my arms upon waking, flying
across the page that is eternity
beyond the Preacher’s promise of heaven,
mine own hell composed of cotton’s thorns, coal
dust, a widow’s tears, all the wars over
until the next, war the health of the state
said the hunchback Randolph Bourne dying young
in this country I never give up on . . .
(24 March 2011)