This woman Juan knows with her thick red hair,
long red fingernails and eyes like an owl’s,
an old flame of Ray’s, tells Juan to come in
her shop next door to The Saloon and sit
a spell. Would you like your cards read, Johnny?
She’s the only one calls him by the name
he answered to for twenty years between
the Pacific and the Vietnam wars,
twenty years mother Nell was a widow,
until after no time at all, it seemed,
following remarriage was widowed twice,
came here and worked at a job she enjoyed,
made it to the top, and all that time went
faithfully to this courtyard on Bourbon
where Patsy Rose read your cards for little
more than a tip if she called you her friend.
She shuffled and cut and spread them wide,
found the answer to the question he’d asked,
and told him he was due to change his life
as soon as he completed the project
named by the card hidden by the top one,
The Fool, with his dog, both of them carefree
and The World on the top, the best reading
she had seen lately considering how
times were so hard a crust lay on the air.
He told Patsy Rose what he was doing.
She knew Adore. All us magic women,
she said, break bread together and drink wine.
He didn’t tell her where he was sleeping
other than mentioning the HOT HOTEL,
the E and L burned out so long ago
not even Patsy Rose knew they were gone.
All I do there, he said, is write all night,
sleep half the day, work a half shift until
I find my way back to the hermitage,
I call it . . . She wanted to laugh. She knew
what he wasn’t saying he should have told
his mother’s and his newfound lover’s friend.
Now Johnny, you go easy on your own
sweet self and come to see me more often,
we’re like family and family’s got
to stay close. Don’t get so busy you can’t
find time to drop by and see Patsy Rose.
He gave her a bill. They kissed at the door.
She was a right fine woman for her age.
That night he eighty-sixed drunken tourists
he could roll like a barrel out the door
if they believed this was Niagara Falls,
its cataract the hubbub in the street.
He walked to Adore’s and showed her the words
meant to be her own. She said, Come sit here
and patted the bed where she’d been sleeping.
She read all three. She studied quietly
the night through the window, an owl’s soft hoot . . .
She put her hand on his. She said, I know
you can’t help but want to write all this down,
put yourself in my skin, but honey, can’t
you see? I’m too black and my blues too old
for my handsome young white lover to know.
She undressed him then and they made their love.
(2 March 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander