I am the accomplished one. I send words
where no one can say what I have in mind,
they are never on the tip of my tongue.
I walk the streets and watch shadows
before it dawns on me they are my own,
and by then light illuminates the sky,
the smells waft up the way and lure me on.
Can I help you, honey? she asks. I say
what I want. I sit till old-style coffee
arrives with pastry I never order,
but it’s cheap and I need to save money,
I don’t know why, but I will find out soon,
and if it’s not too late by then I’ll go
spend it on what I need and bring it home,
quarry desired for so long the winds change
and rain pelts the streets with each step I take,
knowing there is no way to find heart’s core.
Now the sun is out, I have given up
my old habits, the drink, the smokes, the girls,
for the need to bend my will to the page.
Back at HOT Hotel, over at Adore’s,
up to St. Charles and Madame Peggy’s house
(Paolo with Georgia, Betsy working),
down to the wharf where Rocky works for Belle
(he’s a man with purpose, I wish them well),
and on to Bourbon, to work The Saloon.
In HOT HOTEL I tell the desk clerk what
he already knows, two neon letters
are out, does he want a reputation
as a fleabag where streetwalkers bring johns . . .
Upstairs, I lift the window, air it out,
this room with a bed, a desk, and what else
does a scribe need? a chunk of stone quarried
to carry up the mountain that’s not there,
a long wait while the beard grows and God
echoes down the canyon of my crazed mind,
commanding nothing, offering nothing,
and you are on your own, motherfucker,
the bare light bulb swinging from the ceiling,
my left hand moving the pen to my right.
It will be a long way down. The horse neighs,
whinnies, goes from a lope to a gallop,
he can see it in his mind’s eye, how they
killed a man dragging him to the alley,
the three of them in town with the sorghum
they haul in weekly, and if the man sees
your father’s father when he was a boy
his eldest brother pedaled the emery wheel
sharpening knives after supper last night.
Sparks flew until one knife was the right weight.
In the morning Richard took it with him.
David liked to drink. He was in the bar
when Abraham encountered the black man,
it never failed, as though he were waiting
to give this white boy a piece of his mind.
He said, You Johnny Rebs got nothing left
to put us in our place. We blacks are free,
you peckerwoods are through telling us what
to do. –The man sneered as he always did,
then put one hand on Abe’s shoulder and pushed . . .
and Richard unsheathed the emery wheel’s
sharpest knife and held it to the man’s throat
to direct him back to the alley, slit
his throat with one clean slice, already dead
the moment the blade plunged under one ear,
the body flopping like a dead chicken
where its head lay lifeless on bloody earth,
the last time he would taunt young Abraham.
Their mother prepared them baskets of food,
their sisters wept with her watching them go
riding south. Then Ira caught up with them,
his bugle lashed tight to his saddlehorn,
saying, You could use another brother
to keep an eye out for what’s coming behind,
play taps at dusk and reveille at dawn . . .
North Carolina was where the woman
came from Abe would marry. Her father Tom,
Cherokee; mother Matilda, Scots name
of their own mother. She climbed to the porch,
took up her corncob pipe and settled in.
That’s what he put down on paper tonight.
It sounded thin to his ear as he read
aloud all there was. He should know
the name of the dead man in the alley,
who his people were, why the man taunted
his father’s father, and who would miss him
now his soul rested with his ancestors,
as Juan hoped he would one day be with his.
He descended the stairs. Outside the sign
read HO HOTEL. He chuckled, went on home,
and where would that be but at Adore’s house?
A man was there, her door closed, candlelight
flickering through a crack under the door.
She was doing gris-gris. The man's low voice
sounded weary, but kept on echoing
the words that she insisted he echo . . .
Juan lay on the day bed in the front room.
He thought to re-read what he had written,
but listened to the door open, then shut,
and read the words that he still found wanting.
(15 March 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander