You couldn’t be something you’re not,
not easily, that’s for sure.
You let the stock get low,
the alabaster windows on Bourbon
glared in the late afternoon sun,
Ray came by to say you ought to hire
a helper. He posts a sign on one wall.
The only applicant who knows
what to do is hired.
Juan knows this is the break he has needed,
and he sets to plannng to sell
what he doesn’t even own yet.
The man’s name is Roosevelt and he's black.
The tourist trade doesn’t slack off.
After his first week Roosevelt opens
and closes. A month goes by. Ray is pleased
Roosevelt takes responsibility
for balancing the till after hours.
Juan doesn’t try anymore to sober
Ray up, the ring of alcoholism
is in his nose. Pull and see him go off
wherever home is, you don’t need to know . . .
But it’s not a woman who owns the ring.
A little boy takes his sister
by the hand up the street to see Daddy
home, keep him safe, away from the demons.
Where’s your mother? Juan asks Virgil.
She went to town, she don’t come home.
Virgil adds, Samantha don’t know where
she is. Virgil talks as though their mother
couldn’t find her way back and had to stay.
Roosevelt confides in Juan there’s no harm
raising kids alone, without their mother.
Did you call the police? Juan asks.
Roosevelt says there was no need,
she had a wild hair that grew much longer
the more she hung around Canal,
the strip joints. You go over there now,
he said, you can catch my wife working out
in the back room when she’s not on stage.
Samantha pulled her daddy’s arm,
Let’s go, daddy, we can have some ice cream,
you promised . . . It’s enough to exhaust Juan,
the life he never reached, he might have found,
but too busy going from coast to coast,
from one woman to the next,
filling the holes in his soul as fast
as yet another opened gaping wide
. . . but what did he know,
it was already too late,
the train had arrived on time,
the conductor went through the cars
punching tickets. This was better than
going out to wait where the crossroads met.
This way Roosevelt could tell his children
there were also good white men in the world.
Ray liked him saying that. Juan didn’t care,
he knew reasons men wanted families
were too abundant with no need to catalog,
a mother who leaves her children stays off
in the shadows at first, watching them grow
and forget her, you can raise all her kids
you want to have and never get started . . .
(23 March 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander