John Biggs the Third passed away Fat Tuesday
while praying in St. Louis Cathedral,
the revelry in full sway in the streets,
his hands holding a rosary
like a shroud. He spread ten fingers
to cup his head in their keeping,
sobbing, his wail echoing through the church
until a priest came. What is it, my son?
I have sinned, Father, I wish to confess
all I have done and failed to do.
He fell from the kneeler and hit his head
against the bench on his way down.
He lay on the floor. He said he was dead,
words heard by no one in this world.
He carried no identification
because he had not left the apartment
since coming back and settling in with drinks
and smokes at Rocky’s, having a party
with himself and with the girls Rocky hired
to keep him company, keep him upright
otherwise, and that’s what he would have said
to the priest, that he whored and was wasted
by his own hand, thought only of himself
and his cock, of being blown, getting out
of his mind, it was too far gone
to catch his body up and save it now,
and his last whore wanted to help him walk
to church and did but refused to go in . . .
When he wasn’t home when Rocky returned
he called the girl and she said where he was
when she left him. The priest told him the rest.
Fat Tuesday was over. Now Lent began.
Seven weeks now until Easter.
There he was, stretched out on the cooling board.
No autopsy necessary. His eyes
red-ringed, his skin whiter than dead man’s bone,
belly bloated, soaked with cigarette smoke,
just like St. James Infirmary, only
what woman would come to mourn him . . .
His wife, all the way from Alabama.
She stayed with Rocky, she slept in his bed,
Juan gave him the key to his hotel room.
I should tell you the rest. How she sat still
as stone while the coffin was carried out.
How Rocky had to help her to the street.
How nobody knew who she was
until Rocky introduced her
as the last of Big John’s kin, which was true.
They played "Nearer My God to Thee"
to the grave, and there she stayed until night
settled over her like a shroud.
Neither Rocky nor Juan had work to do,
they drank while they walked, and that’s how they found
her body stretched across Big John’s fresh grave,
naked, her clothes torn, lying by her side,
and she, face down, arms embracing the dirt.
(8 March 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander