Wednesday, May 18, 2011

China House

I told the story and read the poem.
Jules Siegel stayed in his room
writing otherwise, maybe a sequel
to "Thomas Pynchon Stole My Wife"
everyone read in its Playboy spread,
or so Jules believes. He’s a listener,
that’s plain to me after telling a tale
that was never true and never will be,
though the poem is. Jules says, A story
is either true or ficton. Nothing else . . .
adds, I know nothing about poetry.
I go into the kitchen and look out
upon bare-breasted girls in the garden
with their children hoeing and pulling weeds.
One woman will come to Jules tonight
and lie with him. The rest is up to me,
he smiles. Do you drink? No. Smoke? Yes.
He answers all my questions.
(We cut–a jump cut–to night:)
Jules is not here but young men play guitars
and young women are dandling their daughters
and sons on bare knees, their granny dresses
pulled up to their thighs, the marijuana
passed between them and one takes a long drag
and passes it on. Mostly, though, I drink . . .
Copeland is the guy who runs the place,
same age, about, as me: he’s built square
and strong as the proverbial ox
with whom I would team if we were oxen.
When the young women ask me where I’m from
I tell them the story I told Jules
without the poem, which might have saved me
if the children had not heard the tale first,
whereupon Copeland is obliged to fulfill
his duties as head man of China House,
saying if I come back, he personally
will see to it I go nowhere again.
Does that mean I was somewhere?
They should not be expected to worry
about such as I. That’s what Nowhere is.
What it is here, where one is invited
to live. (Flash back:) In San Diego
the bikers known as Hell’s Angels,
their lives are so bleak their futures foreclose,
. . . they are everywhere now the year is
Nineteen Hundred Seventy-One
and I keep writing letters to Paula
asking when she is planning to join me,
like you said you would, darling, I’m waiting.
And nothing comes back, of course.
I have no address. I have my bedroll.
The day George, they call him, handed his plate
of false teeth to a brother to hold
as he moved in for the kill . . .
that’s what happens in the city alleys
on Labor Day, and who was I to know
bad-mouthing these bastards three weeks
because Mike was his name leader of the pack
danced on the face of a girl who denounced
them here though they had not been among those
at Altamont, and neither was I
but I saw the film. Nor did I know
Meredith Hunter, the young black man
in the crowd, high and waving a pistol
when they converged with one a blade in hand
stabbing him where the blood is guaranteed
to flow out so fast no one can stanch it.
George says something like If you want to fuck
with people, here we are, and I reply
I don’t want to fuck with you people,
and walk out slowly, it feels slow, a chorus
of jeers follows me, chorusing with cries
announcing their breast-beating victory,
which will bring George great honor all day now
and as far into the night as they stay
conscious, while I go the long way
to the Bathhouse to pick up my bedroll
from behind the bar and saying nothing
like I’m quitting, you can find bartenders
anywhere, I go to the highway and thumb
my way north again, where I am now
thrown out of China House, never to return.
Nor will Paula ever arrive.
Where do the letters go, where the poems?
Next day (flash forward:) I wade the creek,
"Down the Line" on my lips, voice rusty
but eloquent, I’ve carried words in me
making up the cadence as I go
walking in the cold stream flowing
by Judy Ewing’s house, and there she is . . .

(18 May 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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