I walked to the Forest Knolls Inn.
Laurie was working the bar,
Tony was in the back.
I told him about my dilemma. He said,
Why not let it take care of itself?
I can’t, I said. I’m living in Cathleen’s
Lagunitas house. I know, he said,
I heard. He talked about business,
how it was falling off with so many
losing their jobs and unable to find
another. Bush, I said. Obama, he said.
We didn’t bother to pursue politics.
He did a lot of reading, loved movies.
Said he’d been reading Odysseus
Elytis, "The Mad Pomegranate Tree,"
which he swore was a great poem,
and watching Kon Ichikawa’s film
The Makioka Sisters on DVD . . .
I’ve watched it every night this week,
Laurie doesn’t know what to do,
she goes into the city and sees people,
comes home, tells me they think I’m
starving for culture, I tell her, Why not?
Johnny, Tony continued, why did you
come back? Cathleen hasn’t changed,
not that I’ve been able to see, though
granted she doesn’t come in here much.
She came out this summer and now
you’re here she stays home in the city,
right? Right, I assured him: She’s
coming out tomorrow.
Driving her Morgan . . .
I better go back and call her,
tell her to bring me my car
and I’ll take her back . . .
Tony said, You still driving?
Still, I answered. Something
I gave up almost entirely down South.
You miss N’Orleans?
You say it like a native, I laughed.
I got around, remember?
I remembered walking back:
It was summer 1965, the three of us
driving into Los Angeles mid-afternoon,
the freeway empty, almost literally–
Watts was burning. My mother’s half-
cousin put us up for the night. Tony
and I drove through Watts. Got gas
coming out, black guy at the pump
said, I keep checking the palm trees
for snipers . . . They get drunk, shoot
anyone, you don’t have to be white.
One night was too long. Mama's cousin
was married to a Cherokee from back
home, Tahlequah, aping my father’s
father who married a breed Cherokee.
Tony had enough and took the bus
back to the City. Betty and I stayed on
long enough to hear again Ruby
telling Owen to get down to the bus
station, drink beer, play the machines,
do what he wanted. Leave me alone!
Betty and I drove to Albuquerque,
pueblo woman behind the motel desk
said Martin Luther King got people
riled up and that was what started Watts,
I just know, she said. I wanted to ask
what she thought of reservation life.
She might say, Long as you behaved
yourself you got what was due you.
She said, Have a party in New Orleans!
Next day on the border, with dark
clouds coming our way, rain starting
to speck the dirty windshield, stopped
at a diner in Farwell, Texas, walked
through the door and heard Oh, oh!
As Tony said later, It was your beard,
thought you were like Lapsinsky . . .
Phil Lapsinsky, professional communist
agitator, came by Tony’s in Seattle
earlier that year, before they moved
south to the City where Laurie was from.
Lapsinsky was full of fire, a slow blaze.
Wanted to hear Lenny Bruce on an LP,
playing it over and over. We had beer,
smoked marijuana, but Laurie didn’t.
Lapsinsky told us his story of hitching
through the South, getting a ride
after a day and a night waiting it out,
and the guy wants him to let him
take Phil then and there or he’d stop
the car and put him out. Phil said,
That’s when I knew I was in the shit
for real, something I hadn’t figured on,
taking down your pants and letting
the bastard blow you, either that
or abandon this work I needed to do . . .
At least he didn’t do you in the ass,
I said. Yeah, Phil replied, I got off
easy. He played Lenny Bruce again.
In a week I go back to Mississippi,
I’ve been doing this half my life
and I can’t get enough of people
in need, anything’s too good for fat
bastards chewing on their stogies,
both thumbs pulling suspenders
out tight and letting them snap back
so their toothless buddies can holler
with glee. This country will change
by God, one way or another . . .
I asked him if he’d met King. Sure,
he doesn’t stand on formalities,
I may be a commie but he loves
every goddam body and wants you
to try to do the same . . . if I can.
(4 May 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander