When they were dead and buried what was there
to do but leave? The place was tame by then.
The Hanging Judge had come and gone.
The killers and thieves left to save their lives.
No matter how obscure, your fate was known:
the town murmured, they knew what you had done
and what was done to you. There but for God
they saddled a horse and swung what was left
of your life to the saddle horn and rode
away. His little daughter watched him leave
over and over in her sleep.
Her mother’s sister, her father’s brother,
her double cousin, taught her how to live.
Doll said, Pearl died having that singer’s son.
Manuel Romain wasn’t even with her.
Jeff said his brother may have been no good,
traipsing around with whores on Fort Smith’s Row,
but why did he have to leave now she’s dead,
his only child with a hole in her heart,
why go where he was not known, knew no one . . .
Young Tom said nothing. He held Effie close
when she wept. Men in that country,
no matter how young, felt what the women
permitted them to know they were feeling.
The singer would not look her up, she found
a place to stand in sparse crowds he would draw
in the small towns east and west of Fort Smith.
That’s how he found out they were dead and gone,
the love of his life and their stillborn son.
He looked down at her, she was not tall yet,
and she could see he wanted to hold her
and she knew she had been waiting to go
away with him on his horse, his guitar
on his back to strum while he sang
of an evening. Fireflies danced in the pine.
She knew her way home and knew she belonged
where the only people on earth who knew
her gave her succor. Manuel Romain kissed
the top of her head and rode out of there,
the last words he said to her were I loved
your mother, I love you, I always will . . .
(23 May 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander