There were several ways of learning from Madame Ju-Ju–
you could stay with her night and day, go around with her,
come by for appointments to watch how she did her work,
take her place wearing a mask pretending you were her . . .
Adore did what you imagine, she asked Madame Ju-Ju over.
Mothers, womb weary or huerfana’s madre, don’t hesitate,
Madame Ju-Ju went to Adore’s little house and slept there
as long as it took for Adore to learn what she had to teach,
starting with the fingers, then the eyes, finally going afoot.
Between the hands and feet the eyes mastered the body.
You can’t see what’s inside if you don’t start from outside.
That made sense. Adore went all the way back to the start,
long before the little house and bird, way back to Africa,
she called it, feeling that way because she knew the music.
Madame Ju-Ju said she oughta go to Haiti to learn more.
Adore said I can’t swim that far, Mama. No, daughter,
I couldn’t either. Now stop the jokes and pay attention.
Adore would watch and then do what she’d seen done.
She said to Ira once, I can’t tell you anything you knew
already among those haints and hollows, the old women
with owl breath, eyes like a panther, know what I mean?
How did you know? he asked, she said she didn’t know:
I know you. And she did. Madame Ju-Ju was a long time
before Ira. Adore couldn’t know a lover from a fancy man
if not for Mama. Playing a horn like he did was the first
sign. You hang a chicken foot on the door and wait . . .
Among the men were the pimps of New Orleans, who fled
for their lives. You ask to sell my body, don’t expect to live.
Then the dope pushers, they were the easiest of all to feint
and get past, nor were the rich ones of any account at all.
They were all men and no more. Women came to her
for hidden things, all the true joys of women were under
the skin, only the loas could reach places not even a body
Adore had a friend with a wild Irish look
in her eyes. She liked to talk about what was real and what
was not. It all depends, Anne said, on what people want
to believe. When she was a girl, she talked to leprechauns,
but when she became a woman she knew she was talking
to herself. Now she believed nothing she could not swear
she’d lived with all the five senses spinning straw into one
tapestry she liked to call Memory. Adore tried her gris-gris
on Anne but no loa could reach what Anne knew was there.
She adored Adore. They went to drink at Tipitina’s, where
the music was all there was to hear if you didn’t come
prepared for conversation. Anne said, There were others,
so many others. If a story doesn’t fit your own experience
how would you know it’s so crazy you can’t make it up?
The unbelievable reality is what’s always true, Anne said.
Adore liked to call Anne Irish Mama. She said, Irish Mama,
there are women all over the South who grow up to be
the only sane ones in their families. You could be one,
you go downtown and what you thought you were after
was never what you found. You went ahead and did
what you felt like doing, you get so far out of your head
you never know what happened after. Irish Mama,
you have no kids, no man. Why not get to know the loas?
Anne asked if anyone could. Adore said, No, but you
will never know if you don’t try again and keep trying.
Irish Mama let Adore have her way. It turned out the way
they knew it would. It took so long it was unbelievable.
(6 June 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander