Reynolds didn’t care whether he was from the South. He did the best he could with what he had. Which was considerable. He went to college before the army and then after he got out. I didn’t know him then. But I knew his poetry, Ryoanji especially, that book with the famous Japanese rock garden on the cover. I didn’t like poetry, understand, at least not what I’d read until then. And I can’t remember how in hell I ever found the book, I must have been walking in the woods, looked down, and there it was, soaked in dew, maybe even rained on, and I had to let it dry out in sunshine before I could make out the words. It would’ve helped to ‘ve read some good poems before then, but I hadn’t had that kind of time, I was always doing odd jobs for people who had no idea what a poem was let alone a whole book of them. Then I happened to meet him in Roanoke, he was reading from his book in a store there, I saw the poster and decided to go. He was a little guy, wiry, quick witted, full of opinions about things I had never heard of, names especially, Borges, Cummings, somebody else whose name started with P, Poe maybe, or Paz. I asked him what by them I might read, and he just looked at me, sizing me up before answering, Read whatever you can find, this is oral culture up here, books are few and far between, but I suspect you know that. I did. I was young enough to feel deprived, though. Nobody cared if I read anyway. All they wanted was a hard day’s work that was worth the money they paid me.
Here I was, in the city of dreams, some called it. The woman beside me said her name was Blanche. I knew a lot of women named Blanche. She had helped me sleep and I asked if she would stay if I could find work here to pay our bills. She said she’d work too. Blanche left the hotel room first, said she’d come back to the lobby and wait as long as she needed. She was going to find a waitressing job, she said, she had left her family back there, she didn’t say where, but wherever it was she had been very unhappy there, she told me that much.
When I went down to the wharf to ask for work as a stevedore I thought about Ruby and then about Delia. Somewhere they were both here, or I thought they must be by now. The boss said they could try me out for a day, there was a guy didn’t show up this morning, he added. I had to get back in shape, I was flabby with the idle life, and working in the mountains never took the exertion I needed to feel stronger. So I stayed that day and the boss said for me to come back the next. This Mexican guy and me hit it off so we had a drink at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop before going our separate ways.
Blanche was waiting in the lobby and looked better than ever to me. We told the guy at the desk we would stay another night and she paid for the room just like she had the previous night. After we went to bed and were rested we went out to eat and damned if I didn’t nearly run into Ruby walking with Delia on Tchoupitoulas Street, but I turned into Blanche and embraced her in a long kiss, she was caught by surprise but delighted, and when I knew I had not been seen I started to continue the walk but Blanche took me aside and in an alley we rubbed against one another and fondled each other under our clothes and finally we were okay to walk again. I knew I should never have started something this serious.
(25 October 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander