I revere tales my father told me to spare me
learning them on my own pulse. I have no children
and who would listen now, an age of emptiness
girdling the globe and the poor have only increased.
I was splitting a stump in his garage
the last day I saw him alive. And when he died
I kissed him on one cheek and knew he’d say, I’m dead.
As it was, I threw my back out wielding the adze.
For it was sculpture my father sought in his dreams
of bloody fingers from picking cotton so young
he should have been in school but his father was dead,
murdered in Sallisaw, his widow penniless
as all widows of tenant farmers . Still, there were
the mines where my father evolved into a mule
rather than remain a mole. Mule dragging the coal
up the tracks and all the way to the earth’s surface.
Invariably he woke riding the flatbed up
they rode down. Then all their coal-black faces emerged.
And one day he walked away and never returned.
The man for whom I was named, Floyce Been, was down there
in the mine exploding, my father surviving.
That was not the worst: He wanted me to tell him
why his mother and father could not get along,
not even loving seven children, two more born
to be buried one at a time next to his grave.
Having sired no children myself, how could I say
why they fought until a child was born and he left
to be alone with the sins he never confessed,
leaving behind the only book their children read,
the Bible containing family births and deaths.
He moved away from that God-forsaken country
starting over after the war with a homestead,
taming wild vineyards, building an auto garage
in his backyard, where he could be a boy again,
like he’d been when he happened not to be working
in the fields. With as many of his six brothers
strong enough to help him hike up the Model T’s
front wheels on a tree trunk, back wheels scotched with big rocks,
he worked until dark to resurrect the engine
from below, and day come again he bent over
the engine giving it gas to spark combustion,
all four wheels planted on the earth he also loved.
(19 November 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander