He was a Sunday painter, Donald J.
Bonnington, M.D. He recommended
Thomas Wolfe’s “The Story of a Novel.”
Only writer he knew was Tom Dooley,
the Jungle Doctor his country called him,
Asians Doctor America.
Wolfe’s story of his Look Homeward, Angel,
was most likely meant to tell me what toil
I was in for, jolt me to consciousness.
When Bonnington mentioned Dooley, I thought
of the song of a twenty-two year old
hung for the murder of his fiancee
in North Carolina, where Wolfe came from
to die in New York the year I was born.
My grandmother’s father was from those hills,
routed out and herded west by soldiers.
He took a white man’s name, sired three children
with a Scots woman: my father’s mother’s
mother and the sister who mothered her
when her mother died and father left her
to go away to be free of his grief,
and a brother once among the richest
men in Fort Smith, Arkansas, his name
still in the sidewalk where his saloon was.
The novel I wrote remains unfinished.
It concerns my father’s matriarchal
manhood after his daddy was murdered.
I turned to a story Bonnington read,
called “Disappearances in Seattle.”
With my approval, he took it upstairs
where the head doctors sat in a circle
and asked if I knew a man named Roethke.
Does he write? Yes, among his other lives.
When spring came I was free to go. Irene was
still living in our town. We fucked. I worked.
I wrote. The notes from my expedition
were clear, I had learned only what was known.
No farm boy lived in Seattle who was
not transformed to dwell thereafter only
in cities. My orphaned friend disappeared
into prison long after a childhood
on the street, then stealing, pimping, pushing.
She who waited tables on graveyard shift,
and happy only when her husband was
out of town, disappeared with randy men:
we shared our beds with wild, unhappy wives.
Cathleen, whom I loved, would never marry
until she could bring with her a dowry
and disappear in this so-called city
where she plays piano with notes I put
to paper. She calls it painting music.
(8 January 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander