Once upon a generation
grace under pressure
was what Gertrude Stein
taught her liege Hemingway.
to be in the thrall of,
and told him to go to Spain,
which would be everywhere to him
even if he denounced her
before squeezing the trigger
after he forgot.
Bobby was living across the street
from Connie’s place of work.
He picked up the ringing phone
and said into the receiver,
Long Acres, his rendering of LA,
the prefix of his number.
Is Grace there? An elderly woman’s voice,
whose apology shamed him
for taking advantage of her
to chide her without her knowledge.
Surely some practical things should be said.
Men returning from Vietnam
said death was the sure ticket home.
Friends brought back marijuana from Saigon,
filling little Diamond match boxes,
opium in flammable balls
on sticks you held to inhale.
It was nothing like fishing in rivers
on the way over the Pyrenees
to Pamplona’s corridas.
What was courage but grace under pressure?
Papa did not ask. Staying high,
you stayed alive. Back in the world
it was easy to continue to follow your fate
as the myth of homecoming
unravelled its ritual lies under the apex
of a double rainbow’s arc. At home, walk
at night to be alone. Above, stars eluded
clouds the moon companioned. Your gait
equaled their silvery legato of dancing.
It was then he first stopped the dope,
the drinking. This life was as good
as you made it. As good as his life’s loves,
Cathleen, Earlene, Melindra . . .
–and were there others still alive
inside his brain’s faint notations?
Friends said Indochina was boot camp.
Bobby believed grace was the secret
in finding the few, most accurate words
to complete the details concealed
in a loom’s weave, fabric the three sisters
spin, choose, and cut according to the earth’s
turning, so that the longest way round
is the shortest way home (Joyce, Ulysses).
Words Bobby will carry through his life
with silence, exile and cunning
and the young man’s vow to redeem
the Irish race from the Catholic Church,
Joyce was a game old cocksman,
Nora Barnacle never made eyes at other men.
His eyes would fade but Joyce took nothing for all
he gave relentlessly, with generosity.
Night after night he filled Nora’s body with his.
You trust you will grow old enough
to learn to walk your own unmapped ground.
It would be raining as it had rained in Paris.
Bobby St. Clair woke with Melindra Collins,
tires in Seattle rain a chorus of kettle drums.
She caressed him, pulling him on top of her.
They began their days the way they ended.
He liked to think her desire to heal his body
was the love he never had and nearly missed.
(25-26 and 30 March 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander