Thursday, May 17, 2012
1. A Child and His Dog
I was walking my dog looking for trucks in time to get out of the way.
Here came one, my dog yanked on its leash (he is not a she, she is not
a he, he is a dog as a cat is no more than a cat after the mother’s spayed,
the father neutered; all are confined behind the window as I write of
what I know–even I am behind the window that draws me into the air).
Where I grew up in the country I walked a mile to and from my school.
My dog bolted through the fields to greet me on the highway shoulder,
a truck was coming, he was running too fast to stop in time, the trucker
stopped and put us both in the truck, drove us home, lay my dog down
on the grass and held my boyhood head in his arms but I did not weep
until he was gone. I dreamed I was walking my dog, he was looking out
for trucks, he was back in my dream, where he is so poised he can stop
as he falls and thrown into the cattails growing above the swampy water
I gather him in my arms and carry him weeping all the way to our home
(11 May 2012)
2. Leaving Childhood
Among the rituals of birth, life, age, and death
there are these bulls brought in to breed cows,
the tongs wielded when needed to extricate new
born calves; hogs fed a year, bullets put through
their brains, their throats cut and guts removed,
then hung from the hay derrick as long as it takes
for the blood to drain; hand swinging the rooster
by his neck until his body alone flops in the yard,
his feathers drenched with boiling water, plucked,
hens clucking in the yard to rouse their champion
to no avail; the cows milked into pails carried up
many short steps without spilling, cream skimmed
and let set for as long as it takes and the milk too
as long as it takes to chill in the icebox my mother
stores everything in that feeds herself, my father,
and the boy I am becoming, leaving my childhood.
I did not know the man whose bulls bred our cows.
The old man who owned the derrick shot himself.
My father’s arm separated the bodies from necks.
I milked the cows mornings and nights, first thing
and last. Then, under the yard light, I hung a tire
over hay bales to hurl a baseball through its center.
I could do nothing to prepare myself for football
save make love and more love with Irene everywhere.
I played clarinet, wishing I could play alto sax.
Very young, I drew faces. They sat in the house.
Later, I drew horses. The girl in the desk in front of me
invited me to ride with her, how I lost my innocence.
Her body was very expert for her years still so few.
I was never in love with her. I loved Irene, who loved
very well, and broke into Spanish when she came
home with me to the only home we would ever have.
(II: 11 May 2012)
3. Before I Go:
1. A Burial
Before I go I dig a house in the pasture,
drag a slab of wood shingled green
to seal the one room entered from side
to side, shovelfuls of sod pitched out
to go brown. I pioneer in my Dakotas.
I hunt crows and fish for carp. I grow.
I do not comprehend My Antonia now,
I love the words but not the story.
It is too sad even for a growing boy,
especially since I am still so very young.
When I grow old I will love her novels.
When I grow old I will sit and write this
once and for all: how all the cats, wild
under the barn’s false floor, caught plague
and died. I did not want my father to know
and one night hauled by the moonlight
their little corpses in our only wheelbarrow,
dragged away the slab to bury them there.
They resembled the war dead heaped high,
there were so many. I did not want to count
my dead. As always, I saved the sod for last.
You remember the way the dirt moved
their bodies gently, how they moved back
and forth until they were gone from sight.
(III: 11 May 2012)
I’m so little then I can hardly see over
the counter my mother mixing drinks
while my father’s in Wichita working
for Boeing and Roosevelt, versus Japs
and Nazis. I’m too young to say words
I shouldn’t. I know now I imitated life
finding sleep with a pencil in my hand.
Draw me, people said over their drinks.
It was too dark. For Whom the Bell Tolls,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jungle
Jim and Tarzan and Flash Gordon each
Saturday, I held my breath but not long,
I looked through the slits of my fingers
when Quasimodo rescued Esmeralda,
breathed easy when Jordan blew up
the bridge and sacrificed to the cause
his life, the same one I heard in church
asked to be crucified for all humanity
to be free. What a strange way to die,
to be free. Was my father, my mother?
Were the ants? busy in the empty lot
between our houses, Carol’s and mine.
Was she? Her brother kept her busy
telling her what to do. An only child,
I tried to tell her I knew how she felt.
The men brought their sisters home
and their sisters brought them home
when they were all drunk, my mother
ending her shift by picking me up and
taking me home where we slept nights
we were not in Wellington’s only theater
together, waiting for my father’s arrival.
Once my grandma was gone, still where
she lived below where we had once been
in Arkansas before Pearl Harbor, I was
waiting to arrive when the war was over,
she was rocking in front of her window
watching convoys go by as she always did
when all her sons had gone to the theaters
called Europe and Pacific. She wondered
without saying to anyone but me, Will they
be back someday? Yes, grandma, they will.
I look back now. I think she must thought
at least my father and her son who stayed
with her would be here to take the slack
in her heart’s skin and caress back to life
her long widowhood. We were going north
to see the Pacific Ocean, my father said.
My mother was happy with a sigh of relief
she could be a mother and a mother only
now my father would build his homestead
the way he dreamed it in their courtship.
There are so many stories to tell before
I go. I would start before I was born.
I would write one after the other like wind
in the little tree in Wellington I climbed
after Bambi and there! filling the streets
were the people celebrating an end to war
in Europe! I never heard about the bomb.
I did not know the bomb would be forever.
(IV: 11 May 2012)
3. Robert Rufus
"When grief and shock surpass endurance
there occur phases of exhaustion of anesthesia
in which relatively little is felt and one has the
illusion of recognizing and understanding
a good deal."
–James Agee, A Death in the Family
Before I go I will try to tell the story
of my older brother, Robert Rufus,
whose story I should not even know
except for the snakes, the holy rollers
and bright windows he’s said to recall
in heaven where Mama still calls him
Bobby. Even God needs a secretary
like Mark Twain had his amanuensis.
That’s the job Bobby got, so I saw what
once I could only dream. When Bobby
was born in 1936 he could see already
what was coming before his two months
of life elapsed. I could only imagine
what James Agee gave up to compose
A Death in the Family. His daddy died
when Agee was six. It was Rufus whose
daddy took him to all the Charlie Chaplin
that came to their Knoxville movie house.
In the never-finished novel Rufus shows
what happens after your father is killed
on his way home. All of it you never read,
Agee waited too late to start. Mama took
Bobby’s baby clothes in his blue trunk
with her when she left the round earth.
You can end sooner than others begin.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is what
I will read aloud to my brother Bobby,
Mama insists he still be called. He’ll say,
You’re my brother I didn’t stick around
long enough to meet. I read him poetry
Agee made prose. Three Tenant Families,
1936, the year Bobby also died. Agee was
with Walker Evans in Alabama. How far
from Oklahoma? where our daddy’s youth
went unfulfilled under the hundred-pound
sacks of cotton his bleeding fingers picked.
They harvested their share and the owner’s.
That’s poetry, Bobby says. He should know.
He sees everything from here, even angels
with bent backs, lines in their sweat-filled
hands mixed with the earth’s soil, faces
turned toward a long gaze looking back
from sunup to sundown, a moon’s glow
the eyes of night watching over them
like children, old people, the damned
of this world, who never go anywhere.
(V: 11 May 2012)
4. Irene Castenada: Mi padre, mi madre . . .
My brief football career burned rubber in the parking lot.
Stick shift, pop the clutch, floorboard it to catch speed up
in your arms. She moved close, then closer with every risk:
white boy with brown girl who cared more than any other
what did or did not happen to the one she called mi amor.
I celebrate her in these poems as though they hunted her
through towns, in cities, across mountains, in the hills, south
as far as Mexico, where she said she needed to go to be free.
I did not ask why, I knew from the purple chunks of coal
left in my father’s skin, the scars of sorrow my mother bore.
They both loved her. They are dead now. She stayed here
when I left to live in the city Seattle, where she was once
with me, but then no more. She had long legs, her body lithe,
her breasts small, her hips like her heart warm, welcoming,
on her cheek the mole she called ugly. She was so beautiful
she still is, I pray. She gave me love and we learned together:
there is no greater gift shared between a man and woman
when they are boy and girl, even though they part. Her padre
spoke no English, her madre ill; she restored them with love.
Here, I am shackled by sin. She comes to my cell nightly to be
with me. My dreams are without chains. I think of Goya’s
Prisionero straining against the links of iron around his legs
and arms. Where had he begun? Why was he here? Would
he die here, quedarse con la lucha sin fin . . . She was there,
la maja, who was no longer his or anyone’s, desnuda o vestida;
en Los Caprichos un viejo, ciego y sordo pero con imaginacion.
Each Friday night, sleek with her love, I ran with great abandon
to fell and wrest the ball from the foe’s hands and hand it off
to my friend, cuerpo como un toro, going the other way, a victoria.
(12 May 2012)
5. My Village
when I was a boy
was no warmer than
my village as a man.
Nor was it cold
like now . . . but why?
Maybe it was Mary
after her horse,
and I her
lay back and let me.
It was her that day,
no doubt, but never
a question, only
the answer . . .
and my first love
there was nothing,
not even a nod
one or either
to the other.
The next day, Irene
Castenada’s . . .
For my father I worked
For my mother I worked
For myself I worked,
with Irene: in a chain
warehouse, in a canning
chain, corporations now.
How convenient the link
to the village between
rattlesnakes and horses.
Irene and I rode horses
but not like horses,
we loved anywhere
like a woman and a man
above those hills
to finally see where
each of us would go . . .
(15 May 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander