Tuesday, June 12, 2012

True Blues

Bonnington wondered how Bobby would make
a living. Anna didn’t worry, but Paul did.
Bobby went to see Christina
who told him mamas don’t worry
until they know nothing else does the trick.
She started showing him how to mix drinks.
She knew more than most women, so she taught.
. . . but he did not learn. He saw no need.

He’d pour beer at Black and Tan if need be.
She could lure another swain to tend bar
for the criminal class or whoever
hired and paid the help at the New Congress,
she could have him share her bed, the same one,
Bobby would no longer be compliant,
let the need be hers alone, love was not easy,
he could give his heart away anyway.

Jealous bastard, I am, and growing worse:
who needs me to give her what my father
taught her, only he would know what she may
never comprehend, as much older than her
as Bobby is than Paula. Wracked feelings
in the rainy air, tensions returning–
how the quartet was better without him,
though he returned and worked with Rose,

who taught him what it was to sing true blues.
You had to get your feelings out from down
where they were deeper than words, dig them up,
haul them to the surface to be sifted,
a second time combed through to find what words
remain like rocks in the dirt of dead hearts,
a shale of sound in the air, music that is song,
the true blues archaeological site.

It is work he’s suited for. His mother would know
her son. Sweep of long red hair, painted nails,
open-toed sandals, sans bra, eschewing panties,
her high-legged body sashaying lazily
from man to man after Danny took back Bobby
for whom Henrietta received nothing.
After all, wasn’t she the one who paid the dues
he thrust inside her womb? asking for a receipt.

Bobby wants to drain the swamp and find her
if she’s dead or where she is if alive.
Now Tony plays piano when he sings
and Rose goes with Dave on their long nights off,
long to her there’s so much scar on her face to fill.
Tony plays piano when Bobby sings for her.
Laurie no longer comes. Tony drives here.
When Bobby starts drinking Tony drives him.

Bobby writes nothing, the nights grow too long.
Days go by, the weeks pass, Paula goes off
to classes. Bobby invariably misses,
and when someone asks her why he’s like this
she tells him and he promises to quit.
And does. Stone sober, he edits copy. Gets paid
for a day here, a day there, but he hates
reading other people, he may as well go back,

and does, returning to classes, to keep
that regimen, telling the paper’s editor
he needs to cut back, take leave, whatever
the boss can swing, and is out of a day job then,
exactly what he expected for leveling,
his reward, but why did he think–he didn’t think–
he would hear, Sure, Bobby, we don’t want to lose you,
go do that year full time and get back here,

meanwhile we will try to find someone who can fill
your indispensable big shoes. That was a laugh.
Paula tried to commiserate.
She did not laugh when he laughed, nor was there a smile.
She said, There is nothing I would not do for you.
She took him to bed and they loved,
and both slept better, they each said, and at the end
of such a lovely week he proposed they marry.

He was writing again but for class had to read
other people’s stuff just the same.
He started cutting corners. Paula shared a beer,
they passed a joint back and forth before bedtime.
After they make love, they lie on their backs
discussing the future. He will get a good job
on a paper and pay her way through school.
What else can a writer do for money but write?

Paula told Bobby to listen to his own head.
If he didn’t know by now he absolutely
loves her with every bone and stretched canvas
of skin between them, he would still look long at her
to feed from her eyes, as far as his gaze can reach–
trying and discarding worn words like marvelous,
fabulous, glorious, and others just as bad,
which include indescribable, and bewitching,

fifty dollar polysyllabic throwaways
that will not do. They need to be exact.
He looks into her eyes as he listens
to her soft but I-mean-what-I-say voice.
Many nights now, more than before,
they make love and sit naked together.
He puts on a record and sings the songs
and finds new words that were never there.

They sip from the same bottle of Bushmill
or Jameson. She starts singing, her voice
soprano but not alto, baritone not bass.
Such nimble rising and falling range
puts him in mind of Rose, whose voice
gathers speed to go as high as Paula’s,
who is not yet able to go as low as Rose,
who works so much harder to find such heights.

Her passion has an edge that makes him think
of the way Rose sings what she calls true blues.
One night, in Black and Tan, he asks Paula
if she will sing if he plays clarinet. She sings.
At that lonely time between sundown and twilight,
he’s writing of Henrietta Murphy
imagining what Danny’s friend Claude knows.
Then he takes it upon himself to go find out.

(28 May, 12 June 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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