Bobby went too long before meeting her.
They should have loved when he knew art
was the way to learn how to make this life
out of the work of art he was with her
and she with him, but how could they go on?
They were beginning when he woke one day
wondering how he would make a living
now that his education was over.
Paula loved pieces of knowledge, wisdom,
and music that came from below, above,
and what she refused she attempted first
by looking at everything from both sides.
And when she was tempted to go away
she went as far as she could from childhood,
even if trouble lay up the road from her
and at the place of her destination.
He was hired to edit copy for a paper.
He was bored by reading what others wrote.
He took too long away from the office.
Word was he was working on a story.
He left his desk empty, went out the door.
The longer he stayed away the more they,
the others, spoke for him, in his defense,
until sick to death of himself he quit.
Bobby stayed home writing about his friends,
giving them new names drawn from their actions,
as though they fathered and mothered themselves
guiding them nowhere they could ever flee.
He knew he was inventing life and death.
He found in himself what to give others.
They knew what he was doing and they fled.
That was how each one of them found music.
Bobby worked as many hours as he slept.
Paula went to class, made dinner, made love
to put him to sleep, then loved the silence
in the bungalow, reading books required
but she loved what they had to say and stayed
with each story until she reached its end.
She suspected it would be up to her
to find a way they could live in this world.
He was writing poems. He understood
a novel would take from him everything
he could dream, hoping he woke from nightmares,
knowing there was never a way to learn
what he needed to know but the hard way,
he who had let poetry devour him.
There was a city buried in his head,
or part of one, what he must excavate.
He had thought too much about what was done.
How he loved her, how he hoped she would love
the unknown that was all he offered her.
He kept going, started graduate school
with the tentative promise he could write
what he had to write. A new scholarship
for a poor boy who could play clarinet
and sing, music a door through poverty.
Paula loved him for what he was doing.
He kept working when he wasn’t sleeping.
He knew he was selfish. He didn’t like
to read what the others wrote, to say words
about their words, but it was the one way
to keep working when he wasn’t sleeping.
He went to sleep after she had loved him.
He woke her by loving her when she asked.
He went to The Blue Moon, among the lost
and found, the professor the McCarthy era
ruined, the young he listened to and talked to
at his table. And there were those for whom
the ghost of Roethke mounted a barstool
with the Milton scholar, Stein, and Bluestone
adapting Melville’s Bartleby.to film.
There, Roethke’s ghost communed with the living.
By closing time, Bobby was home, in bed.
Paula woke to ask if he was happy.
Why talk about what made them both happy?
They returned to the stage at Black and Tan.
Paula sang her blues better than ever.
He got his lip back in shape for the reed.
They did okay until Dave came with Rose
one night after their gig at New Congress.
They sat listening to the last set end.
Dave said he and Rose were asking for help.
Bobby said they were both going to school.
Where would they find time to be anywhere
but here and where they had to be?
Dave said Rose and he and DG had work
downtown, on contract, a month at a time,
in the club Henrietta was the star.
If Tony would take over piano,
would Bobby play clarinet, Paula sing?
They agreed to try it for the first month.
If it all worked out, Bobby said Sanchez
would have to find a singer and reed man
to spell them so they could both stay in school.
They had only worked Black and Tan half time.
Dave said he’d make the offer, Sanchez accepted.
In bed in the bungalow and happy
as ever, she had no new intentions,
nor did he. Good intentions meant nothing.
Christina still worked in her hip-high hose,
Bobby was tempted and he slept with her.
He wanted to tell Paula but didn’t.
He stayed after work, she missed him until
heartsick, she left. Love’s animal poleaxed.
Bobby worked all night. He wrote the novel
he was imagining he might have lived.
Yeats said a poet must choose between perfection
of the life or of the work. Bobby knew
his life was not material enough
for the novel he needed to write now
so he could write what he wanted later.
No need to say he had it all backwards.
Paula came back for her things and Anna
and Paul found out why. They had loved Bobby,
the son they could never have of their own,
but now they loved Paula more. They wanted
her to stay. She needed what they offered.
She ignored Bobby when he was playing.
Paula sang only the songs she wanted.
She still had her kit: needle and syringe.
(18 June, 7 July 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander