Wednesday, October 31, 2012


"A man stripped of his privacy may die of loneliness. . . . In order to be able to do anything one must relinquish control" (two unattributed quotations, copied by Diane Arbus in her 1964 appointment book; see Revelations, p. 171).

The stars were nightsongs.
Heaven fell out of the sky.
She had earth to hold her,
her body weighed down
by her restless fingers
entwining what she saw.
Carlotta in her slip, light
curtained, hand to throat,
peering into the open lens.
My, she is pretty, Diane writes.
Underwear for Harper’s Bazaar
unpublished. A call girl said,
I’m in love with love. I love
to please. I could smother
someone with love.
writes down what she said,
which takes care of control
and saves a man from death
by loneliness. Don’t you wish
heaven was still in the sky?

The pictures grow lifesize,
Diane tells Carlotta. Closeups
prevail. Like making people,
she adds. Carlotta gives birth
to a son in her husband’s arms
in Holland. The stars blink
the code meant for lullabies.
Carlotta’s brain surgery yields
two holes drilled in her head
in Holland. Diane’s photo
of four-year-olds, a black girl
and white boy holding hands,
goes unpublished in the Times
Children’s Fashions. The girl
and boy on the cover are white,
but it’s hers. Otherwise she’s free.

She is learning to live alone:
"Partly, it seems a matter of
severing connections in my head,"
she writes Carlotta after long silence.
"Like if I do this that will happen,
because sometimes it does
and sometimes it doesn’t
and I have spent a lot of energy
exercising non-existent magical
controls. . . . I have so much
to learn about how to live."
Six months twenty-six days left.
Carlotta is in New York, about
to go back to Holland. Diane
rides her bike over, ten days left.
Next day Carlotta returns to Holland.

Diane alone, home: "I used to think
consciousness itself was a virtue,
so I tried to keep it all in my head
at the same time, past, future etc.
tried even to feel the bad
when I felt good and vice versa
as if any awareness was
a marie-antoinette sort of sin.
its like throwing ballast overboard
to only do what there is to do NOW.
a kind of confidence that later
will bring its own now . . .
It makes Sunday more Sunday
and even Monday is better . . ."

(For references and quotations throughout the text, see, in the order they appear here, the following pages: 171, 170, 187, 194, 207, 206, 212, 214, and 224.)

(II: 31 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander, and 2003 by the Estate of Diane Arbus

So It Is

Words said with eyes closed
pay out in a line straight as true.

How else know the city lies far
from the country, dirt’s flesh, and bone
the earth’s. Far off lie the castles.

For the rich the money makers
make money from the money of the rich.
Camels prepare them for the needles’ eyes.
A needle sees them through: how some make it.

Children feeling doomed are most to be feared.
Locked in, locked out, there is no in-between,
sorrows, ecstasies frozen at the planet’s poles.
The young grow old too quickly to know why
those who called them holy wracked them with fear.

These words fell from a blind tongue. Both eyes shut
could not see where they were to take them back.
So it is. Ice melts, seas rise, blizzards rip
the globe until Earth’s turning stops.
Fathers enslaving mothers with children,
children killing children–all God’s phantoms.

(31 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And After, If Ever

God take them all,
I don’t like to cuss
(she was superstitious),
I don’t believe in hell
anywhere but here,
but they don’t get my share.

(She was old now, dying.
This didn’t take the cake,
not at all, Abe’s murder
happened just before
the worst storm she’d seen
come up in the cotton field.)

I’ll see them go unraised.
(I was too little to listen long,
wish I had now I’m damn near
as old as her.) Tell your pa
he needs to teach you things
I tried to show all my boys.

(She meant you did no favor
to you or any of your kin
if you settled for hating.
She got down the rattle
and shook it good.
Gourd set fire to bones . . . )

It was all over, except for me.
I had my granddaddy’s ear.
He sat back making music.
The wind that was up
died down. I asked him
if a storm was ever over.

(Drusilla read my thoughts:
You’re too little to know that.)
He lived too far away to know.
He let his hair hang long.
Grandpa John stared a hole
in the fire, his eyes stirring ashes.

I could hear the hush all around
sounding like some sleeping beast.
(She didn’t flinch from silence,
louder ceremony than any storm.)
I had to say I hope those two die
someday, and the whore too.

And one night Abe’s killers smashed
into rocks, catching fire by the road
we were driving, Clyde and I,
and passing Diddier’s outdoor
ballroom, we saw the woman
who like both her men was charred.

(I got home before the storm quit
years later, took to the basement, said
World without end over and again,
Cathleen pointing her red toes straight
ahead, crouching over her knees.
I waited to blow her lips my wet kiss.)

(II: 30 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


"When I make money from a photograph, I immediately assume it’s not as good a photograph."–Diane Arbus (quoted by Patricia Bosworth in her Diane Arbus, p. 198)

From West Virginia hollow
to the Block off Baltimore Street,
with black hair, black eyes,
she’s got her own Two O’Clock Club,
done now with Bourbon Street's Sho-Bar
and Louisiana governor Long.
Blaze Starr in Nighttown, 1964.
What would James Joyce say?
That little woman’s big camera.
Fannie Belle shines a tit
covered over for Esquire.
Wearing Earl’s fur coat: part
of her act. Left hand perched,
thumb down cradling her bare hip,
right arm behind her hair,
naked save for sequined pasties
and rhinestone panties.
At home she strikes a pose
on her living room rug,
its design a furious thatch
of leaves, manicured white poodle
between her and the Buddha,
in her white-sweatered breasts
and skintight pants
with high-heel toeless pumps,
her right hand’s arm still back
of that head of hair,
her left hand poised, placed
between hip and thigh,
forefinger pointing up, beatified.
If only you could hear the beat
she struts to, barely a stitch on–
Fannie Belle Fleming
from Newground Hollow,
Twelve Pole Creek–who’s now
Nighttown girl come home
wild as ever, yet with her self-
respect intact, saying, Mama,
I told you I’d make you proud.

(30 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, October 29, 2012

Love's Skin

"Contact Sheet #4457 of a couple on a couch." In one of a dozen shots, "Diane is lying across the man’s lap in place of the woman" (undated; see Diane Arbus, Revelations, p. 180).

If she wants to know them, she must be one.
Since she’s the woman, she asks to lie
in the man’s arms. She stretches naked
across his knees. Is the woman amused
by Diane Arbus, her attempt to become her?
Why would Dee-ann want to take the place
this woman’s earned? Does the man want her,
or will she be spared having to say no?
The man’s naked lover puts the camera down.
She smokes, then cups one breast as she brushes
its nipple hard, crossing then uncrossing her legs.
She’d like the photographer to get up now
and let her have her man back, now she
knows how to play her, how it feels to touch
what will be seen on film following this
fol-de-rol that goes hand in glove with love.
Who broods the woman’s white, the man black?
In eleven shots they show love’s deeper.

(II: 29 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


The big demon hit.
The devils let it.
You can’t be little
and not know big.
She sees nothing
nobody else sees.
She thinks all see
what they want to.
She hunkered in
to shelter. Signs
were a bird bent
against the wind,
the dogs roaming
the countryside,
a chorus of voices
shut down, silenced.
The fear on the air
was on her tongue
making no words
easy, as obdurate
as dread, a hush
nobody knows
or will ever know
who was not here.

(29 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Then there are the devils.
There are always more than one
and they are not the same as the demons.
They kill wherever they go,
no one is spared. They are
the devils who sup on power.
They find you in the grave and rip
your flesh from your bones,
they rend so even dead your agony
has no end. They are inside.
Demons are outside.
Drusilla wondered what to say
after Pearl told her all
she needed to know: Be careful, but don’t
skip a breath or let one pass by
without reaching with your heart.
Drusilla went off and prayed.
She knew the words you need.
They are in no language you know
that doesn’t come from half your mother.

(28 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, October 27, 2012


The night the windows blew open
in her dream.
She reached for the love she had had
and what there was now.
There the demons with no eyes
and too many hands.
A wax face melted. Stone eyes then.
Each time she woke and slept again.
Is this what the ocean was?
Agitation without end?
Were there demons trapped in the tides?
Were they the fish who never swam?
Drusilla came to lie beside her.
Drusilla laved her mother back to dream
the land was dust again, and rain’s
tattoo on the corrugated tin roof.
The day kept up the clouds. It stormed.
There was only one demon:
walking as high as the sky
across the horizon, dancing, spinning.

(27 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, October 26, 2012

How They Looked

(They looked like what? you ask.
I say I don’t know, I wasn’t there,
all I have are photographs.
She has one taken in Tahlequah,
Oklahoma. She does not smile.
She doesn’t have to, you see
nothing she sees, who doesn’t know
or can dream you or me.
But there I go, thinking I know . . .
She’s seventeen or eighteen.
I showed a friend the picture,
who said, Isn’t she a pretty thing?
He didn’t know he made me angry.
He was my friend, you understand.
I have a photo of her sister, Doll.
She’s older, wearing a dress
whose fringes fly as she moves,
smiling, mugging for the camera
obscura, as we found it was called
back east late in the nineteenth century.

Of the men they married, Pearl’s Frank,
Doll’s Jeff, the Clifft brothers,
both were tall, Welshmen
as different as night and day,
as one raised hell and the other a son.
Frank was hard rain and Jeff the sun.
That doesn’t help you see them,
I know. It’s hard when all you see
are words maybe no one said then.
Drusilla said them but couldn’t spell.
Her cousin Tom I did meet once or twice.
He was not as tall as her. She loved him
like a brother. "Double cousins,"
she claimed, "are closer than brother
and sister." She said Manuel Romain
sat his horse in this photo too far off
to make out his features. He’s dark,
Drusilla said her mother wanted him
to move where she could live with him.
She died before she could go down there.

Drusilla kept under glass some songs
he wrote in long, looping, cursive letters.
I always thought the rise and curve,
the fall and the flat line were guides
to how the song should sound,
but she said her mother loved
the way you’d think his songs
were made up as he went along,
though she saw every one on paper
backed by tablet covers taped on
to keep them safe from the weather.
Drusilla said her mama wanted
to go to New Orleans to see
where he lived, but wanted more
to live with him wherever he was
the rest of their lives.
Pearl rode horses as well as any man,
and after she was dead her brother Tom
stole a horse for his only son Walter
and died in the McAlester state pen.

Better than being hung by the neck
from a tree only the buzzards knew.
Drusilla’s words, who never quoted Pearl
except to use words anyone could say.
There was a grove of trees midway
between the two farms and off
to one side so they were not between
the two houses and that way she waved
back to cousin Tom when he did.
Pearl said they hung a man once
out there. Drusilla added his skin
was darker than Manuel’s.
Pearl was darker than Drusilla
and small like her father’s people,
though her brother Tom was not.
I wanted to know what he looked like.
When she told me all I could see
were the mountains in the distance,
their blue touching everything
above and all else below.)

(26 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Mother Pearl

I went with her everywhere she would go,
always to the town where he was playing.
After the first meeting they were lovers,
as Yankees like to say. He paid her court
like a young man, which he was, loving her
upstairs in hotels in the towns he played.
He welcomed her daughter, me. I loved his
music. The old-time tunes, and the new ones
he wrote himself and played on his guitar.
Manuel Romain. His horse, guitar, and Pearl.

(Peralee Taylor Clifft, they’d call her now.
Drusilla stayed with Pearl, her Mama love,
small, pretty, barely a woman, married young,
nineteen, twenty now, maybe twenty-one;
Drusilla later, Pearl dead, could not say.
When her father was home, he fought with her
over his daughter. Her temper flared, flamed.
Pearl was like her brother Tom, who fought off
drunks playing up to Lily with stories
of love thwarted, money gone: Lil, love me . . .)

I remember the first time he took her
up the stairs, she looked back, blew me a kiss
and was there until dark fell and I stayed
by the hotel running after fireflies.
When she called me he had the team ready
to take us back home. He rode his horse there,
looked after us, Huntington to Mansfield,
unhooked the horses and put the buckboard
with them in the barn. But he never stayed
past midnight. He begged her to come with him.

(Well, not begged exactly, he was a man
who kept his feelings quiet, but Pearl knew
why he wrote his songs and traveled around
to perform. He was what he had in him,
that stayed inside her long after his love
stirred hers and they climbed higher together,
their breath rose and fell, they moved back and forth,
the thin air sucked out of the room they thought
was there, with the sweat, the smell of bodies,
one pouring into the other love’s brine.)

I loved them both so much I wanted him
to take us away from Mansfield, with him
to New Orleans, where he said he lived,
his house waiting for her not if but when
she took me with her there to live in peace,
he liked to say, knowing what we went through
and why we did not stay home when he came
to a nearby town, always to see her
and gather money he had to live on
between times they were making the baby.

(25 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There Was

this place in the pine I went to be by myself,
what you call alone, dust settling quiet,
your kind of silence, a tongue stopped talking,
birds starting up and as quickly stopping
with rustling in the grass between the trees
sounding everywhere and nowhere at once . . .
I didn’t have to listen but I heard the sun
caressed by the wind, its yellow ripple and flow
down the bellies of clouds to touch my skin.
I could be any animal I wished,
I was that young. I walked on all four legs
though two were hands where I should have had feet.
All that was before I started thinking.
I thought I could live out there forever
and did until I heard the far-off call
to come home, Drusilla, come home . . .
Where there were no paths I made one
walking to and fro, from dawn into dusk
because no one knew where I was,
the earth was green and my dry soul fruitful.
But you did not know for you never asked.
You had no time, beloved, nor did I
know any answers to the keen questions
of how to grow by sleeping and eating
and harvesting what the land had to yield.
No, I knew only what you called a spell.
What you taught me to learn the words to say
and once they were out it became too late,
the day crawling into its cave called night.
This house smelled of skin you wrapped around me.
When you kissed my lips you were my mother.
I once woke from my father’s bellowing.
When I wandered to where the sound was
quiet he was what you said was called gone.
You said for good. I knew good never lasts.
I was always growing and changing fast.
Once you taught me how to please the moon man.
Roll on your back with your two legs lifted
to let him go inside where his bright face
looks deep down to the source of you and me.

(24 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hawthorne in Arkansas

Walked barefoot across the highway between Drusilla’s and the Brashears’ house.
Jimmy Brashears brought out his deck of Authors, and we played
our version of what the girls called Old Maids. At least once I recall Hawthorne
was part of the winning hand. I can’t remember a card for Emily Dickinson.
Then we picked up persimmons and threw them as far as we could.
Jimmy won, but I improved. I threw a lot of rocks when I was off on my own.
Drusilla came out–she was walking without a cane–and said for me to stop.
I loved her so much I dropped the rock where I stood and ran to her
and kissed her and followed her inside. She sat me down and told me a story.
It was about a man who left his family and moved across the street,
where he watched to see who left the house and who entered and wrote down
their names. He left his hair and beard uncut. Nobody knew who he was
when he went to his wife’s funeral. He stood up and announced who he was.
Nobody believed him. Her husband had left home long ago and must be dead.
He ran to the coffin about to be lowered and threw himself across it
pleading to be forgiven. Men came up to him and told him the woman was dead.
They led him away and he was let out of jail next day, he went back to watch
the door. Once he could have sworn he saw himself entering through the door.
I asked her who the people were. Were they real? She said everyone is real.
It was your grandaddy, I was the woman, it was a dream my mother taught me.

(23 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, October 22, 2012


When the polestar equals the jasmine’s scent,
a caress of planets sheds meteors.
Where stars thread the constellations’ alleys
sheer ice braids auroras in their descent.

We would work all day without knowing what
night would clutch between its pitch-dark talons.
Restless bodies stirred as our sad minds slept.
Morning, noon, quitting time, you were my wine.

I was a poor boy and you a poor girl.
Our bodies warmed our bed when night turned cold.
Our love was our only wealth in this world.
Callused fingers with dirt under our nails.

Nothing lasts that is not wrecked, then repaired.
Stories I know begin but never end.

(22 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homeschooling History

Bryan’s Grocery, August 1955, Money, Mississippi,
Emmett Till, fourteen, looked at a white woman in the store.
His mama said the press could show what was done
by ersatz Southern gentlemen like my grandfather’s brother
less than a century before to a man whose name
I don’t know because it’s not part of the story my kin told,
how the man teased Abraham McAlexander in town
when the boys were there, and Abe’s brother Richard
killed the man who was black, and the brothers changed
their surname to Alexander and fled south to defy the law.
The nineteenth century’s Civil War had ended by then.
In 1955 the Civil Rights Movement was about to begin
in earnest but was never permitted to end during my lifetime.
In the sixties, at three in the morning in New Orleans,
over the last meal of the day, our host said, You’re a liberal,
aren’t you? In those days, a beard signified rebellion,
or so he, like so many, thought. What I was inside
was a guilt-ridden son of poor whites from Arkansas
with its Tahlequah strain, like having an injun for a mammy
on St. Charles every day I rode the streetcar to Uptown.
My brother in spirit though not in blood photographed
Lowndes County, Alabama, Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge
the morning after the beatings that turned the marchers back
galvanizing them and bringing liberals to town to march
to Montgomery where the governor George Wallace
proclaimed, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow,
segregation forever!" and on her way home to Detroit
Viola Liuzzo was shot driving her car, martyred to the cause
whose Voting Rights Act the president Lyndon Johnson
signed later in the year, with his Southern brogue
welcoming a law augmenting the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was a long time coming, it’s going to be a long time arriving
now the mulatto president of these norteamericano valleys
and mountains and deltas and rivers is at risk in this land
where fascist law vindicates a white man shooting a teenager
whose skin color angers him, and there’s not outrage enough
for Congress to take action against the state of Florida.
The outrage is the president’s empathy with all of America.
Where there’s money to be made on taking over the country,
poor whites welcome Dives as all the black Lazarus awake.

(21 October [Ursula's saint's day] 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, October 20, 2012

House Off Highway 27

By Mlle Lacs, another big lake on a reservation,
the windows of unpainted houses stare through cloudy eyes.
No money’s left for nothing: men need whiskey, women food,
it doesn’t pay to be Ojibwe, much less destitute.
I won’t say much more, she says, I’m out of here, he replies.
The boy meets the old man at the door brushing quickly by.
The car coming down the driveway is the girl’s sweet lover,
prez of the Black Bears with a paw track on his jacket’s back.
Her mother invites him in, the boy says he can’t and leaves.
Girl stays home watching the black and white. Mama goes hungry.
Son’s walking up the highway. He knows where the good stuff waits.
Full dark. He hears nothing for the cars. He picks up the pace.
His old man will be in town slobbering over barflies,
panhandling on the street outside, amassing rent money.
He drinks himself to sleep. He’s on the street completely broke.
Boys and girls in jackets like his son’s haul him home and spill
his shadow by the door, one window pulsing with blue light.
Mama goes to the door and drags him in. The girl’s asleep.
Her brother’s somewhere getting loaded, he stays high and dry.
Once he arrives Mama will ask, Where did you go and why?

(20 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Planet "Melancholia"

Stretch limos don’t bend around curves.
For half the time she wears the dress
with fresh nuptial souvenirs.
Her sister’s husband’s eighteen-hole golf course,
his astronomer’s scope set up to see
the planet on course to crash into Earth.
No husband’s new. Her boss sends his minder
to follow her. He accosts her. She throws
the boy down riding him to orgasm
after the groom, spurned, sits on the bedside, sad.
She drives away her boss and wan husband
as the reception guests leave the party.
She tells the minder he should have gone too,
and he goes. The days remaining she sees
what she saw before, on and off her horse
Abraham. Justine and Claire; Claire’s small son
waiting. Justine knows. Claire dreads, sees it all
go by, then reappear. She who knows smiles
at all the evil leading to such dread.
The known goes awry. The planets collide,
these sisters of Earth’s final family
exploding with light before dark falls sheer.

(19 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, October 18, 2012

After Lars von Trier's MELANCHOLIA

skull weary
body wasters

incantatory swell
sound of the bright night

my eyes closed
but not to seeing

our skeletons are exposed
on precarious parapets

is what happens
what was wished

if thought fathers prayer
knees bend and crack

dull hope, thin regret
spinning in space

where stars are stairs
climb the sky

(18-19 October 2012)

Western Arkansas

His mother, who carried him nine months
through Arkansas’ Egyptian darkness,
past Isis and Thoth and pharoahs’ coffins,
and built the narrow passages death took
after life, all this he might comprehend
without making so much as a wild guess
where the thunder came from, and he hid
his face between his mother’s breasts
and she breathed her consoling whispers
in his tiny ears, while lightning struck
in its zig-zag pattern a skill saw makes,
and the sound of the rain amid her warmth
made him hungry for a future as far
from here as he could find and his own wife
wildering her willowy body
until more peals of thunder, lightning cracks
God sends to surround little boys and girls
whose mother will die into her next sleep
with their father, having washed his body
in water she empties when coaldust swirls
and the tub must be refilled, until dawn
when the day begins over again
and maybe another storm if the sounds
of the deep woods quiet and he knows why
these nights begin and end beyond his reach.

(18 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Up from Hell

My mother said I should raise hell.
All around her, men widowing their wives.
Lorene Brown hated her first name, Velma.
She walked so far she wore her shoe soles thin
and fell. My father died. A man in town
played up to her. He’s a nice man, she said,
but nice men can’t stand your father’s shadow
looming like a ghost wherever they go.

Her Irish father worked on the railroad;
Joseph Brown retired a gandy dancer.
I never knew him, I knew her mother,
Elizabeth Pigg, the fortune teller.
She gave her daughter into the Conleys’
keeping, the same couple who reared her up
across the pasture where Drusilla lived
after Rufus Conley died, his cows sold.

The widow Drusilla’s fifth youngest son
named for her mother’s musical lover
courted Lorene, and Pap sat on the porch
with his shotgun cradled between his legs.
They married. My father worked in coal mines.
My mother pined for her mother. Detroit
was the place to go, my father loved cars,
was always driving one up on a tree

leaning enough to raise the chassis high,
scotch the back tires, and crawl under to work
on drive lines, on engines from underneath.
Lorene’s mother remarried, had children,
sold real estate in Detroit, made money,
divorced again, moved to Los Angeles,
married again, had more children, divorced
and ran off to Europe to read tea leaves

for the aristocracy. So she said.
She read mine declaring I’d either be rich
or a pauper. Rome’s not built in a day,
she said. I replied, What about Venice?
She didn’t know. She didn’t like water.
Besides, only Jesus walked on water.
Not in Venice, I said. I read Shakespeare;
I was learning to write, working for hire.

Elizabeth’s mother, Alice, was happy
as a madam in an Oklahoma brothel.
She met a fisherman from Alaska.
They became lovers. She began to train
her best girl to take her place and sold her
the house. Floyd Smith went north and sold his boat.
He came back and married her. They went west.
She refused to see her daughter in L. A.

Better Elizabeth stayed in Rome reading palms.
Or was the future only in tea leaves?
She made more money buying and selling
in L. A., lured her children to live around her
with their mates and their own children
enslaved to mother Elizabeth who married
near the end of her life a man with a pension
from Pinkerton’s, now her very own slave.

She hated more than loved. There came a time
I heard her swear, The niggers showed the Jews!
She lived on the edge of Watts, South Central
L. A. I drove through its exploding streets,
straight through. Three years after, in Mexico,
everyone I loved risked their lives, but I
went to the mountains, where I was living
when Tlatelolco burst into flames.

Before she died, I assured my mother
I raised hell as high as I had to go
to flee Mexico City’s Pandemonium.
In Cuetzalan, Totonacans, in town
from the jungle for market day, shot pool
and liked to ask about the Kennedys,
John and Robert martyred for loving lives
not their own. Were they angels now up north?

(17 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

At Her Grave

So much was groomed,
the ground lay bare
and closed to seed.
Who among us cared
for the long dead?

She cozened her braid
with nothing to trade.
She shut the door
to men who raged
before they died.

I saw her last
as she’d seen me first,
a glow in her eye,
tears frozen in mine.
Her coffin opened

under the crowbar.
I lay inside
yet stayed out where
no scream would reach
or horse be sold.

Her braid was all
mixed in with ash
and the rotting wood.
The horse was dead,
sky soaked with blood.

(16 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, October 15, 2012


Shorty was the name of the guy my dad invited for dinner.
My dad was working at the Camp Chaffee Fire Department.
Shorty was a buck private about to leave for the Front.
He knew he wouldn’t go to the Asian Theater.
Infantry shipped to Europe. Sailors like my uncle Ernest
were sent to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor,
shred the alliance between Hirohito and Hitler.
Shorty was off to where Jess, Cleve, and Buster were.
Drusilla counted the trucks in the convoy passing by,
chewing and spitting, a habit she took up in cotton fields
when resting from pulling the hundred pounds
in the long sacks all her boys–every one of the six–filled.
She always worked in her mind with what her body couldn't do.
Some days she was said to be filled with "imagination,"
labeled "witch" by some, "crazy" by others,
and nobody who wasn’t poor would give it a second thought.
Drusilla knew the mind wouldn’t feed her seven children
or sate the hunger she’d known all her life
or quench the thirst they all suffered when thorns
from the ripe bolls ripped skin and no one’s there to dowse
for water. If such grief was over, good riddance.
She listened to the radio tell her why her sons are where
America was fighting for freedom from slavery.
You got to know what you don’t want any more of
to send your sons–all but Clyde, here to care for you,
and Manuel with his family in Wichita working
the Boeing assembly line building the bombers–
all you had left in this God abandoned country,
no matter what the cowardly preachers say.
Ship them out to die, or if they’re lucky come home
to return to look for work, and settle for the jobs
their hands were never strangers to, callused
from the fields, the blue scars deep in their skin
from coal their picks shattered, the chips flying,
lamps extinguished. When Jess came back he said
the bullets were thick as flies, the kind poor people
swat as they dine, then the fat ones follow.

(15 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Screen Porch

Screens. Only the door in the wall
and what’s on the other side
lets no air come through.
It’s the night fills the lungs and brings on dreams
that are not dreams but memories.
And I remember nothing when I wake.
There’s no porch back here.
It’s all backyard and beyond the garage
where the shower is and its smell of rain,
the pasture leads to the pine woods
on whose edge she sleeps,
my second mother.
The woods keep her alive. Fireflies dancing.
No-see-’ems in the high grass, crickets in the trees.
I woke to her dream: She’s always walking
or in her rocking chair, or pulling up
the pail full of well water or making biscuits,
and where does she go
–I don’t know.
When I wake I’m in the woods, I’m full grown,
she’s leading me by the hand into dark
places I could never see without her.
I can call her Drusilla now I’m tall,
but not Grandma, which makes her feel too small,
she gave birth to six boys, three girls, and one of me.
She never calls me Grandson. Why should she?
Her mother died giving her a brother
stillborn, dead too soon to be named.
She dwells a long time looking for their grave,
and it is a closed house with no windows
and only earth for walls.
I don’t know where she’s leading me.
I don’t even want to know. I want out
so I go. She follows. She wants me back.
All the feathery world is asleep now.
I steal a wing here, a wing there, I fly
but where are my feet?
They look like claws. I want to hear baseball
on the St. Louis radio, the Cardinals’
scrappy Red Schoendienst hammering a pitch
to get on and Stan the Man with his swing
unleashing the bat from his body’s coil
and sending the winning run home.
That’s how I went to sleep. The close air. The crickets.
The eyes closed to the animated, fiery pine
no one walks through who isn’t dead.
How many times do you wake in one life?
How many souls are there? What is a soul?
Why not call them people? Call her Alma,
and she corrects you: Drusilla, honey, Alma
is nobody’s mother, she’s all she has.
And that’s how she finds the door that leads out to rain.
It comes through the screen windows when wind blows.
I could go out there now but who is home
who is not asleep or at rest . . .
It is those I’ve never seen I look for.
Alma was her grandmother, who had no white name.
Just the dark cry of betrayal
following the end of a way of life
and Drusilla taking my hand again
now that it clasps hers
and wants to show me Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Yes, if there were time,
if where you want to go had the marks on paper
proving you were who you are, but how can I know
the past when the present is all there is . . .
Yes, Grandma, Drusilla, Second Mother,
Love of Life that Ends and Death that Begins
the End of Love . . . keep walking, keep working,
keep watching for those who have lost their names.

(14 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, October 13, 2012


(I thought fuck it, I may as well write prose.
I was walking again and that was what
I truly wanted. It wasn’t poetry or prose,
it was fucking self-indulgence thinking race
existed in your family in any other form
but accident. I folded up my tent and left.

There were people with cruelty in their eyes.
They hovered in phone booths, staring.
My red-haired lover with long naked legs
he had spotted on our way into the café.
He was a big guy with red hair of his own.
He was two of me if you can imagine that!

We ate and left and drove on to the border
between Texas and Arkansas and on north
all the way to Tulsa. Geneva put us up
on North Santa Fe Street, where Jess died.
She was still talking about his cancer,
how they’d just married and there it was.

The man with red-rimmed eyes and whisky
on his breath walked slowly yet steadily
to the car to tell us how to find Wilburton.
I could feel my cock still wet from her cunt.
She was sleeping. He was smiling. I put
my hands over my eyes to keep the sun out.

There were flies circling the cornbread.
Carmen said we may as well eat we came
this far without eating, and did we have
a place to stay tonight? I said, Grandma’s.
She said, Drusilla died. I said, That’s why
I need to sleep there, to remember her life.)

(13 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, October 12, 2012


You cannot have your father back.
He is dead to the world.
When was there ever any other luck?
Who does not see the void?

Who doesn’t know time is against us?
Your mother passed into the fire.
I dream heaven & hell are all ice.
Who would weep or laugh, who cares?

to Hope

(12 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


Pearl was with child.
She knew the signs
and they showed.
She knew why.
She was happy.
What else mattered?

Across the way
beyond the field,
her cousin Tom waved,
Drusilla waved back.
She thought of mama
when out of her sight.

Tom took Lil home,
he made her dinner,
they drank until
he went over and kissed
her and she followed
him toward his bed.

Belle was back
on her back
though on top
as much. Work
was work.
Someday maybe . . .

Pearl’s sister Doll
married to Jeff Clifft,
her husband’s brother,
worried Pearl
and Drusilla
knew no happiness.

Manuel Romain
came back to town.
Van Buren is next
to Fort Smith.
Horses in the city
among the walkers.

Manuel Romain
wrote a song
he sang to her now:
Pearl in the sea,
Come home with me,
no need asking why.

(12 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, October 11, 2012


She kept saying, I’m getting out of here,
but only to herself. She didn’t want
to end up an old whore with no husband
let alone no money, no house, no home.
She was a Tulsa girl who came this far
south, down the road to cross the Arkansas
into this frontier ’ville called a city,
where a girl like her could make a living
if she didn’t mind inhaling the smell
of whatever it was in the river,
aromas the houses gave off early
after closing, sheets stained, tobacco stench,
reek of alcohol and muddy boot tracks
awaiting fumigation, scrubbing down
by the live-in maids and the men who made
houses calm at night and spruced up by dusk
when company started coming. Music
from the parlor piano professor
all night cut through the rowdy atmosphere,
reminding Belle of her childhood lessons
before her daddy and mama were killed
in a car wreck and her childhood ended
on Santa Fe Street in the only house
she knew until she had to go somewhere
to fend for herself, with no family,
at least none fit to live with and not slave
for the rest of her one and only life.
They were all no good, using anyone
who came around, kicking them out like dogs
at the first sign of resistance. She cats
fared better. They put their pussies to work
and stayed away bypassing cruelty
provided freely by kinfolk and lust
exacted by horny drunken uncles.
She got a job at a house in Broken
Arrow, then one in Sallisaw, now here
where the feds sent out Judge Isaac Parker
to quell the renegades, to hang them high.
That’s how the territory saw Fort Smith.
On her day off she dressed up and walked down
the wide, long avenue named Garrison
after the fort built on the Arkansas
to keep the Chickasaws and Cherokees
on the other shore, the Oklahoma
side where outlaws were worse than Indians.
She was a little Indian herself
if truth be known. Her cousin Lily worked
tending bar in one of the big saloons.
She was the only family Belle had,
all she wanted. They walked to a café
and ate and drank and talked and laughed and made
a day of it until Lil went to work
where Frank Clifft was finishing cleaning up
and she saw his face flush when he saw her.
She didn’t let on she even knew him.
Later on, Belle met Lily’s boss, the man
Lil said was sweet on her and she on him.

(11 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


To be in Tom Taylor’s mind was to share
the cultures of his mother and father,
Matilda the Scots, John the Cherokee,
both full blood, both determined to survive,
and only Tom’s sisters, their daughters Pearl
and Doll were vulnerable, to the brothers Clifft,
Frank and Jeff, a wastrel and a farmer,
as father John farmed outside Tahlequah.

Pearl was too young when Drusilla was born.
She should have danced more, found her own body’s
delight in the arms of more than one man
before she was abandoned but harassed
by her daughter’s father, a drunken whoremonger
who insisted he see Drusilla when he wished,
and the knock on the door announced his arrival,
invariably on Saturday or Sunday.

Across the pasture, beyond the horses,
Pearl could see her sister’s place. Jeff came by
when Frank was there. Doll brought along their son
Tom, named after his uncle and like his mother
looking more Irish than his aunt was Scots,
so his uncle Frank liked to say to Drusilla,
who did not understand but never asked
her father to talk, and when Drusilla
was old enough Pearl took her off to hear
the music and see the man on the horse.

Manuel Romain was a few years older.
Pearl was old enough to live her own life.
She took Drusilla with her when he came
to one of the nearby towns. He saw her one day
looking his way and invited her to supper.
They strolled Van Buren. Drusilla walked with
her mother. They walked down to the river.
Manuel kissed Pearl on one cheek, then her lips.
Drusilla somehow knew what all that meant.
She stayed in the hotel lobby playing, waiting.

Tom Taylor stayed in Fort Smith. He had his own suit
to make, a swarthy woman with black hair
whom he hired to tend bar in the saloon
with his name outside carved in the cement,
the wooden, unpainted Indian by the door.
That way, Tom revealed without speech his need
to be one among the wealthy,
no matter his feelings or what he remembered
his father had told him of the old days,
the ancestry of people uprooted.

Her name was Lily. He had to work hard
to discover how to make her love him.
Tom was not to be discouraged.
He pressed his suit relentlessly . . .

(10 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On The Row

Her door’s open. She’s on her way downstairs.
You can hear the river from here, thunder
brings the sound up close to the shore.
You hear a groan like lightning striking flesh.
He knows another john’s satisfaction
is complete. But not his. Not yet.
She sees him and he smiles and she wiggles
her forefinger motioning him up to where
she stands. He follows her back up the stairs,
where she sucks his cock and puts it between
her legs and on her back she rocks him back
and forth and he catches fire and flames out
into her pussy all that's in him, his cock sore
from all her trouble. Belle, he says. Yes, Frank?
The talk begins, what she has too little time for.
She says he can stay here. Until she next man,
he knows she means, but he’s bound to say no,
he needs to keep his self-respect.
He staggers downstairs and stumbles on home.
It’s home where he wants to go,
not the hotel room on Garrison Avenue,
where he sleeps between fucks and works
sweeping up after hours in the local saloons
owned by Pearl’s brother Tom, who takes pity
on his sister’s drunken, debauched husband
and pays Frank money he knows goes nowhere
but down by the river. Money spills there
following the lure of the forbidden.
Gravity’s law. Tom knows better. His saloons thrive.
Tom Taylor’s one of the richest men in Fort Smith.
He wants a son. He pays close attention
to the rotogravure, the social page.
He’s looking for a wife. The Times-Record
does not interest Tom otherwise.
Having money is more than father John
could muster. His mother Matilda Satterfield
employed her Scots talent for thrift and taught
Tom a lesson his father learned to hate:
If the city is for making money,
the country exists for endless labor.

(9 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, October 8, 2012


Her black hair, her round face, her dark brown eyes
put him in mind of someone. Except for the eyes:
Drusilla’s were a darker brown, verging on black.
Chloe was tall too, but voluptuous, a word
Drusilla’s oldest son learned from Chloe. She could talk
about loving. Like they said, those who knew them both,
Jess was "crazy about her," she was "crazy about him."
It would be a long while before the song came out.
Only she would hear Patsy Cline’s "anthem,"
she called it, and she was widowed by then.
She remembered the love affair with Jess
in detail: "He was new cop on the beat.
I was walking with my boyfriend along the street.
He looked at me, I looked back . . . or was it
the other way around? I don’t remember now,
I was in love, our eyes were, did he love me?
That was my last night walking with that man,
I’d found me a real man now. I gave Jess all the love
I knew how, he told me he didn’t know a thing
about love. His childhood was one long wound.
You know the story, Floyce Milton, I don’t need
to tell you." We were sitting in her Las Cruces home,
where she lived alone, where she died not long after
I told her the story Jess’s brother, my father,
told me. When my father drank after he retired,
he would reach the point where he began to look down,
shielding his blurring sight, proceeding to ask me,
"Why did my folks always fight and break up?
When he came home she was glad, then after they
were happy again the fighting started all over.
Finally he left again, but he always came back
and she was sad all the time he was gone.
I never could understand why they fought
and split up and came back together and kept on
having children. Their sixth and last boy and first girl
were twins. She pined for him, he loved her,
how could he stay away? Not long after he was dead,
she gave birth to her second set of twins, girls
this time, Beulah and Lahoma she named them
before they were dead, less than a year old.
I never could understand her, or him,
I don’t know why. Did Grandma ever tell you?"
I didn’t know. He drained a bottle of the wine
he kept hidden in his backyard garage,
out of my mother’s sight. I kept cadging
from his dwindling pack of filtered Camels.
I tried to help by saying, "Isn’t that how Jess
and Chloe were? They never married or had children,
but they were in love and always were, she told me
that time she gave me the ring she had sold
at her store in Albuquerque. The guy who bought it
was hustling her when Chloe’s husband caught him
and broke his nose with one punch and the man
missed and marred the turquoise surface of the ring
when his hand collided with the wall. Chloe
gave him his money back, he bled his way
out the door. The ring’s silver was unmarked,
the face only slightly cracked. Chloe held out
the Navajo ring, and said, This is yours
so you’ll remember what I said, maybe even
the way I told you." And I almost did,
but I had to imagine–"dream up," Drusilla might say--
all the reasons why every love, each family
ends in sorrow or death, and both the same.

(8 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Widow Drusilla and Her Sons


There was no time, no need, they knew what they
needed to do and how long it took them.
They knew about the sons of the rich man
they worked for in Lequire. Those boys worked
at getting out of work, Drusilla said.
She would think, but not say, she was happy
they were that way. She didn’t want to starve
her children. It was bad enough to wait
for jackrabbit. Her sons went out to hunt
upon coming in from the cotton field.

Drusilla missed Abraham. She missed him
when he was alive and always took off
once they began to fight and kept it up
until there was nothing else left to say
but the hurt that brought on the misery
for both of them. When he returned, he loved
her so well she was pregnant by the time
she drove him off once more, to hear him tell
the boys. She had one daughter. Eunice took
after her father, she was resentful
like him. But she helped Drusilla keep house,
if you could call a cropper’s shack a house.

They stayed two years after Abe was murdered.
She knew that Lequire wanted them to leave.
Two guys, a girl Drusilla called a whore,
and a judge in the Sallisaw Masons
catching the glint of the defendants’ rings;
Drusilla thought that must be why he let
them go, accepting their plea that Abe pulled
a gun on them, when he’d never owned one
in his life. That’s what his family
got: nothing. Abe’s friend buried him for free.
Jess, her oldest, said words over the grave.

Jess went to Ponca City to look for work.
Arrested for vagrancy–no money–
whooping it up with an Indian girl–
a night in jail–and the judge offered him
a job being a city cop. And Chloe
Waller, half French, half Osage, loved him well
night after night and sometimes during days
on his days off. Her father owned a well
or two, and Jess knew they had no future.

(7 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, October 6, 2012



I was the only one knew nothing
they knew, who knew me,
how I read my books inside their screen porch,
not out where they were
working. Grandma Drusilla believed Cain
likely as not began it all,
like God said. She was testament
to the labor of His progeny’s hands,
Death’s commencement in Eden.
Angels guarding the Gates
with enormous wings, even when folded,
she said, were of the fallen kind,
spawn and heir of poverty’s snake.

I know nothing more years later
that she would say was in a book
I read only as required. I recall
death’s smell, Drusilla dying.
Only it’s sulfur oozing from the soul
like smog where my mother’s mother
died. Her smell. Having abandoned her child
where I first lived, in Greenwood, Arkansas.
It’s the smell of death alright,
but those who grow accustomed
to its stench never did thrive
with such knowledge.


Drusilla’s son Clyde got Ruby with child.
He was inches away--years measured
with his carpenter’s rule–from his own grave
the day he declared: I had a son.
He was heavy like you. He died
in New York City, where Ruby sent him
to get an education. He was a journalist
taught in this school, Yeshiva University,
when his heart attacked leaving him to die.
Drusilla never knew she had not one, but two
grandsons. She never heard of him.

I didn’t know I had a cousin living in New York.
Clyde said he interviewed Errol Flynn.
We could have swapped stories
about sin and salvation denied
in the family history we shared.
Instead, the enormous wings flared for flight.
Someday they will feed on the little birds
and roost on heights where the water can’t reach.
That’s Manhattan where I have my nightmares
now that the past is using up our dreams.


I woke today thinking why the faces
of my grandfather and his two brothers
look like white men before or after a lynching.
They stand in front of a coal mine’s slag heap.
Tomorrow they may ride the elevator
down into the deep earth to dig
from the wall ahead the black chunks
filling the bin on wheels pulled by a two-mule team
up the slowly ascending track to reach the top.

Why are they so sullen in their Sunday
dress-up garb? the murderer Rich,
though he’d say he only killed a nigger;
Abe, who married the breed Cherokee,
Drusilla; and Dave, the only one I met,
sitting on the bed where he slept
in Lequire, Oklahoma, a playboy, my father said.
He chuckled as he talked under his breath.

The one whose name I heard only from Clyde,
Ira, stole their money in Memphis,
fled south to New Orleans, where the letter
was postmarked their mother read in Virginia.
She who was orphaned in the War Between the States,
then widowed here, smoking a corn-cob pipe
on a porch in the midst of the Blue Ridge.

The trio in the photo loathed her son
who kept on loving her once he was a man
with a horn in the Crescent City.
He loved and lived with the black woman,
Adore she was called. Who knew them both
told me what I remember. I wrote down once

who I was told she was, where Ira was
her man. He worked the docks, a stevedore.
She haunted the café where he played nights.
She didn’t know her daddy, her mama
knew why he stayed away from her ju-ju.


All this was passed down but never written
until writing was all I ever learned
to do. Now that I do it all the time
I can say, finally, it’s nothing new.

(7 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, October 5, 2012


I can’t find my Bible. Did you take it,
Floyce Milton? (No I did not, grandmother.
Let me help you look.
                                               We walked the old path.
She started again:) If I got to go, I need my Bible.
Some devil stole it in the middle of the night,
may God crush him under heavy rainclouds.
You know the way to my grave, honey, after you . . .

(There it lies. It’s all a story.)

Take a hand, honey. Here. Help me climb down.

(I couldn’t see. It was dark, the sky red.
What do you think happens next? I tell you
I don’t know, I can’t see, the night is dark,
the sky is red, she’s asleep in her grave.)

(4 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

The After-School Blues

The editor enters, saying throw it all away,
you have no choice if you want to read it!
The writer says, I prefer to read the Adele
story, or is Fidele the boat paddlewheeling
down the Mississippi, cardboard cut-out
con man on board daily in his Sunday best
milking the passengers, giving them a deal
they can’t refute, it’s been such a long time
Melville imagined a tale to match his times.
Best, friend, you sit, write, and read later . . .

Thus the need for paper, pencils, even ink.
Ah the old days replete with milk-toast truth!
You could hear the cries for more and faster
dancing, the masters’ voices: We have slaves
to entertain you! and do they work? They do
more work in an hour than any of us can do
in a week, but that’s because a whip masters
the unmastered, and damn if we don’t know
how to get a day’s work out of our pickannies!
says each massa of his very own plantation.

The writer prefers his lies to the gospel truth:
He learned to work on a ship from Redburn.
What if he told you how to milk cows, prune
vineyards, pick fruit after thinning the trees,
fill potato sacks all day, load them in boxcars
till midnight, work canneries during harvests,
and whatever else waits to be done on a farm
and out there to make money to stay in school.
What if he told the truth? Who would read it?
I will, he thinks. He’s learned to talk this way.

(5 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What Her Dead See

There is a little lower layer. Where worms thrive.
Look down, but don’t go.
The black man is not black, you just can’t see
his bones without you curtain his white face.
Hear the woods talk. There ain't no lies out here.
I’m going to lie down now and sleep a spell.

Floyce keeps forgetting to read what she wrote.
He’s reached the place now he walks with a cane.
Comes to be here so she can tell him how.
He cups an ear to the earth and listens.
She’s still sleeping. After such a long life.
The dirt between his fingers filters through.

I’m sitting here letting nothing become
no one sitting here, and least of all me.
You can see for yourself. Ask the doctor
signing my birth certificate. He’s here
seven years later, with a pen with ink.
She lives way out, in the wilder country.

She sees them seeing what she never saw.
Men in blue uniforms riding horses
that never have a chance. Box canyons
abound. Up on the mountain no one sees.
Do anything in God’s name. He approves
decimation and rout of the heathen.

Trouble is, Drusilla, you must be dead.
But it’s the past, so you can live again.
You’re not even born. Wait a hundred years.
But no need here. You can walk the same trail
in your granddaddy’s baby skin. Step out.

(3 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


It was no place to be born, his father said. Mine 19 . . .
Or was it 18? It was two digits and under twenty,
the number the convenience of the men who owned
the mines and when they were there the men
working underground, and she let her body worry
for her head, she had already given birth to Jess, Cleve,
Clyde, and Buster. All but Buster were down below
when her stillborn brother’s father’s namesake
emerged between her legs, the woman Miz Bashears
from the cabin next to theirs midwived the birth.
Manuel Romain. Drusilla liked his songs she heard
as a girl before he took her mother to a nearby hotel
and she played by herself talking to the dream voices.
She even felt like someday she was going to be alone.
She thought about it before she kept on playing horse,
slapping her sides and imitating the way his horse was
when he rode her, a roan mare past her prime but tough
enough to take him from New Orleans to Shreveport
and north to Fort Smith and across the bridge and south
sometimes to San Antonio before wending his way home.
He lived outside the city, where he could have a horse
and be left alone to dream up new songs and tinker
with them until he was pleased and sing them as loud
as he wished and no one but one of the lovely women
from around about came and kept him company
and listened to him play and sing and slept there
one night that sometimes led to two but usually only one.
He loved Pearl, that was clear to him the way it felt
to be going north from Shreveport to see her soon
in Arkansas. Her little girl, Effie, who said she’d like
Drusilla to be her only name, was as tall as her mama
and only eight. She loved him, she said, like her mama.
He told Pearl what she said and Pearl shamed her before
they mounted the stairs after dinner in the dining room.
If not in Mansfield, then in Huntington or Greenwood.
Sometimes in Witcherville, Salem, Fort Smith . . .
Manuel Romain liked to go around and lied to Pearl
she was his only woman and wanted her to leave
Frank Clifft and he’d buy a wagon and take her home
not far enough from New Orleans to call it another name.

Manuel Romain was her brother’s daddy. She knew that.
She gave her fifth son his name. When Abe and the boys
came home that night they were happy she was alive
with their new brother. Some miners' wives did not survive.
Drusilla said to herself that such was her mother’s fate.
If her brother were born alive he would already have
her new son’s name. And if her mother had not died,
she would have been around to tell her about her daddy.
She knew now he was usually on The Row along the river
on the edge of Fort Smith, where the burial mounds
at Spiro stayed in the dark all the years no one was buried
there. You didn’t even know where they were. No lights
but where Frank Clifft was sweet on one woman
who led him on. He was always flush and more than ready.

(2 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, October 1, 2012


His name weren’t Abraham Clyde but William Clyde, William was Abraham’s
middle name. Abraham was called Abram, Abraham or Abram they’s the same.
She wore her hair in a bun when she left the house, but rarely now that her legs
didn’t hold her body up so good and move it around the way she’d learned it to,
she said. She never wrote much, just short letters to let me know she was alive.
She wrote words the same she heard them said, no fancy swirl to make a letter,
just the way she moved her fingers without moving their wrist, like an ax falling
to pierce the heart of a block of wood, what she used to do, that Clyde did now
as he done everything else she once did, he even put in a modern toilet for her,
she liked it better than the chamber pot she had to empty every morning once,
it seemed long ago though only months had passed and he worked out carpenter
ing, she called it, like Abram did between the coal mines and the cotton fields,
waiting to be hired back or moving them across the river to crop cotton shares.

Effie stood up. She wanted a little snuff and got it. She chewed a while and spat
into the spittoon, that brass bowl shaped like an ear seen from inside if you could
but only you couldn’t see that in dreams and settled for saying it was a spittoon
she’ll take to the grave like the Pharoahs took everything they owned to help buy
their passage through the pyramid and out the other side into the netherworld.
She didn’t know what to think of what the Christians liked to call Heaven. Hell,
she knew, was already here, on Earth, created by those who had to own it all.
Though she never laughed much, she did laugh when she told me her dreams.
She had one the black man showed up to close the door and she had to go out
the window, the black man turned white when she looked at him from outside,
also stars came close, falling but didn’t touch the ground before they shattered,
the panthers and the skylarks were all around her while she waited the man out
and won when she woke up, he was gone but so were they and the moon stared
at her through the window, the crickets choired, the fireflies burned up the woods

to hear her tell it. Clyde was all she had now. He drove to Fort Smith to be loved.
She was afraid one of his women would steal him from her, and she told him so.
He went anyway. He was a normal man, she knew. She didn’t want to be alone
any longer. Once her sons were all gone to war. Convoys passed on the highway
outside her window and she didn’t even chew while she wondered if one of them
was in one of the trucks but if they were surely they’d have the truck stop, come
to the window or at least step outside the cab to wave, let her know they saw her.
She did not pray. She never prayed. She knew she should but that was all back
before she met Abram, when she lived with Jeff and Doll and their growing son
Tom, "double cousins," she liked to say, "is closer than brother and sister," said
almost happily knowing Tom was named for her mama’s brother who said he was
a blood, but he weren’t, he was a breed like her, but he was named for his daddy,
who was full blood chalaqui, what he liked to call his roots, the Cherokee caves.

Jeff and Doll were Frank and Pearl's brother and sister, and when Frank left
with Pearl gone she lived with her aunt and uncle and Tom was her first love.
She was too little to know it then. It was only after Abram was shot and killed,
she thought about it. The first time, she called it. She never told anyone but me,
and I don’t want to tell it to anyone who never knew her and her circumstances,
left a widow on that cotton farm her six sons would have to work, her daughter
help her find food to feed them and keep the house clean where the dirt blows
around like devils before they fall to earth the way she once heard a devil does,
and it was the same day after day before the cotton was picked and her six men
who were once boys did it all so the fat man who owned the place would share
the yield, the money, to pay their way after they took the wagon across the river
waiting on the other side for the mines to call her men to work below the Earth
coming out after dark the way they went in before light and black as the man
in her dreams but they were her own and living in this camp was up to them.

(1 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander