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