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

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