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