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