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