Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Up from Hell

My mother said I should raise hell.
All around her, men widowing their wives.
Lorene Brown hated her first name, Velma.
She walked so far she wore her shoe soles thin
and fell. My father died. A man in town
played up to her. He’s a nice man, she said,
but nice men can’t stand your father’s shadow
looming like a ghost wherever they go.

Her Irish father worked on the railroad;
Joseph Brown retired a gandy dancer.
I never knew him, I knew her mother,
Elizabeth Pigg, the fortune teller.
She gave her daughter into the Conleys’
keeping, the same couple who reared her up
across the pasture where Drusilla lived
after Rufus Conley died, his cows sold.

The widow Drusilla’s fifth youngest son
named for her mother’s musical lover
courted Lorene, and Pap sat on the porch
with his shotgun cradled between his legs.
They married. My father worked in coal mines.
My mother pined for her mother. Detroit
was the place to go, my father loved cars,
was always driving one up on a tree

leaning enough to raise the chassis high,
scotch the back tires, and crawl under to work
on drive lines, on engines from underneath.
Lorene’s mother remarried, had children,
sold real estate in Detroit, made money,
divorced again, moved to Los Angeles,
married again, had more children, divorced
and ran off to Europe to read tea leaves

for the aristocracy. So she said.
She read mine declaring I’d either be rich
or a pauper. Rome’s not built in a day,
she said. I replied, What about Venice?
She didn’t know. She didn’t like water.
Besides, only Jesus walked on water.
Not in Venice, I said. I read Shakespeare;
I was learning to write, working for hire.

Elizabeth’s mother, Alice, was happy
as a madam in an Oklahoma brothel.
She met a fisherman from Alaska.
They became lovers. She began to train
her best girl to take her place and sold her
the house. Floyd Smith went north and sold his boat.
He came back and married her. They went west.
She refused to see her daughter in L. A.

Better Elizabeth stayed in Rome reading palms.
Or was the future only in tea leaves?
She made more money buying and selling
in L. A., lured her children to live around her
with their mates and their own children
enslaved to mother Elizabeth who married
near the end of her life a man with a pension
from Pinkerton’s, now her very own slave.

She hated more than loved. There came a time
I heard her swear, The niggers showed the Jews!
She lived on the edge of Watts, South Central
L. A. I drove through its exploding streets,
straight through. Three years after, in Mexico,
everyone I loved risked their lives, but I
went to the mountains, where I was living
when Tlatelolco burst into flames.

Before she died, I assured my mother
I raised hell as high as I had to go
to flee Mexico City’s Pandemonium.
In Cuetzalan, Totonacans, in town
from the jungle for market day, shot pool
and liked to ask about the Kennedys,
John and Robert martyred for loving lives
not their own. Were they angels now up north?

(17 October 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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