His compass arrived in time for the trudge.
Forced march in his mind, too young to know how
to choose direction. North, East, South pointed
West, to Yakima and California.
He kept writing sports four years in high school,
named football captain, then all conference.
Coalinga Junior College offered
a two-year, all-expenses-paid stipend,
same as they provided Ross Sohappy,
who said: Floyce, don’t go, they give you a song
and dance: it’s oil money, they want to win,
you lose they have you out for barbecue,
give you anything you want to make you
promise to do what can’t be done, I had
nothing to show for two years but I am
here to stay now, and yes, I drink some wine,
I want to make amends for my mistakes,
I didn’t learn a thing but how white men
insist on getting their way forever,
I didn’t have to go there to know that.
Ross’s father was a Yakima chief.
Ross took to drinking and smoking in bed
alone: one night he burned himself alive.
Though Floyce didn’t know yet about that time–
fire in the future–Yakima wooed him,
Irene said he should do what he wanted
but she hoped he would stay closer to her.
The junior college twenty-five miles west
offered him two years of tuition paid
in full, with room and board, to play football
and study journalism, writing sports.
She was happy. Took him to church. Later
you know what they did. They loved each other.
Then he said to hell with football. He wrote
full time, shirked his study of newspapers
and read Orwell, consummate journalist.
He had no passionate love for football.
College said they’d have to cut his stipend
in half, pay tuition only. He worked
in his father’s vineyards, drove fifty miles
a day, summers worked in orchards, then where
Irene stood on the line with other girls
at least eight hours sorting, culling, sending
potatoes down the chutes where he, for one,
filled hundred-pound gunny sacks; and when they
were through loading boxcars until midnight
Irene would be sleeping in the desert,
his flip term for where she lived, in the part
of the valley near the Rattlesnake Hills
where schoolboys drove out with high-beam searchlights
to see jackrabbits frantically fleeing
the sudden moonlight brighter than the sun
and were shot and left where they fell, the cars
driving over them to make sure they were
good and dead, the good ol’ boys quipped next day.
He drove there, tapped on her bedroom window,
she woke, he crawled through, they made love and slept
until she elbowed him, sky dark with stars.
He was going to Seattle to live.
All summer he asked her to go with him.
She wanted to, but had a year of school
left to graduate. She couldn’t marry
and he shouldn’t, she insisted. He had
a long life ahead of him. The time came
when Floyce heard Ross died. By then the city
claimed him. Irene was where no one would say.
(8 November 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander