Sunday, November 18, 2012

White Swan, Brownstown

Bill McDonald and I were friends because of football.
We were enemies once on the long field
beyond the White Swan high school in autumn.
Few of his teammates wore brown skins.
The Spartans of Riverbend had Ross Sohappy
the year before I was talked into turning out.
I was on the brink of going where Ross had gone.
Ross preferred to drink alone, so no one
would ever know what he went through,
the greatest end ever to play for Riverbend.
And White Swan would not see another McDonald.

The Warriors were known for Bill’s prosthetic
pass option he always ran when defense faded
to cover for the bullet he would throw
should the linebackers, myself included,
storm the line. That year he was Herald-Republic
first-team quarterback, but never went to college.
The Yakima paper deigned to give me
a second-team berth, one year never enough time
to thrill the valley press. Bill and I struck
a chord the day I barreled into him
taking too long to throw and deciding to run
and I was lucky to be where he was.

We met again one night in Yakima,
in the Chieftain Hotel bar. He was with Rita,
who stuck close to him so he wouldn’t fall
once he had one too many, saying, I’m shitfaced.
That night I said so he heard, You are a phenom,
McDonald, and Rita offered, Two legs
from now on will be the norm, McDonald.
No one he liked called him Bill, it was Ray,
his middle name, he preferred and stories
carried twenty miles to the reservation’s edge
and the neon BROWNSTOWN without the BAR
where the men with brown skin loved to hear him
praise them for their courage, their endurance.

Rita eased up working the bar when he appeared.
When she took a break she chain-smoked with beer.
She knew everybody’s name, not just Ray’s.
They called her Rita, and only Rita.
Some nights you parked under a dull gold moon,
nine letters punctuating the nightscape.
I don’t like to think there were reasons it was there
like a place without a hitching post, no Dutch doors
swinging to bang the butt of stumbling drunks,
horses wild in the hills or fenced in or God knows
processed in cans never accurately labeled.
The reservation was for dying not drinking,
hating not loving. It was wilderness
combed over and left as though laced with lye.

(18 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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