Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why You Don't Grow Up

Bobby was remembering
long after the fact
what he did not do.
It was too late to go back
and do over the errors.
Cathleen said back then,
Why don’t you grow up?

He had confessed to her
he had no way
to give her the life
she deserved. She left,
and would not return,
nor would he go to her,
until long after he let
Clark pay the rent
on the houseboat when he left
to live across the street
from Green Lake,
with the woman named
Carole, who loved
his curly black hair,
told him he was handsome,
and took him home with her
to stay all summer.

Brubeck and Desmond
played across the street
on the grass that summer.
He idolized Paul Desmond.
Much younger, he’d wanted
glasses like Desmond’s.
He didn’t grow up fast
enough to keep Cathleen.
He didn’t want to grow up.
It was a mistake to be
what you would never be
if you were Bobby,
but what was a Bobby
other than a London cop?
This was far from London:
Why don’t you work more
and think less?

He was smitten, as ever,
with Carole, as with all
the women he was lucky
to know. He loved her
Modigliani neck, silver hair,
eyes round as a lady owl’s.
She came from a ranch
north of the city, grew up
riding horses, she said
when he asked
about the imprint of a hoof
branding one thigh.
She had tried to hide it
but he saw it as she slept
at first light. A little later,
something in her let go,
flooding the bed, his body
and hers, with love’s spill.

After their affair was over,
he would remember her
as fondly as Cathleen,
who claimed his affections
and would never let go,
though his three months
with Carole were too brief,
to be followed not far off
by the long three months
residing in Ward Seven.

Their days were for work.
She gave him company
nights they went downtown
to hear the big names--
Getz, Gillespie, Miles–
appearing at the Penthouse,
or when they didn’t need
to splurge, to Pete’s
to hear Jabbo Ward on sax,
Freddie Schreiber on bass,
among the peanut shells
off Alaskan Way . . .

She made no demands
and he went his way
and so did she
after one did all a body
could do for another body.
Was he growing up
or going back down
where he came from?

(26, 31 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, March 30, 2012


Once upon a generation
grace under pressure
was what Gertrude Stein
taught her liege Hemingway.
to be in the thrall of,
and told him to go to Spain,
which would be everywhere to him
even if he denounced her
before squeezing the trigger
after he forgot.

Bobby was living across the street
from Connie’s place of work.
He picked up the ringing phone
and said into the receiver,
Long Acres, his rendering of LA,
the prefix of his number.
Is Grace there? An elderly woman’s voice,
whose apology shamed him
for taking advantage of her
to chide her without her knowledge.

Surely some practical things should be said.
Men returning from Vietnam
said death was the sure ticket home.
Friends brought back marijuana from Saigon,
filling little Diamond match boxes,
opium in flammable balls
on sticks you held to inhale.
It was nothing like fishing in rivers
on the way over the Pyrenees
to Pamplona’s corridas.

What was courage but grace under pressure?
Papa did not ask. Staying high,
you stayed alive. Back in the world
it was easy to continue to follow your fate
as the myth of homecoming
unravelled its ritual lies under the apex
of a double rainbow’s arc. At home, walk
at night to be alone. Above, stars eluded
clouds the moon companioned. Your gait
equaled their silvery legato of dancing.

It was then he first stopped the dope,
the drinking. This life was as good
as you made it. As good as his life’s loves,
Cathleen, Earlene, Melindra . . .
–and were there others still alive
inside his brain’s faint notations?
Friends said Indochina was boot camp.
Bobby believed grace was the secret
in finding the few, most accurate words
to complete the details concealed

in a loom’s weave, fabric the three sisters
spin, choose, and cut according to the earth’s
turning, so that the longest way round
is the shortest way home (Joyce, Ulysses).
Words Bobby will carry through his life
with silence, exile and cunning
and the young man’s vow to redeem
the Irish race from the Catholic Church,
Joyce was a game old cocksman,
Nora Barnacle never made eyes at other men.

His eyes would fade but Joyce took nothing for all
he gave relentlessly, with generosity.
Night after night he filled Nora’s body with his.
You trust you will grow old enough
to learn to walk your own unmapped ground.
It would be raining as it had rained in Paris.
Bobby St. Clair woke with Melindra Collins,
tires in Seattle rain a chorus of kettle drums.
She caressed him, pulling him on top of her.
They began their days the way they ended.

He liked to think her desire to heal his body
was the love he never had and nearly missed.

(25-26 and 30 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Good Times

Bonnington told Bobby nothing would bring
any of his dead back to life.
He didn’t say much in his trim white coat,
he had been trained to listen.
When Bobby mentioned drinking, the doctor
turned the subject to Melindra.
Nothing more need be said, the big cloud
over the room was about to pass,
there was only one thing to do now: Stop
battering your life until you grow too old
to invent what you might possibly know
so well you didn’t even know you knew.
There was also this sliver of the city
deep down, where his ghosts lived in ruins.

Melindra was glad she kept her house.
She told Bobby the good times were over.
He was just back from seeing Bonnington.
He told her they hadn’t happened yet,
the good times. He gathered the booze
in the bungalow and took it to the dump
where the gulls swooped and wheeled
with their cries of hunger, of need.
She was guardedly happy. How happy
could she be? Bobby asked her to marry.
She drove downtown, bought some fish
at Pike Place market, gave it to Anna,
who asked if they’d come for dinner,
and Melindra said Bobby was too busy,

but she would love to stay. He told Anna
he was trying to talk her into marriage.
I have nothing to say, Melindra said.
Paul came in and talked Bobby down:
What will Melindra do if you can’t quit
drinking? The romance was over now,
Bobby said, it was time to begin living.
And he went over the rules of the dead,
that they bury their own dead, watch
over fires whipped by wind in Hades,
and stoke the smoldering ashes to live
again . . . once the great wheel turned
through its cycle so timeless even God
was fooled by the void in its becoming.

Paul’s Mozart played through dinner.
Anna asked what he’d written lately.
Paul wondered if he was doing music.
Bobby said he was getting married.
Melindra was silent. Paul put on a tape
sounding like Rose. Is that Bessie Smith?
Bobby asked. What a waste, Paul said,
a hospital barred its doors and she bled
to death. Bobby told them about Rose,
wondering if Rose found her own ghosts

in the ruins of this wet, flowering city.
What could possibly give her comfort?
The blues wrapped her in their arms
and she turned agony into dark love.

(24 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brief Annals

You keep being young long enough the floor drops out from under you.
Bobby learned nothing now from Myra he didn’t know already.
She had too much sorrow, he had all these questions, they would go
their own way but each time he saw her at the New Congress
he knew he would have to keep drinking to forget his questions.
Melindra tried to be with Bobby. She took time off from the hospital.
She listened to him talk about how he planned to talk to Myra’s dad
before he died, ask him all he knew about the man he killed. Melindra
asked, What were you going to do, Bobby? Exhume him and kill him

Myra Jacobs moved in with Doug Harper. Rose and Dave Cole healed
slowly, but healed. Sanchez went on playing pool every afternoon.
Clark listened to more Mingus now. Dupree was off running numbers.
Jim and Marge were vacationing, they called it, now that he had money.
Cathleen kept writing to Bobby and he read her letters when he was
sober, which, as long as Melindra was with him was all the time. So far.
Paul and Anna let him stay in the bungalow after Melindra assured
them he would be okay. She couldn’t help but love them like in-laws.
The music still poured out of the house into the back yard and Anna
brought over something to her every week she generously prepared
two of . . .

Tony sympathized with Bobby’s drinking: Laurie is an angel, she set
me straight. Christina talked with Melindra at the hotel, offering her
anything she needed: Just call. Rose managed the Black and Tan.
The new bartender did a good job. She sang every night. Dave chose
her favorites. She was the blues, the blues were her. the room hushed
and when she was through nothing was the same until she started
singing and never stopped. Except between sets, when she stepped
outside to smoke a joint. She had beautiful eyes, they worked a spell
with the music. Dave helped her take care of Lu Ann. His mother
was fading, he would prepare himself by asking Rose ahead of time
to marry him, how to say it? She didn’t want to marry anybody,
she said.

(23 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Myra read and Doug learned
Nowhere was a word for Utopia,
meaning it doesn’t exist but who knows?
He claimed not to understand
Sir Thomas More. What’s more,
she liked to read Dante and make up
her own translation, even improvise:
Virgil, What will I learn I do not know?
When do we leave the devil’s asshole?
Why does rising come only after falling?

Her daddy had been Danny’s friend
who avenged him, murdering
the murderer, and now, in Walla Walla
state penitentiary he was reading
The Autobiography of Malcolm Xwhich Malcolm Little could not do
being dead, an assassin’s bullet
through his head while he was speaking
in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.
Myra liked to say Dante would know
how her daddy felt now, he’d write
him into the Divina Commedia
as one who might have saved Alighieri
from being banished from Firenze.

Doug loved to listen to her erudition.
He’d known a black woman before
Myra, but no one like her, so filled
with whatever passed for normal life
down here, but so smart and amazing
he said to her, You should get away
from here, go to college?
She replied, I’d end up somewhere
I didn’t fit in . . . Doug thought
she didn’t fit anyplace here either.

Then one day Myra got a telegram
reeking bad news, her father’s death.
You’d think she would have said
something, Bobby offered next day
when he heard what happened.
Doug turned away saying she was told
only the day before. Bobby
took his anger out on himself.
Melindra tried to get him to stop
drinking. Bobby came home drunk
and passed out at three a.m.
She heard him talking to Danny
in his sleep, soothed his eyelids
with her lips, and he did not wake.
Dave tried talking him into giving up
the hootch, Rose was singing less
with the combo and working more
at the Black and Tan. The story
of Myra’s father was passed around
from Dave to Tony, then to Sanchez.
Sanchez told Bobby to sober up
or get lost. Bobby tried. He talked
to Myra to learn what she knew
about the man her father killed.
When she told him the whole story,
Bobby stopped drinking
and gave up his plans to leave town
for San Francisco. Cathleen
didn’t know any of his people.
She was doing fine without him.

Myra Jacobs went on loving Doug
Harper and DG kept coming from
the all-night turntable. She loved
going to sleep that way. He said
he couldn’t sleep any other way.
What about what I do for you?
she chuckled and made him moan,
if a man in heat can be said to moan . . .

(22 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, March 26, 2012


All art aspires to the condition of music,
said someone who knew how to dream.
When I get weary and turn to the music,

the wilderness clears, love’s fog returns.
The Pacific was never anyone’s. Waves
roll slowly in with their cargo and back
they go to join the rhythms of the moon.

From where dead fathers emerge to live
in the dance of their daughters, Nowhere
is sometimes within what I call beautiful,
I do not have to bear a woman's weight.

That was all Bobby could write he could
believe, and that only because he did not
believe in beauty, he was too young to be
so frail. He was too blind to see otherwise.

The music is Nowhere, and only beauty
of feeling is music. Her father lives only
in her grief. She lives, and her beauty is
the fact of breath, love inside coming out.

This is how a world was, then new life.
What is a soul if not the tremor of pulse
left over, hairline fracture of the heart
broken where grief likes to go to thrive.

Virgil, What will I learn I do not know?
When do we leave the devil’s asshole?
Why does rising come only after falling . . .

(21 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, March 24, 2012


His hand was broken in a fight and was now deformed.
A fire burned off Djano Reinhardt’s fingers.
In neither case did difficulty preclude desire.
Doug Harper was too volatile to stay out of jail.
He drank whiskey, smoked reefer, loved life. He said No
when friends brought out the spoon and needle and hose.
Purely the need to survive to play his alto saxophone.
He was an ex-con anyway. Lucky he lived through the joint.
Doing time for killing a guy in self-defense. Over a girl,
the guy’s girl. Blood pouring from Doug’s eyes, they wrestled
on the floor, and the guy brought up a gun from somewhere.
Doug turned the hand around that held the gun that fired.
With his good hand. When Doug was young he was a fool.
Now he loved to blow his horn. Endlessly, until he had to leave
the downtown warehouse with its large room
filled with such a pure sound it echoed. Home, he went to sleep
playing Dexter Gordon on the aging stereo.

He found little rivers inside his head; they flowed through
his watery soul. Skies over Puget Sound filled with clouds
resembling DG. A friend who wrote poems had one
called "A History of Clouds." History of all the shapes
clouds make in passing. As life passes.
Every night after playing his horn all day
he smoked and took his drink to the street. Invariably,
cops clamped him in a cell to sleep it off. Then
he met a girl who listened to him play, longing to love him,
and she brought him luck and came along to hear
Sanchez & Company, this brilliant young woman
who knew Spanish and Italian, but spoke only English to him.
She was his Sarah, her name was Myra.
Sarah was the name of the singer who could scat like DG honked.
After work Myra was with him when he drank so much
he fell off his chair and slurred what he needed to say, Once
no one was home. Now Myra came home with him.

Doug had no idea how a beauty like Myra could love him
except for the sound he made out of devotion to Dexter Gordon.
Doug hated it his hand curled under when he moved it just so.
He wanted to forget it when the music was flowing.
Myra laughed when he called her Sarah. Same color skin
as Sarah Vaughan, she said, but the voice is missing.
Doug said to her, Even white boys have impossible dreams.
Some afternoons he played his horn to put Myra to sleep.
She loved that. Maybe because the house she came from
was always filled with sound she loathed when she was little.
Doug listened to Myra narrate the blows of her childhood.
Life was like that, something to get away from
as soon as you can, and stay away forever. Not that she could.
She still brought money home. She said she knew
her folks drank it all away. She paid her dues.
When Sanchez said Doug’s gig was for keeps he stopped drinking.
She helped him stay quit so he could play what he’d never heard.

(20 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, March 23, 2012


Yellow scarf around your head
of black hair, red flared skirt,
black blouse with tiny yellow
and red flowers you had picked
in case I might pick up a phone
and wait as you climbed down
from the cell where Mommy put
you for safekeeping in Seattle.

Malcolm Cowley’s Exile’s Return
lay open on one arm of the chair
I sat in and you sat at the foot of.
Your way of declaring a respect
I had not even begun to earn.
Nor would I, until years passed
with the waves lapping the boat
and our bodies rocking with it.

Your art was imagining clothes.
Your drawings went to Paris
to be realized with whole cloth.
Downtown San Francisco,

Cathleen’s. At first not yours
but another's, who started your
career. You gave it up for me.
I would never understand why.

We went to New York to live,
I could not live without dying
so we fled into Massachusetts
like Puritans who put down
sin by poisoning holy water.
Bobby, you said, time to go,
the Sangre de Cristo lie above
though they seem to be below.

He had known already a place
Cathleen danced and stripped
to music, was it Caravan?
You cannot stay with alien eyes
covering you with their bodies.
Great whales must go a long way
with such burden to approach
Seattle at night through dream.

All day he was consoled by water.
When she was finished drawing
he told her the stories he recalled
without the names of Constance,
Earlene, Melindra, and others
whose names he lost to memory.
It was her name he never forgot,
nor did he want to, he saw her

forever in his mind’s eye and she
returned his long letters always
with long letters she wrote when
her men were between pleasures
and toil. So they hoped she knew,
but there was an end to such trust
when love was only a word uttered
and heard, and in fall the rain fell.

In Seattle rain was sometimes mist
but with summer the sun seemed
to send its little dancers to the lake
to cavort on the glistening waters.
She wrote, in San Francisco, this:
I always dreamed we started here.
It was the only other city I knew
where Dante designed the streets.

(19 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dave Cole & Rose

                              Dave Cole

It was going to be a good year, the stars were aligned that way, the astrologers said.
Bobby pleased Sanchez, playing clarinet when DG couldn’t make it
and filling in for Rose when she needed a night off. He managed the Black and Tan
so Rose could sing. Bobby’s head was always full of images and Cathleen said
he remembered everything. He knew he could not forget her.

Dave Cole played piano and wrote songs with sounds only, never with words.
He wrote an instrumental piece he called "Rose," and Bobby asked him why
he left out the words. I’m not a word man, Dave said, would you like to try?
I don’t know Rose, Bobby said, all I know is she’s a blues singer, the best in town.
Blues is the only word about her that I know too, Dave said.

Bobby went to the New Congress every chance he got now, the hired man was fine,
a black man who quickly became a brother at the Black and Tan.
Bobby was asked to play the clarinet, so he did when he could hear Rose’s voice,
what he came for. She’d also started singing when Tony played piano.
Laurie always came with Tony. Listening, she glowed.

Dave said one day he was seeing less and less of Rose, he was on the outs
with her. She told him he was trying to contain her life in a thimble full
that once was a cup overflowing. She said she always knew love
was like that, but why did he have to be like all the rest, Rumplestiltskin
lording over her with a piano instead of a loom.

If I didn’t love her as much as life I would start over, Dave said more than once.
Bobby knew he was speaking from his hurt, his admission she might be right.
I know she is, he said when Bobby came clean with him. Yet Rose stayed
living there, Lu Ann knew there was trouble between them, and once Bobby
looked in on her and found her alone, weeping.

Lu Ann loved Rose so much she filled up with tears hearing them fight at night.
In the daylight they didn’t say much to each other. Lu Ann thought it was okay,
she would rather hear silence than listen to chaos
between the two people she loved most in this world.
To Bobby she said, I won’t last much longer.

Dave was at the piano one night saying, I wrote this for Rose; then played the song.
After it was over, he said to the audience, I wrote that for Rose
because she knows what love is and this is how I tell her how much I want to know.
Soon he came up with something on paper but did not sing.
Bobby asked him if he could see what was on the paper.

Dave had written nothing down. It’s all in my head, he insisted, and I imagine
the music will change every time I play the song. He said to Bobby, I hope Rose
will take what I say to heart. I don’t want to lose her. I don’t care about the song,
the music’s still there, I have no other way to tell her
I love her and to be heard by her.

Melindra came to the Black and Tan one night Bobby was behind the bar.
He announced to the room that she was as Irish as he and would never
get away now that he’d found her. When business ebbed he asked
if she would sing on the little stage if he played the clarinet.
She said she would if he knew "All of Me."

(18 March 2012)


music by Dave Cole, lyrics by Bobby St. Clair



You can’t just let me go like that,
I wore my own best dress and hat,
You love me anytime you want,
I need your love like I wear my coat

When we found each other the music poured
all through our bodies while the thunder roared,
When summer came we let our love grow cold
though life went on, but not so loud



Rose, Rose, Rose, I must have you back,
I play your songs, you sing Good luck,
baby, I loved to love you in the dark,
you made our music anything but work

I never knew that life could be this rough,
I hope you stay, baby, I’m not so tough,
I know better than say love’s not enough,
I want to wake with you and hear your laugh


Rose, come love your Mister Cole, let him play
your song and hear you sing and have his way,
Rose, hold your head just right so I can see
the scar I kiss until it goes away


poem and song copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Patrick's Day 1965

This might be the year nothing would change that had not already changed.
Bobby spent the day with Christina. Or, more accurately, she spent the day
with Melindra and him. Christina was not Irish, but Sicilian; Jones
was her first husband’s name. Through her Bobby met Tony,
who took over on piano when Dave wanted to spend the night with Rose.
Melindra suggested fishing for salmon at Westport–
hire a boat, rent poles, bait and tackle, then fish the Pacific
for salmon on St. Patrick’s Day. Melindra caught two, the others zero.

Christina and Bobby found where the engine didn’t drown them out
and she talked about Henrietta and Danny and their Irish tempers.
Christina said, Henrietta sang at the New Congress, but also downtown,
where she was treated her like a celebrity, her voice was so fine.
Henrietta was a tall Irish redhead with a repertoire
that let her go on all night without repeating a song.
I was already working at the New Congress when they married.
After you were born she fought him for telling her to stay home more.
Danny let his own Irish temper take over when Henrietta rebelled.
About then he started giving up on her and spending time with me.
I was a fool for him. He kept telling me he wanted you to live
with me and him. I let him talk me into going to Reno to marry
without him divorcing Henrietta. I became your mother’s double.
Danny even introduced me as your mother, though Henrietta was
too well known by then and no one took him to be serious. Bobby asked,
Couldn’t you have married someone who didn’t gamble for a living?
Seattle was full of handsome men. She said, Beautiful women too.
Bobby countered, You don’t marry a man knowing he’s already husband
to the fiercest Irish lass in the city if you know the odds.
Christina smiled: I knew the odds, Bobby, I cleaned up in Reno.
Bobby asked: Where was I? thinking: Why don’t I remember?
Christina said: Henrietta farmed you out to your Grandma Murphy.
Danny told her I would be a better mother than Henrietta.
She agreed, to my surprise: My daughter’s too wild to be a mother.
But she was, Danny said. She brought me into the world,
how could she let me go? Christina couldn’t say. Before Danny,
she and Henrietta, who was like an older sister, were pals.
But Christina couldn’t say why she was the way she was:
Dope, maybe. She drank a lot to cool down. The prospect
of nothing and no one holding her back; who knows?

Christina turned her attention to the big one
Melindra was bringing to the boat, paying out line,
reeling it in, letting the line out again, working with the big fish an hour,
and Bobby scooped it up and out of the sea with the net, watched it flop
its life away on the floor of the boat, while the skipper turned around
toward land and accelerated to get back by dark.

At the Black and Tan, Bobby checked with the guy he’d hired
to share the work behind the bar, then yelled Erin go bragh!
and the blacks who felt solidarity with the Irish returned
the cry heartily, but changing the words to Be with us, brother!
Bobby recalled Cathleen insisted the poor hated the Irish,
saying they came here to take the jobs away. One St. Patrick’s Day,
Bobby went to mass with her to hear their favorite Irish priest
declare the Irish and other poor people had too much in common
to fight each other any longer. For such words he was loved.
A tape of Black and Tan Fantasy was beginning to play.

Bobby closed the door on the lush Ellington orchestral sound.
After depositing Melindra’s catch on ice at her house,
they drove to the New Congress for dinner, grilled salmon
with Pinot Noir. They let the music wash over them.
Later, still sitting between Melindra and Christina,
Bobby requested the Sanchez and Company version of Danny Boy
and was summoned to the microphone because he knew the words;
and Rose led the welcoming applause.

(17 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


So this is how she was
when she sang . . .
Her shoulders closed
her body over memory
of all she had heard,
screams in the dark
that stayed as moans
you can’t release
except in song.
She listened when
she could to blues,
Ma Rainey, Bessie,
Billie, and a hundred
between, nameless.

Her first name meant something because that’s what they say when they say hello.
Her daddy’s name was Carter, the boxer you’ve heard so much about, she said
to whomever was egregious enough to pry into her past. The scar should be enough:
the scar. She sang blues for how she got to be the way she looked. Fucked around
at his place and had to walk home in the dark–that was before Dave, she recalled . . .
I had no home, no Lu Ann, no Black and Tan, no nothing that don’t wear you down
and blunt your edges so you begin to look the way you feel except when you love
the man who ends up not as much in love with you, he’s an excuse to do blues then.
I learned to listen to them until I mimicked them and wrote my own songs down.
I sang them first, I sang them last, I changed them so slowly in between this guy
and that, I had no anchor to the earth except these songs. Those I learned most from
were the old ones like C. C. Rider, Careless Love, Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,
St. James Infirmary,
you know the kind, women can sing them just as well as men. 
And women who knew how to do blues, Rainey, Smith, Holiday, I still listen to
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and keep my body going so the old songs can gin
in me all I need for food, drink, sleep, all the other reasons to sign off with last call.

She’d riff off Easy Rider once
and hold all the new words in
and let them out one by one
till her throat opened too wide
to hold in all she had to say,
the first word knowing already
the last one, what it would be,
and payed them out like ribbon
before the next one’s cut short
and lets all the other follow . . .
Oooh, your love loved loving me
till I rocked my rocking chair
waiting, waiting long for you
because I loved to rock you there,

which was not what she wanted.
She let the words set to get hard.
She couldn’t play a lick, but she
could sing, by God, and sang,
Lean back and let me rock you
till the sky gets free of dawn.
Oooh, send me on home, send me
where my body won’t fall down.

She had to wait to write up there
where you could hear them hear
what you went through to say
why even the blues asked why.

(16 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


You know what they say about the wilds of America: Get your gun and strap on your knife, we’re going to hunt beasts! There were people like that, you know. They wanted to destroy everything and everyone not them or theirs. They maimed and killed. They’re still around, everywhere now, not only in the demimonde.
Back then, Bobby read and reread Nelson Algren’s short story collection The Neon Wilderness. Bobby couldn’t shake from memory the last words of the gang kid Lefty Bicek, condemned to die as a murderer, in "A Bottle of Milk for Mother." "I knew I’d never get to be twenty-one anyhow." There was a lesson here.

Beasley lived down there. He came from Minnesota where he’d been an altar boy aspiring to seminary when a nun raped him and changed his mind about who he was, or would be. First Avenue was the location of Beasley’s hangout with the blonde queen Dee and the lithe redhead hooker Angel. Beasley wrote stories when he wasn’t looking to make it. It was for money to pay rent and buy food and have a few drinks before closing time, when he mimicked the queens and opened his backside to get his job of work behind him. Otherwise, you’d meet him up on Jackson Street, "slumming there" he liked to say with his characteristic irony. See him above his usual habitat, you’d think he was someone you missed in writing school, a guy who was developing a story based on Hamlet when you met him and you realized he was taking from the Bard what Shakespeare lifted from Holinshed or whomever, a cool black dude who didn’t have to convince you any other way than show you a story or two, some of which were published in magazines Bobby had never heard of and would never see again.

Jim took Bobby along, though Bobby should have been taking Jim there. But Bobby only knew the streets, he didn’t always know the people, it was bad manners to insinuate yourself down there, and besides Jim knew Beasley, whom Bobby should meet, Jim said, them both being writers. And Bobby couldn’t pass up meeting this black Shakespeare doing a Sam Peckinpah Hamlet. That’s how they met. First, the nameless bar up from the waterfront, Jim and Bobby sitting one side of the booth, Beasley and Angel the other side. Angel pulled a wad of bills from her brassiere and announced she was having a good night so far, she would have an Old Fashioned. Beasley passed. Dee was sitting by himself next to a window; when Beasley motioned him over he came to the table. Sure, Bobby wanted to tell him, I know you, you’re the guy with the sister lives in the House of Usher, what you doing in the city? At least Bobby thought it, he minded his manners. Dee didn’t talk. Angel said, You come over here, honey, I’ll give you a hand job. Dee said nothing. He stood by the table primping his blonde hairdo, checking his mascara by peering into the mirror back of the bar. Beasley said, "Dee’s getting ready to work now, it’s near closing time."

After closing, this being Friday night, the boys and girls were attending The Dance, they called it. You turned a corner and negotiated the five or six steps down to the door of the ballroom, where the homosexuals and lesbians danced together under colored lights to LPs of Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, say. Angel and Dee were off doing business, Beasley said. Bobby and Jim stayed an hour and got to tell the people "I’m sorry, I’m straight" several times as they sipped beers and watched as the others watched them. That was one night. Another night Earlene went with Bobby to The Golden Lion, the bar on Second Avenue featuring the female impersonator with her python whose coils provided their own curves and Earlene said, He could work in N’Orleans anytime. That night Bobby saw Beasley for the last time. No, he wasn’t writing, he was dying. It’s my liver, he said quietly, too much hard living. He didn’t smile. Earlene thought he was a perfect gentleman. She couldn’t believe he worked as a prostitute, adding, I’d probably be whoring if I didn’t have a kid whose father would do anything to take him away from me. Before she left Seattle for New Orleans again, she asked about Beasley, and Bobby told her that the last he heard Jim said Beasley was still dying. She remarked something like: It’s good he had his stories to remember him by. What he didn’t tell her was the likely fate of the stories. There were no literary executors living where Beasley was dying.

Maybe I’ll die like that, too, Bobby told Earlene. She didn’t want to hear it. He said, At least Algren gave Simone de Beauvoir a ring she wore instead of Sartre’s when she went to the grave. Earlene said, Don’t worry, honey, I’m here. Then, a little later, she was gone, back in New Orleans, to stay.

(15 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, March 19, 2012


When first he lived in that city he roamed the streets, returning
at evening to find a place for his box and curled inside he slept.
He was from Seattle, but he was in Los Angeles then, gathering
the materials he would transform into tableaux only he imagined.

Joseph Petta Jr. The Doors of Heaven and Hell, The Jinni’s Out:
the first is on memory’s wall, the second on the bungalow wall.
A clock’s doors open and inside is a wolf fronting the landscape
with–is she Red Riding Hood? or a more inflected replica of fear,
of a young, brave face whose beauty lies in her indomitable will,
intransigence, a quality boys know, even if they keep such secrets
concealed lest the doors fail to open when her hand turns a knob,
and the doors of heaven and hell refuse to yield, wind seals them,
and life’s brief tremor receives its hoary pall. In the other picture
a great red monster of its own closed space has found a way out,
one red arm raising a red hand above the gray helmet it wears,
eyes incommunicado, unaccustomed even to moonlight, reaching
perhaps for the orange moon that, if it turned from your eyes,
would wait until the cloud had sliced its middle, hovering over
the hand lifting out of its red chest. All else you must remember.

Petta lived on Alki Beach, in a house he was building, knowing
it might be washed away if he were not careful to build it as far
above the waters without girdling the asphalt walkway, and his
wife helped him. What was her name? Dave Cole would know,
and so would Doug Harper. Bobby was with them one Sunday.
The beams and rafters were up. Petta showed them the blueprint.
He said, Water stirs my imagination, I will never lack for desire
to paint. Here now I feel the sculptor’s need to chisel from the air
a habitat for my wife, for our kids. The children were sleeping
after rising with the dawn, as their father did out of habit daily.
They slept in bedrolls on the sand, blankets spread under them.
The Pacific kept time by its waves. So this was how art is made.

Dave Cole bought The Jinni’s Out and gave it to Bobby for his
birthday: So many years ago you open the doors and see your
youth gliding between Paradise and Pandemonium. Remember
the love of comrades in the bleak, rainy winter of their departure.
Petta went above Seattle, above Bellingham, to the town he found
once the war was on and art was indulgence in the eyes of many.
Dave said he didn’t know what happened to The Doors of Heaven
and Hell. Petta told him it was sold but to whom, for how much,
or where it was now, he did not know. Petta was casting jewelry,
thick slabs of gold and onyx and emerald light enough to wear
but with the sheen of weight that frightened most women away,
while a few loved it so much they wore it for their men in bed.

Joseph Petta was the first artist whose work would open doors
Bobby went through, or so it seemed. He tried for years to find
the words for what lay behind the doors, above the jinni’s hand.
He lived his childhood briefly, when his grandmother Murphy
showed him the books, read him to sleep, and upon waking
he let the images work on him until his own words appeared
on paper like a magic slate. That was how you started over.
His grandma showed him how to see through but not beyond
windows. She kept his mother beyond the doors of her house.
With ritual his grandma drove him to the redhaired woman’s
address and let him out on the sere lawn before driving on.
His mother was twice as tall as he. She had a voice he loved.
She showed her men the door. They gave pleasure, she said;
he would know that word once he learned what a body needs.
Bobby would never be lonely then. But what did lonely mean?

When he was much older Bobby hitched to L. A. and lived
how Dave and DG told him Petta learned what his life had
waiting if he did not begin now to search for what he loved.
When he found her she found him. With love art was made.

(14 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Roethke had died that summer. His new book appeared a month short of a year later and contained the "North American Sequence," six poems that immediately became Bobby’s favorite Roethke poems. The man was one of a kind, as Wagoner knew and Bobby was learning. Bobby took his poems to Roethke and not much time passed before the bear of a man gave them back, growling his praise, encouragement, all Bobby needed to hear. So this was it, Bobby vowed, it’s poetry then, and how does a man live in a city writing poems? And if Roethke was dead at fifty-five how long in God’s name do poets get?

Bobby remembered the first time, how the man limped out to the stone terrace beyond the door to the fading brown English building named for Vernon Parrington, who wrote Main Currents in American Thought in the thirties. Roethke descended the stone steps and Bobby walked with him down the path to the street, Roethke’s gait never faltering even with what he called his "tennis limp." They drank coffee in Aggie’s, where Earlene had worked. Bobby listened to him say, diplomatically it seemed, Lawrence Durrell was a poet Bobby would probably not bother rereading, and when Bobby said he’d read the first novel of the Alexandria Quartet before Durrell’s Collected Poems, Roethke soon shifted attention to the poems Bobby had written. One, "The Returning," Roethke said was very good and Bobby needed to follow where it led him. "The Returning" went this way:

I have gone down all the streets you married,
found only the sorrow you left behind,
my food and drink, and the sweet opium
smuggled into my sleep for you to share,
where no other woman’s hair is so black,
her polished skin so dark, and I am done
with desire’s tentacles, its remorseless
circles I fail to see before the curve
in the street, where you disappear and I
mark time with footfalls, then the muffled hush
of your body walking with flesh-bare feet
tracing the path back where I am waiting
to close the circle and know the craving
that grows so great before the returning.

The next time he brought his poems Roethke was in a hurry to catch a plane to New York to accept the Shelley award. He’d just taught his winter seminar on Yeats. He stuffed the poems in his briefcase and said he’d read them while he was away. A few days later he gave them back with fewer words, though he said Bobby should stick around another year and take his verse writing class. Meanwhile, he advised, you should read Louise Bogan, you could learn from her poetry. In the gray paperback of her Collected Poems, Bobby read and reread "Medusa," "The Alchemist," "Cassandra" "Hypocrite Swift," "The Sleeping Fury," "The Dream," and "Evening in the Sanitarium," but the poem that spoke to him with more meaning on the first reading, and would not let go, was "Several Voices Out of a Cloud," where Bogan wrote:

Come, drunks and drug-takers; come perverts unnerved!
Receive the laurel, given, though late, on merit; to whom
          and wherever deserved.
Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue,
Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is deathless
          And it isn’t for you.

Roethke said it was the nine muses speaking from Parnassus. Bobby thought they must be akin to the street muses, each one of whom knew something he had not yet learned, try as he may. As for Parnassus, it gave a sobering view of what was not poetry, a kind of X-ray of those who would in later years declare Roethke was not so great, he was actually quite ordinary, or so one punk from Portland declared long after the burly man was gone. Bobby usually felt welcome when he moved among the addicts and the so-called perverts, none of whom gave a damn about praise from anyone who didn’t understand their unending work that when it happened they would know was–yes, say the word–art . . .

(13 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Lu Ann said Rose was like her own daughter. I asked where Rose came from and she said I should ask Dave. I asked Dave one night before she started singing with the boys. He said he didn’t know, I’d have to ask her. I stopped wondering. If she wanted to tell me, she would. I had this habit of asking people where they came from, maybe because I couldn’t figure how I got here by way of a singer and a gambler, and it must have been her singing interested me, obviously it was, so I waited until she replaced me and I replaced her and the nights got longer because Melindra was unhappy with our new life and I was writing to Cathleen hoping she would come back, knowing she had no real reason to, once you’re in the White City, as we called it–San Francisco–she would not want to come back to Seattle, where she started from, her haven from Spokane, city of her birth and city she loathed. In a word, I was fucked up.

When the twenty-fourth year of the day of my birth was approaching, I was in the bungalow writing a little piece about fleshly origins and frankly wondering how much longer this subject would keep me going and thinking if this was all I had to show I may as well stay with the clarinet and/or vocal improvisation as Paul called it, or was it Anna . . . Anna came over and said Kennedy was dead. That settled it, I holed up at the New Congress bar watching the TV and did nothing else but sip beer and watch the black-and-white for days. It’s unlikely many others failed to find a stool and a screen somewhere in Seattle. If we were there at lunchtime, we’d see Jack Ruby thread the Dallas police line and put a bullet in Lee Harvey Oswald as he was leaving jail for an appearance in court, to be arraigned for the murder of the president, but now that Oswald was dead we would never know for sure who killed Kennedy, and the Warren Report defied all credulity. I look back on it all now, fifty years gone by, and we’re still here, though when I feel gratitude that the bomb has not gone off since Japan, I do so uneasily. All that history gone down the drain: finally a prez half black, half white, a brilliant man who might be the country’s best hope to do what JFK set out to do, namely, civilize America . . . Barack Obama, as much hated as loved, pommeled daily, nightly, by the cries of recidivist whites, know-nothings who don’t want to know more than the hireling con artists feed them, whose politicians work to pass legislation to chip away at the voting rights law and achieve their aim to have the vote withdrawn from the poor, and a war Obama can’t get out of now that he’s in it, and the seemingly inexorable takeover of Fort Knox by the rich.

But hell, I’ve been here before, down at the mouth, enraged, unable to see past the fog. Yet it was worse when there was still a surplus of what Obama so endearingly calls hope. Says I to myself, You’ve lived a life, a septuagenarian and so is Cathleen, and what do you expect after that war to end all configurations of the word peace, I mean Vietnam. When Cathleen says my brother should have lived and we would be happier now, I think of the Wall in D.C. I think of the men I knew, and some of the women, who died in Indochina and I keep on trying to immortalize them with mere words, remembering who and what they were before the quagmire, as David Halberstam first called the Vietnam war, which officially transpired between 1964 and 1975 and left a void in the country where its heart had been. I wasn’t there among the sharp stakes that erupted from the earth and speared the body, or walking point to be the first casualty of ambush . . . No, I didn’t go, I was lucky, I’d never have gone, and I was not alone.

One night Dave and I stayed up all night in his house, talking about what each of us would do if drafted, and Dave said he would defect to the enemy. He wasn’t going to kill poor people. I agreed, though I wouldn’t be a defector, I’d be a draft dodger. Neither one of us wanted anything to do with killing people who had the right to their own country. We didn’t give a shit about the national fear, communism. I preferred the word socialism and even then believed it was the only way the States would find their Archimedean point, what Kafka said was the point that must be reached, that there was no turning back from. And God knew we were adrift again in a country founded when the wealthy lived on the backs of slaves uprooted from their own country and condemned to die under the lash of the master. No, I would not wage war on men, women, and children, and the old people whose country it had always been. I’d stay the hell out even if it meant leaving the States. Everybody born had the right to live as they chose. Vietnamese lives were their own and deeply rooted in the land that was theirs from birth.
(12 March 2012)

Friday, March 16, 2012


Actually, it was Rose who got me started writing this. All this began happening after the scholarship ended with the end of the spring of 1963. I was happy singing but I knew my voice wouldn’t last, I knew too little about what to do with it, and Sanchez was looking for a woman, and found her–yes, Rose, Dave’s lady. She took the stage now and then at the Black and Tan, when one of the two owners decided to take some time off and help run the place. She did what she called White Girl Blues. The clientele, who were all black except for the owners and a rare customer or two off the reservation, as some were hip to call it then–you could sit there and listen to them talk about her after she finished Careless Love or Make Me a Pallet on the Floor or one of those other wonderful misery purges like St. James Infirmary; you know the kind. I was there once with Dave and she came over to our table and said, I’d like to do that all the time . . . I mean, for a living. In the smoky room with its beery stench she waited till the boss man came over and asked her to spell him, but first I told her she should take my place with Sanchez and Company, that way she could spend more time at night with Dave. But who would care for LuAnn? she replied. She liked to toss her long mane of brown hair around her lovely face with its arrogant scar down one cheek from a mugger who wanted her body as well as her money and she fought back, taking the slash but kicking him in the groin so that he limped away while she was screaming for help, which never came, she said. She had to walk several blocks home and stanch the wound before Dave got home and took her to emergency. She liked to kid around and call herself The Cut Rose. Or some such name. That’s what she meant anyway. I thought she was goddam pretty and Dave was proud of his white-skinned lady with her bluesy voice and the sign of survival running crookedly down one cheek from the bone to the back of her neck. She was going to start soon at the New Congress. I was going to have to find a job that paid enough to get me a houseboat where I could live with Cathleen again because we never got it out of our system in that first brief go-around, and besides I thought we might love each other more than we wished we did. I traded places with Rose. She went to the New Congress and I tended bar at the Black and Tan, but I did not wait tables, I kept a notebook behind the bar and wrote in it every chance I got. You can fill a book like that faster if you’re working. You don’t have all the time in the world and after a while you know your job well enough to be able to think about what you want to say next time you have a minute to start setting it down. I don’t know who took care of Dave’s mother, Lu Ann, but I got the owners’ okay and hired a guy to work with me so I could walk the few blocks to Dave’s house and back to check on her every hour or two. She was a small black lady with a limp; she’d been born that way. She told me some stories I immediately wanted to write down once I got through with my own ongoing portraiture. There was the story of her husband’s boxing career and the story of her own time as a restaurant manager, no it was more than maitre’d, said she, I got to hire and fire and open and close and work the register as well as seat the customers. She said, I was a painter, I did water colors at first, then oils until acrylics took their place, and I’ll tell you, she’d go, I was the female answer to that choo-choo man Franz Kline, I called him that because his black strokes on white canvas always put me in mind of a train moving, something like an axle or whatever you call it churning around faster and faster until the whole gallery was full of such motion and I swear, you could get dizzy looking at that man’s work. (11

(March 2012:II)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Bobby's Italian friend, Tony, drove a Morgan
and stayed out all night. He hated the man
posing as his father, his mother’s new husband
who came from a town in northern Minnesota,
someplace called Bemidji. Tony got to know
Jacqui, who had heard of Bemidji. He
informed her it was Ojibwe for "water
crossing other water." "What water?" she
asked Tony. He said, "The Mississippi
crossing a lake; say bemijigaumaug,"
and she tried. So Bobby heard the story.
He was trying to stay away from her.
She lived like she had a good time sleeping.
He stayed away from both Jacqui and Marge.
He needed to learn to save his money.

Am I the only one who knows nothing?
Bobby thought. He was beginning to learn
to sing. Wasn’t that something, Irish boy?
Maybe, the voice between his ears replied,
have you nothing to do but sing of love?
Tony and his girl, Laurie, came to hear
Bobby. The combo was in fine fettle,
as Bobby had heard the old-timers say.
Because he’d just had his Billie Holiday
student dream, he sang Body and Soul
the way he remembered her saying it
should be sung. Laurie clapped loudest.
Tony knew Dave Cole and went over
to the piano. Dave let Tony sit in and
Hoagy Carmichael was born again . . .

That’s how Dave Cole found a back-up
so he could spend more time with Rose,
the white girl living on the edge, literally,
though figuratively it was Madison where
Dave lived with her so he could stay close
to his mother and his brothers and sisters.
I’d say Rose is a looker, Bobby told Dave.
Dave told him to watch out and smiled.
Tony and Laurie and Dave and Rose
knew each other but not from high-school days,
where Bobby had met Sanchez, Clark, Dupree,
Jim and Marge. Rose tended bar and
waited tables and all the other things
no one else would do at the Black and Tan,
where the brothers and sisters liked to be.

Rose is a secret heroine of Bobby’s tale.
He begins hanging with Dave so as to hear
him say who she is in his oblique way.
Bobby learns the following: Rose comes
from a mixed marriage: her father married
a woman Dave’s mother knew from childhood.
Dave’s father died. He moved his mother.
She kept house while Rose was working.
His mother loved Rose as though she were
her own. His mother’s name was Lu Ann.
Bobby would learn more about her than Rose.
For lives that need no plot, the stars appear,
disappear, come back, and through centuries
love survives madness and death before Rose
sheds her thorns to flower in full blossom.

(11 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Body and Soul

Bobby had a dream. Cathleen with him
and a storm on Lake Union, the boat
crashing against the boardwalk,
and he was driving there to rescue–
how to be two places at once but in
a dream–and she was swimming, waves
engulfing the houseboat when he woke.
He wrote her a long letter asking if
she dreamed and if she did, what did
she dream, does she ever remember?
He didn’t say a word about his dream.
He would save dreams for after love.

He remembered when they lived together
on the boat, calling it their first house
or home. He saw it again, empty now.
Marilyn was home. Did she know? Yes,
she said. My mother bought mine for me.
No more rentals. This is a new world now,
the owners say, like those NASA guys
always checking in to see the future
downtown, drink in the Space Needle,
ride the monorail, tour Century 21
that makes Chicago’s White City look
older than the past, than San Francisco's.

That night he dreamed he was singing
Body and Soul, and what do you know?
It was a duet with the late Billie Holiday.
White boy, he said in the dream, you sing
Body and Soul like she wants it sung,
though I’d rather hear her all alone.
At the end of the song he floated away
like a kite in summer higher than clouds.
He climbed down a very long stairway
spiraling all the way to New York City
where she taught him God Bless the Child.
Dreams were where you did great things.

(10 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


We got the main gig at the New Congress,
where Christina would work, she said,
until she found Sugar Daddy, laughing.
She said my version of Funny Valentine
was a little more lively, she added a smile,
than You Know Who. But, baby, Sinatra
was unbeatable. I said I’d go a few rounds
with Frank before long, and then recalled
that’s how Hemingway and Mailer talked
about their ancestors. Christina buttonholed
me after closing time and told me Henrietta
gave me the gift. She swore she never heard
a woman with a deeper voice. A baritone,
was it? Whatever you call it, she said,
you’ve got it, honey, please don’t lose it . . .
DG also complimented the hell out of me.
I told him I was glad to be free of my reed.
One night we went out for drinks. I had
to protect him from himself. That’s how
jail was his only address, at least till now.
Sanchez told him if he had to stay drunk
he might oughta take his horn to Skid Road.
You could roll it down like they did logs
in the old days, and follow it to the bottom.
Melindra came to listen when she was off.
She knew more than I about singing,
I asked her how, and she just shrugged,
said she used to play her LPs night and day.
She also confessed she sang for a trio
when she was my age, eight years ago.
That was a little bootcamp for nursing
the pothead and the smack addict. They
must have known she’d be a nurse someday.
She said I should have sung opera. I said
I would’ve had to learn to speak Italian.
She thought that was funny and I thought
it would be impossible. Think of the single-
mindedness it took to keep your lungs oiled.
She said, My dear, I want you to be famous.
I murmured under my breath, Not that again.

(9 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Singer

It was hard to be two places at once, much less three.
His job as night clerk ended when the guys who hired him
and Marilyn and all the others but one
were found to be embezzling, and the one was the only
employee to be kept because he had more experience.
Marilyn said that was fine, she’d go back to Queen Anne.

When he went to California with Sanchez and company
he missed classes and had nothing to offer but what he wrote,
which is how he wanted it anyway.
They played in L. A. for their second and last appearance.
He asked Sanchez what he thought about him singing,
Could you get by without my clarinet? Who couldn’t,

he wanted to add. How do you know you can sing?
He showed them. He sang My Favorite Things.
That went okay, so after the break he did God Bless the Child.
That went well, as did a little later, My Funny Valentine,
and everybody in the club applauded so he might take heart
and did, and ended his debut with In Your Own Sweet Way.

Bobby told Sanchez he could set in on clarinet between songs.
But Sanchez had something new and had to find a sax, he said.
Doug Harper idolized Dexter Gordon, but he had a hand
that looked like it was hard for him to play sax. Even so,
he was damn good, and Sanchez went looking for him,
found him in jail, put up bail, and DG, as he called himself,

somehow transformed his more-or-less lame hand into gold.
With Doug’s tenor, Sanchez on drums, Dave Cole on piano,
Clark on bass, and Bobby’s straight singing, they comprised
a quartet plus one. They splurged to fly from LAX to Sea-Tac,
and Harper was waiting. He made himself sound like DG.
Bobby added Sinatra’s Time after Time. Then My Romance.

Melindra came to hear him one night in the New Congress.
She suggested he change what he wanted, show them how
extending a line sounds, or what happens to a song if lines
disappear, then riff on words the audience already knows.
That way Bobby changed the well known into a language
of his own, and had them believing he arranged his songs.

(8 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Marilyn was Jewish. She had a mind like a steel trap. Like the academics say.
She liked to show me her world. Her mother lived on Queen Anne Hill.
Marilyn had never married, though she must have been my senior by more
years than Melindra. She had lived in a kibbutz in Israel. She would do it again.
She loved the country and defended its existence with all her might. She was tough. She loved poetry, but she didn’t love the stuffed shirts she’d known who wrote it. She said I should show Roethke some of my poems. I told her I was chicken shit incarnate. That didn’t cut any ice with her. She kept at me until I said I would.

If there’s one subject I can’t share, it’s my religion. I believe in people being who and what they are, without restriction. I was born Catholic but I can’t believe it. I know Irish are Catholic in droves, but why would the church give me shelter? Marilyn went to synagogue. She never talked about it except to say she had gone. I had to admire her, she was people after my own heart. I told her of Melindra, she listened as though it were my heartbeat she heard, my pulse in her breast. I wanted these women to meet. I never asked Melindra. I stopped short of it with Marilyn. I did steer the conversation to Yahweh, was he the same as Mammon?

You know what people say. You’re a whore if you fuck with every beautiful girl you meet. I was a whore, then. Let the bastards contend with their own souls. I would do what I wished. No one was going to tell me what to do or make me feel guilty. I would pursue my own sins and look them in the eye, one by one, but by myself. If I was a whore, let it be. Who gave a goddamn what they said? I told Marilyn none of this. She held open house for me in her large houseboat. I told her about the one I lived in with Cathleen. It was around here somewhere. I told her about Cathleen, who was living in San Francisco, whom I was missing.

I went to see Marilyn after I’d been out of town. Sanchez got us a gig in Berkeley. I wanted to see Cathleen. She was home. She crossed the Bay Bridge to see me. She parked and we walked up Telegraph Avenue until we found a bar she said she knew. There was even a fireplace. She went with me to hear my clarinet. Sanchez dedicated to her, out loud, a drum solo. He didn’t know her last name and I never said it. She was Cathleen and that was enough. She was separated. I told her I knew a woman living on a houseboat not very far from ours. I was overjoyed. You know what it’s like to feel the world is yours and know it’s not?

In Seattle again, I asked Marilyn to look for a houseboat I could afford. I was
going to repeat the past, Gatsby style. Marilyn said she’d never move back here
now that she lived in San Francisco. I let that go. We kept working together.
She was like the mother I did not remember except to hear what people said.
Christina kept working at the New Congress. Melindra stayed at the hospital.
I wrote poems and showed them to Roethke. That was when he said he was
like me at my age: You sleep too much, you drink too much, you smoke too
much, you eat too much, you fuck too much . . . " Then he took the poems
with him.

(7 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cuba 1962

I’ve a mind to . . . I took a notion . . . I like to died . . . I’ll swan . . .
You don’t keep track of how they talked, you lose them to oblivion.
Last year I ran up a big hospital bill. Bonnington said, Pay it,
I’d feel better.

Henrietta was born in the South, Christina told me Danny
told her. Your full name is Bobby Henry St. Clair, she said.
Christina wanted to help me with my bills. Why don’t you be
a gigolo?

I took Sanchez up on his offer. I learned to play all of
Body and Soul and developed a knack for Time after Time.
We traveled some, Portland, L. A. Sanchez was a go-getter.
If I kept on

I’d be okay soon, debt free, Melindra would be happy with me,
still here or there, on the second floor or level with the earth,
but I stayed out all night and learned what a woman who loves you
thinks of all that.

One week the world began coming to the end. Kennedy stood fast.
I told Sanchez I had to have time off to go see Earlene. He said, Who?
New Orleans he’d heard tell of. He said, Maybe we’ll go there . . .
But who’s Earlene?

I straightened up, started coming home. Lovely came over one night
and loved me as good as I gave. How could I not come home to her?
With such a woman, why would a man let himself veer off course?
Why not go on?

Melindra kept her house, her job, she’s smart but didn’t want to part.
I’m a cur. I have my crazed needs. You know how curs love to stray.
Who’d want to lose Lovely? I write Earlene and she writes back,
I am married.

I met Roethke when school took up again. He thought Bobby Henry
was my full name. St. Clair’s more poetic, he chortled. He asked me
to read out loud. I filled up with air and stammered and stumbled.
I was too shy

to be a poet. But he wouldn’t have it, he kept asking me to read.
Then the world stopped trying to blow itself apart, such was the
worldly imagination. I would soon be a ripening twenty four.
I found a job.

The World’s Fair was on, I was a night clerk at the Coach House
at the bottom of Northeast Forty-Fifth. I walked to the bottom
and climbed to the top. I wrote a lot of poems and showed them
to Marilyn

Jonas. We took turns waiting on clientele. She was a true blonde,
I could tell. Tall, heavy-breasted, high-hipped, an Auntie Mame.
She wanted me to meet her cat Isis. Come to find out, she lived
on a houseboat.

At night they played the New Congress. Dave Cole was hired,
whose piano was at least as good as Brubeck’s.
Clark on bass was no Mingus. When the Fair ended,
we’d do a gig

in San Francisco. I thought of Cathleen who lived there now.
I was tired of trying to emulate Jimmy Giuffre,
but that was my ticket to get me to
our White City.

(6 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, March 9, 2012


Nobody listens to trains now. I never did, there were hydroplanes to hear. Far off, if you were more animal than human, which I thought I might be, you could hear the trains faintly.
So I’m going to have to catch another kind of ride, which means writing a song. Is that why I stay home more than before? I don’t write songs. I’m thinking, Why not learn all about trains?
It’s foghorns I hear, a ferry docking, freeway traffic, murmuring voices, music like Mozart, Giuffre. If I worked downtown in my Brooks Brothers attire I could hear my shiny shoes’ footfalls.
I wish I’d grown up in the country, where you can lie awake late and go to sleep after out there the train has passed the borders of sound, taking forever, I’m told, or is that wish-fulfillment?
I have never read Freud. Melindra has. She tells me all about the body of work that wrecked our lives by going places no mere mortal should even think of going in human company.
Bonnington likes to call me in monthly. I wonder if this is a madman’s parole. He keeps telling me I was worn out when Clark brought me here. He doesn’t say I could have slept more.
Bonnington has begun to discuss the divagations he’s read about artists. They never talk about art. He says it’s too hard to do it, much less try to explain. Like Ginsberg says. What’s that?
he asks. I say, like I’ve just pushed a buzzer to be first in line on some fifties rapid-fire quiz-show panel: Something like if I had to explain it, there would have been no reason to write it.
He divagates: What do you think of Ginsberg, or Kerouac? I begin quoting Howl. I also know by heart the opening of On the Road. I’ve not read Naked Lunch, but I hear it’s Swiftian,
Jonathan that is. I get around to painting fast. I can talk about Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,and do. Or the bicyle handlebars become a bull charging the toreador. You gotta admire Picasso,
he’s wealthy with one beautiful, brilliant woman who, when she leaves him for whatever reason, is never the last. Or Monet, how could anyone outplunge him to hit art’s lovely depth?
Bonnington defers–or is it demurs–to me, turning to my mind, saying I had better get a job fast. What’s the hurry? I’ve got one, Doc. What about working on a paper. You could edit copy.
I’d rather starve, I quip, telling lies again. When’s the last time you rode a train and how far did you go? He says, Like Amtrak? I meant the old-timers. Bobby, why do you need to know?
There must be more than this city has. He replies by telling me how young I am. Where did you live when you were my age, Vienna? His furrowed, knit brow is transmogrified into a smile.

(5 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Summer's Winter

1. August 3, 1962:

A year and a month plus one sad day more,
Marilyn Monroe lost her voice.
No confessions of Kennedy assignations,
narratives of how she climbed out of hell
and found herself back there, in her childhood . . .
her mind worth more to her than her body–
the tabloids would do her talking for her,
her life story easily found
in Confidential, The Police Gazette.
Every randy American lad mourned her death.
When the most beautiful woman leaves you,
what else can you do but make love
with her famous nude calendar
or buy a whore and love her forever . . .

Around dusk Bobby walked to Ravenna
to see Jim but really he came for Marge.
She was painting her toenails red.
Jim asked him how long he had left in school.
Marge took him outside to set up a date.
Her nipples pushed against her blouse.
He watched her shapely ass flounce back inside.
He waited until Jim came out. Jim said
nothing about Marge losing her baby.
Bobby felt like a goddam common john.
He wondered if his father was the way
Jim was, selling his mother to pay off debts,
telling her she loved fucking men so much
why not get paid, we would all die some day.

2. After July 2, 1961:

The year before, during his twenty-second year,
he no longer saw much of his old friends.
He stayed with Lovely and she stayed with him
each night after they had worked through the day.
Paul and Anna went on being happy.
Paul played music loud enough to reach out back.
Anna read what he wrote and told him the truth.
Melindra read what she liked when she said so.
When Sanchez found him he tried to talk him
into joining his new combo, he needed reeds.
Clarinet was fine, he could play the saxophone
if he knew how. Bobby said he would stay
with what he knew and try to get better.
Sanchez said, I’ll be back when the time comes.

He walked by Dylan’s one night Lovely was working.
Jacqui was there. She walked him to the Red Robin
across the bridge. She lived above the bar.
She plied him with wine, or so he saw it later,
pleasantly drained, having spilled himself into her
without so much as a word hinting of desire.
Afterward she talked of literature.
Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, birthplace of
Edmund Wilson, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pal.
Mother left her father, Jacqui followed her to Seattle,
worked on call with Kelly Services as secretary,
in a gig now with Manufacturer’s Life Insurance.
Bobby chided her, You must clean up with unions.
Walking home he asked himself why he’d left the house.

3. After August 3, 1962:

Marge said she missed doing him: Come see me
when you can. Once they were finished
she told him about losing her baby.
He did not know what to say, so he said nothing.
She showered and left
after he paid her.
Bobby preferred her to Jacqui,
who resembled elephant woman in Kama Sutra.
Marge was the mare, distinguished for her heat
with more than enough fire to spare.
You had to know she took money home
so Jim could keep driving his Cadillac.
He collected his trust a year from now.
Maybe then she could keep more for herself.

After straying, Bobby followed his guilt around.
Melindra drove him to the Olympic Peninsula,
out to Dungeness. He loved the place as much as she.
They were called lovers (as his teacher’s poem says).
As Lovely drove through the dark, Bobby wrote:
Rain drips from trees, rising into the sky.
He took her to dinner at the Viceroy.
She admired him in the dinner jacket.
Dungeness crab went well with Chardonnay.
They ate and drank and began to talk love again.
While they bantered he tried to read
her mind, and she his.
He took her dancing and they closed a cabaret
on Third and Yesler.

(4 March 2012: II)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Faulkner's Horse

No one wrote better than the old man.
He could drink and take his time
working, but always feeling something
he would say the way it came to him,
those majestic words of becoming
folding with other words that were all
nearing an end to stop with a word
he understood first: "Between nothing
and grief I will take grief" (Wild Palms).
After his horse threw him and he lay in pain
he drank from the bottle and died with ease.
Hemingway dead July 2; Faulkner July 6
a year later. Bobby read Sanctuary
riding the bus downtown to interview,
and he got the job. They liked college boys.
He would be a night clerk at Coach House
apartments converted into a motel
expressly for the Seattle World’s Fair.
Faulkner was a night watchman
when he wrote about Temple Drake
meeting Popeye who sold her in Memphis.
His first best-seller. It was a racy tale.
He considered it work. He got paid
by those whose property he watched.
Bobby started thinking how he could do
what old Bill did. No one told stories
better. Think of it, he had a real job.
But it wouldn’t begin before August.
He loved reading The Sound and the Fury
aloud. Melindra pretended she was bad.
Bobby made like her brother, educated.
He would off himself and she would come
to no good, at least in her uncle’s mind.
There would be no maids, white or black,
he would ever see working the night shift.
He’d be home by then, maybe even asleep.
All he knew about the South was Earlene.
He would like to go see her in New Orleans.
He would ride Faulkner’s horse there
once he reached Rowan Oak. That horse
would know better than make more trouble.

(4 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reading Hemingway Aloud

On the Fourth they stayed on the second story,
at the end of the street that goes nowhere.
All day in bed. She made brunch, he came down.
Hand in hand they returned upstairs.
With dark they dressed and walked to the water
and watched the fireworks. He groused, God damn,
Lovely, I’m going back. She shot back, Scrooge!

The water was blocks away.
The city was filled with lakes and boats.
These were the calm days,
even rain fell gently here
and there.
Someone said Paris sky poured rain.
He couldn’t remember The Sun Also Rises.

He started reading aloud to her
the next day she had off.
In his bungalow the rain slid off the roof.
He told her she would be Lady Ashley.
If you want.
I don’t. Make us both bystanders,
onlookers, that way we will stay here

and be there. He read until they stopped
to fish on their way to Spain.
He put the book down when Jake
did the same with Turgenev’s Sketches.
Waking, he read the immaculate opening
of A Farewell to Arms, even if it was Italy.
Then he read the end, in the rain.

(3 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Night Out

He took off the rest of the spring
and started the summer working
in the library, shelving books.
The scholarship came back
as healthy as he hoped it would be.
Melindra took him to see
My Fair Lady.On the wharf they stayed
in the car and undressed
in the front seat and made love
a new song. Love didn’t have
too many in its repertoire.
Lovely loosed her lore
of words you didn’t say in public,
riding him as though the lake
were her car and his body a boat
with sails lighting up the night.
She said, Now I can sell my house.
He said, Now that I have a house
we can give ourselves away
to waves to float out to sea.
Ah, you’re a true romantic, Bobby!
Will you always fuck me?
I will always fuck you Lovely
as long as you fuck me.
Midsummer then. Two days
before the Fourth of July
Hemingway is dead
and no one says it’s suicide
until, as usual, time goes by.

(2 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Paul and Anna put him in the guesthouse,
a bungalow in their backyard.
Paul said he could make all the noise he wanted.
Anna said he’d have to eat in their kitchen.
Bobby knew this must also be love.

Where else would he go? back to the place
where Connie loved to come . . .
Jim and Marge’s down the street . . .
Clark’s God knows where . . .
Dupree’s? Where was that?

He doubted Melindra would let him stay long
if he didn’t have her sleep here.
Paul and Anna wouldn’t care
if the lad and lassie gamboled in the backyard.
The dreaming was easy, what was the waking?

Out there you could see a circling of gulls.
It was far enough away you were immune
from the garbage smell.
Come up the hill on Forty-fifth and turn
toward the university, and there they were.

He would get a job. He would get a phone.
She would be here. He would be there.
He would pay Paul and Anna rent,
buy tables and chairs, and eat here,
love and sleep on the mattress on the floor.

He couldn’t help missing the sound
of lake waters lapping the underside
of where he lived with Cathleen once.
It would be lovely having Lovely there.
He wondered what it would cost.

(1 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Day Before and the Morning Of


She wasn’t at work.
He waited for Bonnington to show,
but no. Who said he would?
Bobby went back to work
and found nothing, bone dry.
Aide Tony came by
with his usual long strides
and told Bobby stories
of his move from Madison to Chinatown.

Bobby listened closely to these tales
of a black family among the Chinese.
Listening closely; that was the craft
most crucial to telling the story yourself.
Tony mentioned Melindra was out sick.
Bobby wanted to call her,
fussed with the blank page,
and finally did call, even said
I love you–like that.


Lovely was off work the next day,
but Bonnington showed.
He said, You’re out of here
tomorrow. You’ll be an outpatient,
I’ll call you in from time to time
and we’ll talk.
Now, your friends will pick you up

That night he packed
and slept for a change.
He missed stealing kisses here,
forbidden of course,
but she had unerring courage.
That’s why he loved her,
or believed he did.
What was it to love and be loved?

Changing places would be a gamble.
He would have to start over.
But hell, that was okay with him.
What could he lose?
Well, he could be pitched into the street.
He called her early morning–
the ward mostly still asleep–
and told her when. Where was the same.

(29 February–1 March 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, March 2, 2012


The Roots of Heaven
he had to read in English,
though composed in French.
A man who lives among beasts
and fires back at elephant hunters
takes respite with a woman
who loves him as she loves
the savaged elephants;
for her the ways of men
remain mostly in doubt.
Romain Gary the maker,
orchestrator of all his creations.
I bet he never wrote better,
Bobby thinks. He tells Bonnington
the story, but it doesn’t work
that way, the prose too dense
no one knows of what he speaks.

They all know The Sound and the Fury,
or say they do. Ha!
"Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.
I say you’re lucky
if her playing out of school
is all that worries you."
Part of a chorus of Compsons,
yet each voice distinctly its own:
Benjy’s idiocy, spawn of Southern sorrow;
Quentin suiciding up in Cambridge;
his wild sister Quentin, with no father;
mama Caddy, uncle Jason;
and Dilsey, wise in her dark skin,
who, only among these, knows them all.
What Faulkner needed he first saw
in the imaginary tree above:
the errant girl’s muddy drawers.

. . . now Bobby believes
there may well be another book
some day off out there
that bears his own name,
is in time’s womb now.
Melindra scoffs:
You told me not to do the very thing
I hear you saying. Bobby says
nothing more. Now she kisses him.
The day room’s empty.
She picks such moments with care.
The tawny lake out the window
looks like it’s rising,
some invisible whitecapping the rain
and the night is not far off
they may be alone,
her workday over.

(28 February 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Root

He didn’t know
from whom
his father
or mother came.
He didn’t know
who to ask.
Archaeology for him
was genealogy
That was a laugh.

Ripley & Company
sat at a table
with Bobby
facing them.
They gassed
about his work.
They seemed

You always know
these men
without white coats
for their probing
They seemed pleased
they knew a kid
from the lowlands
who could write.
He hid his clarinet,

he was dreaming
awake, playing
with Stan Getz–
Bossa Nova
for Reeds,
they’d call themselves,
Sanchez on drums–
Astrud Gilberto
brimming with song.

Ripley mentioned
Do you know him?
Bobby wished Cathleen
were here.
She could tell him
all the Roethke
he wished.
Roethke said
she had pulchritude.

No, Bobby said,
haven’t met.
He does know
his first
teacher was
a protégé
of Roethke
in Pennsylvania,
this curious line
of succession,

perhaps . . .
Ripley & Company
sat around
maybe even dreaming.
What if
he could hypnotize
with origin
stories . . .

Away from them
he wrote
about them.
They wanted
to be magicians.
Who were
their Merlins?
Draining the Zuyder Zee
was Freud’s

(27 February 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander