Friday, November 30, 2012

Prologue to Our Time

I piped up to say, We need to understand Southerners.
A friend replied, I wouldn’t worry about murderers.
James had lived in Paris. In meetings after May '68,
acedia thick as pollution. Complete destruction!
Let nothing survive in this totalitarian state . . .
Then on TV oceans bleeding oil, baby seals
clubbed to death to sell what they have–market
values, with hemispheres left to be conquered . . .
L’education sentimentale was his favorite Flaubert.
The age out of step with the young demanding love,
and though Edwige loves Michel she goes to Charles
believing she can be all things to every man
who needs, deserves her love to be understood,
and (a la Proust) Alberte, who too loves Charles.
I drowsed off. Someone knocking on sleep's door,
I woke. Charles was paying to be murdered,
the gunshot interrupting him in mid-sentence
of his last words. His friend Valentin, having done
the job, empties the pockets of the dead and runs
to his dealer, presumably, for he has a dire habit.
Debbie comes from Denver to live with James,
who wins an NEA fellowship to write a novel
and loses her after more than a year and nothing
done on the book worth keeping. I know, James.
Charles is in heaven or hell but it can’t be bad,
anyway you know where you stand. Suicide is
one way to learn what goes on on the other side.
I asked Chicago's John Froines about Appalachia.
He said I should go there. If Paula would come with . . .
She went home to live out her dying father’s days.
Because I was gone my father and mother died alone.

(after Bresson’s Le Diable, probablement, 1977)

(30 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Grail

Le Graal

The heart of another is a dark forest.

Blood jets from the instantly headless neck.
Skeletons still garbed in mail hang from trees.
Visors up when riding, down when dying.
There’s no Grail brought back. Plunged into the lake
perhaps. Yet once lay within Lancelot’s reach.
He failed. They failed. The heart rots, and the mind.
Waste grasped securely. He kisses her hem,
forswears adultery, vows to abate
his lust. She wants him to want her body. 
Grail enough for any knight, even him.

The horses’ hooves. Endless clank of armor.
Shrill bird cries. Horses also know the paths,
can ignore the reins. There is a forest
in men’s hearts, too many trees to adore.
There is only one Grail, one Guenievre,
one Mordred, one Gauvain, one king, Arthus,
Camelot with its round empty table.
Skulking to the loft, he loves her body,
she receives his, they die only small deaths.
She will die with Arthus. He dies alone.

Even where minstrels play, mail clanks, off-screen
horses whinny shrilly, games played to pass
the time between battles. Now Lancelot
anonymous under his visor wins.
He defeats the lot. Treacherous Mordred
holding the cards, Guenievre puts her hand
on Lancelot’s hand returning her before
riding under the forest’s empty sky,
dark birds plunging, a horse with no rider.
He sighs her name, rolling over to die.

Nothing but death is irrevocable.

(after Bresson’s Lancelot du lac, 1974)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nights of a Dreamer


From the country to the city,

hitchhiking, cadging rides,
heels clicking along streets
looking for love,
this beauty and that, they
are too much
for him, he goes to paint
and play the tape
that records his quest,
and scribbles with his brush
On the bridge he finds her
before she leaps,


She lives with her mother

who rents to young men.
The daughter hesitates,
it is love she seeks
but goes to one who makes
her love him by loving her.
Then he must go away,
promising to return,
naming the day to expect him.
That day has come and gone.
She has despaired and still
despairs. Marthe
will continue waiting,
searching for sight of him.


The boy goes where she goes.

He tapes the music of pigeons.
He listens to her
bemoan her love
already nesting in eternity.
She talks of the absent love
until she sees herself a fool
for not loving the boy
who listens to her every word
and goes everywhere
she goes.
She knows he listens,
she must surely
love him.


All this continues.

Footfalls wane, love grows
in her. He is already
in love with her beauty.
He has his room
to himself.
The nights continue dark,
their light the city’s.
On glowing tour boats
and dark barges
the young make music.
You find yourself
looking as though
through Marthe’s eyes.


At the end of the night,

the end of the quest:
the boy’s with her,
he sees Marthe see
her love look back to say
her name and she goes
to him, then returns
to the boy, but goes back
to her love and leaves
with him, having chosen.
The boy goes to his room.
He plays the tape.
Love’s dream ends well
unless it is up to you.

(after Quatre nuits d’un reveur, 1972)

(28 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cheri's Marriage [revised]

I tell Cheri she should see Dominique Sanda at seventeen.
She checks out Une Femme Douce from the town library.
She’s six years older than the unnamed woman Sanda is.
Cheri remembers being married, how after three months
her sky broke open. She had known him three years.
Three weeks passed before he beat her the first time.
No wonder she wants to go to London, then the Philippines.
America is too toxic. The smell in the smalltown air, even.
She says to me, "I thought it was a strong film, but why
are the people so wooden? Doesn’t anybody have a soul?"
I try to tell her that Bresson thought soul was what you see
when cool takes over the bodies moving through images
until sound or silence strikes like flint flaring invisibly,
and that is soul. She said she liked best the suicide scene,
loved seeing it at the beginning and at the end. The patio
wreckage, the sound of it first, then the billowing scarf
following her down where she lies in her bright crimson.
In those images were the only grace Bresson made visible.
Her husband could not find the words to spell his feelings.
Cheri said she had wanted to love, "that’s all, I didn’t know."

(after Bresson’s Une Femme Douce)

(27 November 2012)

Cheri's Marriage

I tell Cheri she should see Dominique Sanda at seventeen.
She checks out Une Femme Douce from the town library.
She doesn’t want to tell them she doesn’t know French,
only Spanish, that’s why she needs the one with subtitles.
She’s six years older than the unnamed woman Sanda is.
She remembers being married, but that was only recently.
Her sky fell in after three months. They dated three years,
then he turned into a wife-beater and she cut him loose.
No wonder she wants to go to London, then the Philippines.
America is too toxic. The smell in the smalltown air, even.
She says to me, I thought it was a strong film, but why
are the people so wooden? Doesn’t anybody have a soul?
I try to tell her that Bresson thought soul was what you see
when cool takes over the bodies moving through images
until somehow they strike like flint slowly flaring invisibly,
and that is soul. She said she liked best the suicide scene,
loved seeing it at the beginning and at the end. The patio
wreckage, the sound of it first, then the billowing scarf
following her down where she lies in her bright crimson.

(after Bresson’s Une Femme Douce, 1969)

(27 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 26, 2012

Little Fly

Mouchette. She would have been sister
to any boy who treated her as human.
Daughter to any man who nurtured
her into womanhood, talking to her,
teaching her, companioning her.
Or to any mother who would live
that long. Except for the poverty
of God’s grasp she too would have lived.
He could not reach as far as she was.
He did not believe in considering hate
other than as a sin. And sin? To live
with death a roll down the long hill
wrapping yourself as you gain speed
and at the bottom filling the dank water
with all that was never lived in your life.
They did nothing but prey on your life,
those flies who called themselves human.
They did what they wanted as they did
what they knew would help to kill you.
The beatings. The rape. The hollowing

(after Bresson's Mouchette, 1967)
(26 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Parable

        Mules were worth more than men
        underground. They strained
        to pull coalcars up the tracks
        back into the slagheap light.


By chance, for example, at random
Au hasard Balthazar,
one of the three wise men
is a donkey watching men in passing
getting lost: father, seducer,
a tightwad albeit redeemed.
This selfishness, hubris, cruelty
is also human, says Bresson.

A woman’s body makes a child
fathers do not have to carry.
When a child dies
its mother dies inside.
One whose firstborn dies before her
will die twice,
her body growing a ghost.
Marie, she says, is not coming back.
Raped, Marie shuddered in the cold,
naked. Some men kill for pleasure.

Spanish light over the French Pyrenees.
Enslaved Balthazar
pays folly with his donkey’s bray,
ready to die when the rains come.
The mother by her daughter’s grave
rebukes the murderer, gruffly
declaring Balthazar a saint,
La Sainte Bible his crown of flowers.

(after Au hasard Balthazar, 1966)

(26 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bresson, Two


It is hard to see God where He is.
There are too many upright priests.
You are better off in Mozart’s prison.
You can escape if you listen closely.
As for a way to feed your fear,
only her fingers entwined with yours
will sate the emptiness of a crazed heart.
Notice how a woman’s body fills God’s.
Imagine, shackled, opening the door.
You lay on your belly watching the thrush.
The orchestra tells you it’s time to go.
Fingers so nimble they conjure love.
I’m reading subtitles on the screen
  before I see they’re in English.

(after Journal d'un cure de campagne, 1951,
Un condamne a mort s'est echappe, 1956,
and Pickpocket, 1959)


We went out among the cattails after marbles
to smoke and drink and talk about the girls
we wanted. One among us even told us how.
I never believed anything, I was too young
to be that hellbent. I went to church with Irene.
We made out during mass in the back row.
We were agile. She knew just how to stroke
my cock without looking. I slid one finger up
her skirt. The priest droned. We waited for what?
Letting her go. Giving her the freedom she’d earned,
not fire. Or letting her burn the church down
while we watched from the hill above the town.
She never knew if I wanted to go to mass.
She did know I liked the view from up here.

(after Le Proces de Jeanne d’Arc, 1962)

(24 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 23, 2012

Une fille ou Une Femme Douce parmi Les Dames

When Cheri peers through her Polish eyebrows
smiling, letting her long Swedish hair fall,
pushing up the bra under her sweater,
maybe using the mirror behind her,
she must know the odds she’ll not take a job
paying nothing but the wages of sin.
Yes, I’ve begun watching the Bresson films
again, this time imagining a life
as I do so. She’s a gentle daughter
too young to be more than my granddaughter.
She saves her money to go to London
where she will become a missionary
in training for the Filipino poor,
speaking Spanish among the dog-eaters.
She would learn what I can’t teach. I’m a sin
incubating male evil-incarnate
digits et penetralia, I want
to be her incorrigible glamour
hombre, diablo with no pointy ears,
still Scots-Welsh-Irish, barbed at the far end
of seventy-three for her twenty-three–
no one like the cure in the country
or the pickpocket seeking redemption,
or a schoolgirl throwing stones at others,
or novitiate of Paris ladies.

--after Mouchette (1967), Un Femme Douce (1969), Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)

(23 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Devil's Asshole

All the generous hellos
match the unspoken,
the goodbyes.
Take yourself off by bus
but don’t promise
to come back.
I’m going. Get your stuff.
I’ll be far from here and there.

And she never heard
much more from him.
He kept busy
proving he was alive.
Something he’d left
for the last minute.
When the time comes
you don’t dare breathe.

He kept going
until he was farther south
than the penguins.
Here they said was
The Devil’s Asshole.
That’s how they saw it,
the holy ones
with toothless mouths.

You can have your stuff,
none of it was ever mine.
Even I was all yours,
though never conscious long.
And then all I did
was sleep and plan
what would come next.
Wouldn’t the world end?

There were the drawings,
the photographs,
the poems, parts of stories,
all about you and me
and how the cats lived
after you’d gone for good.
Or bad. The lonely cats
listening, switching their tails.

So I look around on days
I wake. I don’t know
what I ever saw like this.
The sky’s a dead weight,
the cars off the street
long enough to start to think.
I knew what words were for.
They were for you to marry.

(22 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wild Turkey Priest

  for Gus Blaisdell’s South Carolina cairn and for Judy Pence

You’d come down from the capital
to burnish your nails and rest up
from the trade. We were in the yard
raking rocks, the pliable stones,
around the roots of dead flowers
where seeds were to be broadcast.

We were very happy, if I may say
at this late date, so long after
the rocks in the yard would blossom
with yucca. The flowers consoled
our aches and pains and cicadas
all night abandoning their shells.

There we were, working in the yard
devoid of verde, no guitar
to go with the doomed poet’s song.
I liked to make love in my mind.
You waited until you knew my mind
was engorged and yours a rio.

We walked inside the screen door,
into the dark under its high ceiling.
The porch was empty, shadowy
with birds along the balustrade.
There emerged from your bedroom
someone whose name was not Jose.

He asked for the proverbial Gus.
When the well-dressed thieves
tinkered with the padlock
on the sliding-glass back doors
I watched inside, and then appeared.
"Why ask," I said, "'Is Gus here?'"

And here was No-Jose and drunk.
He turned the corner and I rose
on my toes, flaring ten fingers,
casting the willies through my lips.
"Just a minute!" he quailed, face red.
You told him to leave while I stood

flaring and flapping fingers and toes,
gobbling. After he’d gone, we left
for Taos. Next day the progeny
of Ambrose Bierce visited our cabin
to say the Salvation Army called,
they had your wallet full of dinero.

Across the field from the cabin
built to honor D. H. Lawrence,
wild turkeys flew like aspen flutter
over the horse pasture. Yet they flew
off Lobo, la montana, where wolves
warm the cold ashes of the phoenix.

You said, "I made a sockful of green bills
in the Inn. All I had to do was sit
at the bar until a john hit on me."
You had already shown me the layout.
Up the street was St. Francis Cathedral.
In its shadow Willa Cather slept.

When the wild turkeys migrated north
and were sighted along the road
to Alexandria, Cavafy’s northern
American city, "no queers, please"
posted, I asked, "Are you happy now
we no longer need to stay in Egypt?"

You said you missed the old one’s growl.
he who had invited you to come back,
"to see me." And you said, "Sure I will."
But did you? No. I took you with me.
I went with you. Complicated?
Fuck, I can fly. Words give me wings.

(21 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the City

When he returned his heart was more at rest.
He was either weary of, or had outgrown,
his past. None of it was worth what it cost.
He had taught himself to write about sports.
Then he played one year of football, baseball.
He pitched a no-hitter for seven innings
and hit a home run he waited too long to start
running out, watching the ball sail through the air
and over the heads of the outfielders, and then
he pitched at Mabton against Mel Stottlemeyer,
later the ace of the New York Yankees’ staff,
more than once a twenty-game winner, but not
then what he would be anymore than this one
inside would become him, or so he believed, once.

During his childhood labor and sports, the twin
poles of his growth, he read novels and wrote
what he saw on the gridiron and diamond,
comparing it to the strength a workday required.
He and two close friends played pickup baseball
with makeshift rules of their own, but nothing
compared to what he observed and remembered
when time came, suited up, entering the game.
He had learned to play by watching others
and writing of what he learned. It was words,
not prowess on the fields, he valued more
and more, as he began to live in his own skin.
That was what the city was for. A fit subject
for poetry and story. Where women dazzled.

He knew he must stay in the city longer now.
He knew the country and was a part of it.
Maybe he would come back but not now, no.
His shoulders had lifted enough heavy loads.
He could see what was coming, what arrived.
The rush of events was slow but deadly.
Here brutality came from all corners at once
and so he learned quickly to keep his distance.
After football and baseball were dredged out
through nerve endings and other ganglia,
the city became his study, its women too.
Here they were never so kind as Irene.
They were tougher than her, but not stronger.
She was more woman than any other might be
in the way she loved, never regretting.

(20 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 19, 2012

Inside the Currents of the Waterfall

“A dog looks like a wolf when he’s asleep.”

–Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night
(the 1934 John H. P. Marks translation)

Rita would say, I hear some dogs look like wolves when they sleep.

Rita called Bill Ray and said to his face, You’re a miracle.
I stuck with Bill. He didn’t mind. We were hot shits, I thought.
The less you did of something the better you think you were.
Winter lapsed into warm air. A current of fluttering leaves
where I walked with the sun open like a beacon with one eye.
This was after my friends came to where Irene worked
waiting tables Saturday nights. Here they were happy dancing
on three feet and his other one. The Good Old Boys, yes Good,
minded their manners and the Riverbend yahoos complied.
Bill and Rita found a place of their own on that dance floor.

Irene said she once found a waterfall in the Horse Heavens.
She stripped and swam. She could feel the currents from the river
falling over and around her. Irene would never leave,
not while I was coming here, to this wide place in the river.
I would come as long as Manuel and Lorene lived in their home
and Irene with Ignacio and Gloria in theirs.

Rita had a friend with dogs, Mary Louise, who lived nearby
and rode her father and mother’s horses bareback everywhere
on Cherry Hill, through her father’s orchards, above Riverbend.
Mary Lou, Rita called her, and they were wild together
though they lived fifty miles apart and there was no Indian
under Mary Lou’s year-round chestnut-brown surfaces of skin.

Rita loved dogs. Mary Lou gave her one, a white sheepdog
from the yards outside town, not far from the brick kiln,
where the local men worked. Rita knew the old story well,
how some dogs growled in their sleep and were said to run
in packs through their dreams. That’s why, Rita said, a dog
looks like a wolf when asleep. She had heard the story once
from one old man who danced inside the throw-together tents
on the Fourth of July. Older than the other old men,
he wore his long hair in braids plaited with fresh leaves
because the year of falling leaves was near half gone by now.

She never told the story because she said she did not remember
how the story began or ended, though she said the old man
turned his wrists until his palms came up and his long black hair
shimmered under the bare light bulb high above the dirt floor.

That had happened. After Rita recalled the old man talking
about dogs becoming wolves in their sleep, Irene
said she had heard a story of a gypsy from Mexico
who turned into thin air. She chuckled, saying, I’m nothing
but a Mexican, and your histories are told through stories
no one truly knows either the beginnings or ends of . . .
Not even you, she smiled, reaching to hold Rita’s clasped hands.
Rita said, I’m only a breed. Irene, you’re the real one.

So that was how spring began. Come summer Irene and I
slept in the desert by her house, on my portable back seat
we made love upon when one of us brought along a condom.
Our love was ending again. No love survives the winter
when the world is always more like spring on one side
of the mountains, where the river is, days warm and nights cool,
and on the other side, next to the ocean, summer brings rain.
The Pacific flows around islands to reach Seattle.

That was how a year was in a city where there are no wolves.

(19 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rita's Night Shift

When I got around to drinking
I learned how in Brownstown.
Bill McDonald had a wooden leg
but was the best quarterback
the White Swan Warriors
ever had. He got old enough to be
a habitue like me.
He was sweet on Rita, whose name
was as white as her hair
was dyed dishwater blonde.
She was a breed, her brothers
folded by the juke box
and slept until closing time,
sleeping one shift, then another
from nodding head to head,
and Bill and I were bad
bets to emulate their deaths.
Rita cut us off after hours.
She bought us good whiskey.
Don’t drink this beer piss,
it’ll kill you, honey. And Bill
melted visibly. How pretty
she could be. Always working
the same shift, till closing time.
The enormous stains her fingers
revealed, smoking Pall Malls.
She poured us Canadian Club
over ice. Bill said, Fill my leg!
Rita said, Fill mine, white boy!
and I don’t mean my leg.
It went like that Saturday nights
when I drove across the pass
and was old enough to drink
like a death-march survivor.
Relentlessly. How many miles
from Brownstown to Irene
waiting for a ride home
in the Circle Inn, cleaning up.
She said, You’ve been drinking,
why don’t you have coffee
while you’re waiting. I launched
into stories of the forbidden night.
I said I was learning to write
about drunkenness. She stopped me
dead in my tracks, pale white and desolate.
She said I should observe more
and experience less.
When Bill took Rita home, she had
him in. She taught him to make love
and clean up after himself.
Irene begged off, too tired to kiss
. . . a drunk, I added, confessing
nothing, making life a big joke
without a punch line.
I’d like to say she left me
but I’d be lying, she let me go on
living. I was dying to live with her.

(17 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 16, 2012

Beyond the Mountain

It is difficult, he said, to go on,
and where am I going?

It did not snow here much.
He was here a month ago: the drunk
Yakima man in Toppenish
in the gas station off the highway
wetting paper towels
to run through his blood-soaked hair.
He did not see this
in Seattle, named for Sealth, who said,
Our ghosts will return
to drive you off this land that is no one’s
now. You will never be rid of us:
There is no death, only a change of worlds.

Come home, she said, when you can,
we will make a baby.

(16 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 15, 2012


When he met a tall girl with a neck like Modigliani’s
women and she would welcome him driving to Tacoma
to see her, he wanted to take her from her divorced mother
who drank all night until stumbling crossing the floor.
He walked the girl to the nearby park, where the dark
reminded him Irene’s sky was full of stars, not so dark.

He read Shakespeare on the beach at Alki, drove south,
and soon was reading “Politics and the English Language”
along with Hamlet. It seemed a little like the Danish prince
taking instruction from the gnarly, courageous Englishman.
He arrived at Ophelia’s castle in mid-afternoon
and left by midnight, crazed by memory the next afternoon.

He drove home, his father was alive, still married to his mother.
He made love with Irene in her car, then his, with little sleep.
She did not smell like the Tacoma girl, her skin gave off musk
he loved to taste, or thought he could. His father and mother
loved her. His friend Jess Maltos, his Horatio, knew her
from childhood. So much to dream of heaven, to know on earth!

He went with the Tacoma girl to a river upcountry.
Her cousin looked like her father, both men of the city
whose styles were sober, stony. His feckless schoolmates were spies
reporting to no one, not even each other. Her cousin
her true love, she followed him across. The country boy refused
to swim. The current was too swift and his element earth.

He lived in the city like a fool obsessed with revenge,
though still only a boy whose heart was anchored in the country.
He no longer knew the way through Tacoma, nor did he care.
In a dream his face was filling the skull the gravedigger
plucked from the open grave, in his other hand the lost heart.
He read Nineteen Eighty-Four and drove over the mountain.

(15 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


There’s gonna be a reckoning unlike any,
his sister Ellen told him on the telephone.
She was staying the weekend: I just got
here. Floyce knew she would have her Bible out.
He talked with Manuel, then Lorene. He decided
against staying, unless he could sleep with Irene,
so he asked. She turned to her father. In Spanish
she asked, her father turned to her mother,
who said she would warm up enchiladas
in the oven and the four of them eat
before sleeping. He had been here all day,
in this house too small for two, much less four.
He heard cars pass by occasionally
on the highway that had been here only briefly.
Thirty miles east was the Columbia
where the ferry took your car across the river,
to the sagebrush plain, desolate as here.
He was going the other way. For him, water
was what ran by his house when he was here,
Lateral A, irrigation water.
The adopted son of the ancient Dutch
couple across the ditch–as it was known–
built a raft one summer that would not fit
between the ditch banks so he swam instead
or tried to, it was too shallow, still too narrow.
The kid was daft, the word would be,
perhaps a doctor would call him crazy.
The old man died, his widow depended
on the kid, who was now a grown man, mad
as a March hare, but the old lady kept working
insisting he stay by her, working too.
That was one of many reasons he lived
far away, the idiocy of his youth
on that gravel road made him happy to be gone.
There was the grown man up the road
who stopped to warn, The police are following me,
before turning and going back where he came from,
whereupon one vine was pruned before another,
spring work that to get done started in late winter.
His father said he was not feeling well.
He had been pruning the grape arbor when he fell
from his ladder to the patio’s concrete floor.
His father drew a black lung pension now.
He retired but still lived in his garage
except to eat, watch TV, and sleep. He was first
to rise. He sat over coffee with a pencil
and small pad of paper calculating money,
what he needed to spend, on what and why,
sometimes writing in his scrawled hand
what only he could read. He was like his mother
Drusilla: her hand was legible, her language
less so. Floyce used to wonder if she knew
the Cherokee syllabary, and just enough
to mesh the sounds of those symbols
in her mind with English, making a third
species of language. She was called illiterate.
He needed to go South and talk with her.
She had always talked with him. She was like
his second mother. She had always been
that close, since he walked across the pasture
alone, and he was still learning to walk,
his mother would shoo him out of the house,
she knew where he would go, and there she found
Drusilla teaching him how to do what she did,
hauling a pail full of drinking water
up from her stone well out on her back porch,
or churning butter, making biscuits, frying eggs
for him to eat with fresh butter on fresh biscuits.
In the full darkness Irene moved to him
and he did with her what no one else did
with either of them, at least not for now. 
He had hoped to make a baby with her.
Her tongue slid inside his mouth and his hers.
She was already wet between her legs.
He moved his tongue there, to her second mouth.
She held his head close arching her hips high.
His tongue made circles with tributaries
forming from the river between his teeth.
He wondered, Was she his boat or he hers?
They were both navigating deep water.

(14 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fear's Release

It would never happen again so easily
as now: She hugged close and her breasts were balm,
the warmth of her body and its smell elixir
for the ill coming out of a storm in bright sun.

We reached the top of Snoqualmie
and were headed down the other side of the Pass.
I saw the Trailways bus gone off the road
a moment before my tires failed to grip
the asphalt covered with a layer of fresh snow,
we slid in slow motion off the highway,
I corrected, steering with the slide and the car
left its trajectory toward the culvert,
as though refusing to wait with the bus
for the wrecker, and we were back on the pavement,
she was rigid in her seat, then supple again
as her hand slid between my legs.

We stopped in Ellensburg and ate dinner
in a hotel and we were both happy in bed
upstairs in the room we rented with her Greyhound
return trip refund. I felt her body milk fear
and dread from my loins the way her legs gripped
my hips. I had never loved her so much as then
and her dark eyes glittered, visibly sweet,
such love there I kissed the lids of each eye
softly and slowly so I would always call up
in my mind’s eye the radiance of her delight.

We were spent. We slept. The snow stopped. We left
at dawn and were home by noon. She would work
next day. Ignacio and Gloria
were overjoyed Irene was home with them.

(13 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


Monday, November 12, 2012

This City

This city would give him balm yet never
take her place. On University Ave
he found Louie’s Smoke Shop and learned to smoke
Havana Tampa cigars, Florida’s Cuba
a year before los barbudos’ revolution.
Saturdays he sat in the stadium and smoked,
seeing himself doing what he saw others do,
though he did not miss football anymore.
When Irene came he took her to a game
but refrained from the cigars. They made love
in his apartment on Forty-fifth Street,
a one-way not far from Parrington Hall,
where he learned more about literature.
Not far away, in the school of journalism
he practiced writing in the inverse triangle,
the lead followed by a gradual slope
to the end, the way busy people read
riding to work in the mornings. Downtown
no one made time for poems or novels.
They talked over drinks after work. At home
they drank with their wives, welcoming the time
free of children, asleep. They read in bed.
The best-seller Peyton Place was now a movie.
No one read poetry, no one heard poets read.
He read his verse to Irene, then they loved
and talked until sleeping. She went with him
everywhere except the newswriting hour.
That quarter he was learning to write plays,
reading O’Neill. She loved the teacher’s looks,
she confessed, and he joked, You have good taste.
She still worked at the drugstore and the restaurant,
though he begged her to move to Seattle
and live with him. She wanted to, she said,
but her father and mother could no longer work,
she was all they had to keep them alive.
She owed them that for the gift of her life,
that much at least. No, she would not marry,
nor should he. They had too much to do now.
He said, Move to the city and live with me, then.
You can send them all the money you make,
I will drive you over the mountains to see them.
He begged. She refused. Cash in your ticket,
he said, I’ll drive you back home over the weekend.
They went to the Greyhound and got her money back.

(12 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Manuel's Garage

Though he had to help his father in the garage,
the silence was difficult for him to manage.
He found the wrench and the correct socket
to loosen the head bolts, and did the same
removing and draining the oil pan underneath,
scuttling across the cement floor on the scooter
whose small wheels stuttered through dirt, oil and grease,
then washed his hands in the bathroom
off to one side, with its always-last-year’s-
nude calendar, and came out to inhale
the smoke of his father’s last unfiltered Camel,
who declared, Now on, it’s filters only.
          Later he added, Writers have to know
          all there is to know in this world.

(revision, 11 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

At Home

Though he had to help his father in the garage,
the silence was difficult for him to manage.
He took the wrench, found its correct socket
to loosen the head bolts, he did the same
with bolts securing the oil pan,
scuttling across the cement floor on the scooter
splotched with stains of dirt, oil and grease,
then washed his hands in the bathroom
off to one side with its always-last-year’s-
nude calendar, and came out to inhale
the smoke of his father’s last unfiltered Camel.
From now on, he declared, filters only.
          Then he added writers had to know all
          there was to know in this small world.

(11 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 10, 2012


                         And you all know security
                         Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.
                         –Hecate in Macbeth, Act III, Scene V

Ignacio Castenada and his wife Gloria
prized their daughter Irene as though she were their salvation.
And that she was. She was as selfless as the young can be.
She told Floyce his name in Spanish, Flores Alejandro.
She would love to call him Flowers. Years before the sixties,
he would pursue his love for her under any name she chose.

When he turned that moment to see her back against the door,
her dark eyes watching him drive, his love blossomed and flowered.
That was the year he was reading George Orwell and Shakespeare.
He read Dante in translation, and Cervantes the same.
Irene chose La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes
y sus fortunas y adversidades to read aloud.

It proved difficult for her to read in Spanish this book,
brief though it was, from the sixteenth century. Espanol
was her second language. Talking, she knew, was easier,
Spanish the only language her father and mother spoke.
Floyce loved her persistence, her need to master for herself
the passage of Spanish on the page from her lips to his ears.

Then he read to her "Shooting the Elephant" and Macbeth
and she wept over the elephant and loved the witches
and Hecate. He abhorred the policeman in Burma
admitting he killed the beast to avoid looking a fool.
She would love to play Hecate reminding her witches
that those comforted by certainty were most certain to fall.

Her new name for him proved as sancrosanct as love-making
after mass on Sundays on the hill above Sunnyside.
When he moved to Seattle she visited him there once.
It was a new world, she said, but it would take time to know
thoroughly, like her house on the Roza. Or Mexico,
where she believed she would feel far more at home than anywhere.

She loved Seattle, she loved what he loved. Yet he sensed once
would be enough for her. And it was. She wrote long letters
with the flourish of her cursive, the image of a rose
on her stationery. Where her words began his ended.
Even so, he drove over the mountains to be with her.
Yet there was no going back. Her only home was here, his there.

(10 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fathers and Mothers

Up Barker Road, a left on Beam Road, down a mile or two
lay Crewport, many small yet crowded shacks clustered tightly
together, from two to four families living in each,
blankets hung to give each a modicum of privacy.
Whites called it The Labor Camp. Mexicans came up to work
the fields, mostly. Many stayed. As long as they could find work.
Fathers went to look, mothers kept the children warm and fed,
the fathers returned and mothers sat her families down
and after eating they returned to their reality,
survival, a good night’s sleep, rising with the sky still dark.
If there was work, the fathers and older children went out,
the girls as well as the boys, and they worked until dark fell.
If there was no work, the father returned to the hunt alone.

They came north from Texas. Sometimes they stayed:
por ejemplo, none of the Castenadas spoke English
but Irene, the oldest child, who translated everything
into English, all that her father heard and said, smiling
so his daughter could concentrate on the words and find those
that would give bosses what they demanded and her father
what he needed. She, most of all, enabled them to move
from Crewport to the Roza into a house of their own,
and she worked all the time she was not going to classes.
After school she worked two jobs. Weekends one only, full time.
After the drugstore’s soda fountain, she waited tables
at the Circle Inn, where Saturday night drunks badgered her
to dance to the music of Ol' Boys with Hawaiian guitars.

She kept her head, was slow to anger, she knew what to do
to keep up with house payments and put food on the table.
The younger children admired her, she loved them so they loved
in return, completely, having no example not to.
She took her father to Senor Alejandro’s garage
when the car needed repair. Floyce’s father and mother
invited them into the house for lunch, and Floyce was there,
upstairs, but when he heard Irene was here he came downstairs.
What are you doing? Writing . . . and reading East of Eden.
She did not know Steinbeck’s book. After lunch he told her all
that he knew, so far. He wanted to read her what he wrote,
but first he needed to ditch the vineyards to irrigate,
and she waited tables where main street curved and became a bridge.

Her father drove her to the restaurant. She worked till two,
when Floyce picked her up and drove her home. They kissed a long time.
Then he turned the dome light on to read her his new poem
about fathers and mothers and the children who go on
in their place, what he liked to call The Presence of Absence:
How can I know who is here when I’ve never seen a ghost?
Who guides the killdeer away from her nest when I approach?
Is the man with the mind of a child able to see more
than I, and if so, why does he fear only the police?
Why do I forget what I’m doing and simply do it?
as though there were a ghost inside me remembers how to
see so far and deep mere wraiths cannot abide my presence
and wait for you to share our own children, to fill their absence.

(9 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Song and Dance

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

White Boy

Black mole on her brown cheek he loved to touch . . .
she feared she was not pretty, could not love
this white boy and be loved too. He said I’m
not pure white–who is?–I have a dark vein
running deep, from a man and his white wife
who birthed their only son, then one half-breed
daughter followed by another, sisters
who married brothers. A son Tom was born
to sister Doll, a daughter Drusilla
to Pearl who died bearing her stillborn son.
Pearl made him the off-white Southern farmboy
who loved the girl with her ancestral seed
come north from Mexico. He loved all her
willowy body with her lissome limbs
inviting his body, her back against
the door of his car he was driving east
from Yakima. She’d gone with him to meet
influential people impressed with work
that was his, "so young with such skill to write
what he knew," nothing more than how to play
the game, versatility rare for boys
with humble pedigrees. They acclaimed him.
Jersey soaked with sweat through the heavy pads,
bones aching in the body charging through
the line, sailing over those grunting hard
each time they clashed, and sweeping around end
to trap the ball and struggle to wrest it
from the body's arms that fell under his
one hundred sixty pounds at age sixteen . . .
One day he thought he might try a novel,
something to be called White Boy Linebacker.

After obligatory courtesies
and his effort to show her what he had
to offer her in the way of life here,
they kissed in an empty bedroom. She said
they should go. He begged his way through the crowd.
They let him leave with her. Her bare brown legs
flashed red on toe and finger nails, thinking
buenas noches except she said good night.
They reached the fields of the orchard country.
He lived close to the Horse Heavens, she near
the Rattlesnakes–valley these hills sheltered.
Out there were stray stars plummeting. They loved
for the first time. She must go in the house
to kill his sperm inside between her thighs.
That way they might plan a life they could live
among choices their parents never sought.
She lingered to touch his lips and feel him
exploring her body now in her clothes.
She must go. So much they would never know.

(6-7 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

D-Day of the Dead

It’s D-Day in the common heart.
The Day of the Dead sidling up to the fountain
counter for chocolate cherry sodas.
Your long-gone love working to fill you up
to your dark soul’s brim, brittle skeleton
to nibble while you're ticking off your lost
family's poor souls whose blood poured through laced
fingers staining under the nails Lava
Soap don’t reach, dawn arriving with a flash,
a little zig-zag burning the heart out.
No wonder undertakers rule you off-limits.
Little surprise the girl you loved was gone
early on. It’s still D-Day in the heart,
nothing in common but a common grave.

(6 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 5, 2012

Freaks: II

"These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary."
–Diane Arbus (quoted by Gregory Gibson, in Hubert’s Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus)

I don’t know why I find the truth I feel
when I meet the pity of my nightmares.
I should look inward, I’m told, but by whom?
A voice in my chest breathing like fever.
Church bells drowning in their cacophony.
Musty tent smell of traveling side shows.
Stony fear in faces of those called freaks.
I can see all that and more in the night
inside a blind room, my own, no windows,
a door always locked when you lose the key.
Diane Arbus, I declare, hope she hears . . .
Is beginning her stroll through Central Park.
Likes to take pictures of all the strangers
she might grow to know if she were still here
and her ghost had more film to wash her eyes.
I don’t know why I give a damn, I’m lost
myself, this sunny path may lead nowhere.
Here’s a curious girl, a man and boy,
and there’s a woman with her scarred conscience
formed through years of blows by cowardly men.
Here they can all congregate in silence.
You were happy being among such dead.
Still, it’s the living beat the cold walls down.

(II: 5 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Freaks: I

"Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize."–Diane Arbus (in Diane Arbus, the Aperture monograph, 1972)

There can’t be any argument about what exists.
There are so many variations on the human.
There’s the merman with his gills in a fish tank. Happy?
Are you? Is the world? What do you think will happen now
that the bomb has spawned its breed of Japanese despair?
And not a doubt the fission will continue elsewhere.
Here’s the bearded lady. There’s the hermaphrodite.
I don’t even bother asking anymore, I simply see what there is.
In my next life I will look around and try to find
the opposite, the perfectly human with all its flaws buried inside.
All this is perfectly normal. To me. I was born
without a blemish, coddled and spoiled, one of the rich.
I know why I’m drawn to see what I can’t understand.
I have a bomb ticking in me that I want to stop.
I like to listen to them tell me what I am not.
The lady sword swallower is lovely and in love
with this blade she may feel can mimick a loving man.
Then there are the strippers who let men’s tongues make them hot.
They are the most like me, yet even so I have sex
life enough to spur me to ponder the horse I have.

(5 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 4, 2012


"She called me up and said it was her birthday and would I come and I said, ‘How terrific.’ . . . The birthday party was me and her, a whore friend of hers and her pimp, and the cake." –Diane Arbus

Here’s her birthday cake again,
there’s her body on a couch,
where she’s showing cleavage
and a torn stocking.
The last three photos go back
to 1966, the year they met.
Diane returned three years
after, when only Vicki’s friend,
the whore with no real name,
and her pimp, also unknown,
dropped by and invited Diane
over to their place, where love
games went on you know of
already, Diane stripping down
wanting him to turn her out.
He says no, I mean business.

Start where you left off
and realize there was no party.
Vicki’s no longer happy.
She just wants to get off.
Whore says, Let me help.
Diane never sees Vicki
after March 29, 1969.
Diane’s telling her students
something she never wrote.
At their apartment the pimp
insists Diane watch him fuck
his lady, as he calls her.
That was after Diane lay
across his lap and the whore
clicked the shutter,
then went to lie down on the bed.

In 1966, "on a couch," Vicki
sprawls with a leg under her,
looking dull-eyed
off to the left, photo books
open on the table before her.
She’s wearing a blonde wig
and a see-through negligee,
see bare skin above bare feet;
and when "showing cleavage"
in the V of her black sweater
her arms are crossed,
each hand gripping a breast.
On her face is a question
has nothing to do with ears
dangling their little bells.
She may be asking, Is this OK?

If she looks younger when
she doesn’t need to squeeze
her tits to show how it looks
for a freak to have cleavage,
maybe she’s Cleopatra
scared she’ll become a chicken
in Tod Browning’s Freaks--
she’s seen it twice so far
with Diane, who loves it–-
but she would never marry
a midget. Or any other body.
Yet slum housing’s no circus.
Her breasts crowd the black
negligee, above the little slit
where her stocking’s stretched
to the breaking point, "torn."

(see the four pages of photographs in Revelations, pp. 198, 191, 250-51, 82, and 291)

(II: 4 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Beulah, Lahoma

Twin girls were born to Drusilla
not long after Abe was buried.
She called one Beulah, for a song
she thought the child heard in heaven
when the angels carried her down
to be with her twin sister Lahoma
who was named for her grandma’s land.
Drusilla said she even looked like Pearl,
though nobody but her knew it,
and even so the sky was dark the day
they were born and the night they died.

Drusilla thought Beulah favored Abe,
her eyes never failed to remind her of him:
penetrating gray and knowing.
Likely Beulah would have Abe’s hands
and she would be as tall as her mother.
Lahoma looked more like Pearl every day,
that calm face that wanted to smile
even in her sleep. Lahoma’s black eyes
were round like Pearl’s in her baby pictures,
lost when they moved across the river east.

Lahoma’s round face the spitting image
of Pearl’s, Drusilla prayed for her long life.
Lahoma was slowly failing. Beulah
began to follow. Drusilla knew God
had abandoned her for good. She was bad
and hateful, driving Abe away from home
when he started in on her and himself,
and she didn’t believe in marriage vows
that could not be the same for everyone.
She loved Abe and should have kept him near her
to still his tongue and calm her wild fires.

When her boys came in from the cotton field,
Eunice served them hog jowl and black-eyed peas.
They swallowed and washed food down with water.
She bought the pork from the man at the store
a mile up the dusty road, on credit.
They paid him after the cotton came in.
Or the owner took it from their earnings.
The man at the store was his brother.
They liked money to stay in their family.
They looked down on Drusilla’s family.

Rain was rare but when it fell they stayed in.
On one such day she let them go to town.
The three youngest boys smiled to talk to girls,
the three oldest talked women into bed.
Drusilla fed the stove for warmth and rocked
the twins. By dark rain still fell. When the boys
returned, both babies were gasping for air
and the horse’s head was turned back to town.
Wrapped in warm blankets in Drusilla’s arms
sheltering them from rain, they were near
Lequire when she looked in and found them dead.

(4 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Abraham and Drusilla


Abe was first to sidle up to her and look her over.
Drusilla let him. She didn’t need no man, but why not
tell him when he asked her name, why not ask him for his name?

They made love many times before they married. The first born,
Jess, was already inside her. She told him, Abe rejoiced.
That’s what perplexed my father: he couldn’t understand why

they either loved or fought, there seemed no in between, no peace.
They married, Jess was born, she drove Abe away, he came
home, she was happy, they made another baby . . . why leave?

Why she drove him off only Eunice, her only daughter
thought she knew. She and Ernest were twins, the last to be born
before Abe left for the last time. My father asked Eunice,

Drusilla’s only ally in the war (Eunice called it).
Eunice was jealous of her brothers and did not like men,
my father said, and told him that straight out the day he asked.

Drusilla gave birth six times before Abe was shot and killed
by the three intent on raiding the house in Sallisaw
Abe was entrusted to take care of and tried to keep his word.


The first time Abe took her to the mining camp she made love
slowly, and never changed. She had a way with tenderness.
He had a hunger she thought only she could satisfy.

Most other times he went to where she lived, Doll and Jeff’s,
her aunt and uncle who turned out to be her family.
When her mother died with her stillborn son, her father left

and she never saw him thereafter. Someone later said
they’d seen Frank, he was somewhere in Texas by then, he had
another family and would no longer say Pearl’s name

nor Drusilla’s, or Jeff and Doll’s, much less their son Tom Clifft’s,
and whoever it was told the story let it be known
he didn’t want any goddammed more to do with Frank Clifft.

They would wait till Jeff and Doll and Drusilla’s cousin Tom
were asleep. Drusilla let Abe undress, then undress her.
While he was moving inside her she thought about a child

she was sure would give them happiness. Neither of them knew
what the word meant, she thought it was what Pearl had with Manuel
Romain, but she was too young then to remember the word.

She knew she loved to do with him what he said love was called,
fucking, and knew what that felt like and she loved to feel it.
Her body would never be the same without his caress,

his opening her and going inside and when their flesh
was joined started moving, first slowly, then quickened the pace,
accelerating like having found a road only they

traveled, then he eased off and her rose burst into full bloom.
The fall into serenity. That was called happiness.
Why was he her first? He said she was his. What did that mean?

(II: 3 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

"great sad artist"

(Alexander Eliot, quoted by Patricia Bosworth in Diane Arbus: A Biography, p. 122)

There are all the stories nobody knows,
every body hears, some hand-me-down tales.
No one knows the truth but her. Diane’s dead
where the Hudson runs below the window
of her ninth-floor Westbeth duplex.
For now a cockatoo whistles hello.
The holes in her soul are all stigmata,
Golgotha somewhere inside her.
Nothing remains before Hiroshima
but her and her daughters and her brother
who flew planes in the war and told stories
in poetry that read like poems sound.
Not like before or until long after
French nanny Mamselle walked her to the edge
of where Central Park’s reservoir once was,
and little Diane befriended in memory
the people down below the place
you look over the edge to see,
the poor. Diane, not eight yet, asked to go
down but Mamselle said no to Hooverville’s
houses of tin a stroll and a fall from
where she lived with unhappy mother and father
who, embarrassed by his son’s profession,
took Howard’s suggestion to say his son
was a man of letters. Poor David Nemerov
married Gertrude, female heir of Russek’s
Fifth Avenue Furs. Yet they gave nothing
to Howard or Diane, who found their own
way of staying alive, free to do art
that made them as happy as they could be.

On the scene the police observe her wrists.
And then the cockatoo warbled goodbye
if a cockatoo whistles or warbles,
if there were a cockatoo at Westbeth.
Among the stories is the Greyhound one.
Certain needs exist to discover more
of every thing you do not know, not yet.
Buy a ticket that will take you away
Ride it long enough to meet strange lovers.
Ride as far as it takes, then hitchhike back.
The City glows like a circus open
for night and the moon, and the people of.
Her firstborn, daughter Doon, protects the lode
of life and art her mother left: If you
don’t know the truth, don’t say it is. That’s her
in Diane’s pregnant belly. Her mother
grasps with one hand one leg of the tripod
the big camera rests on, assessing her breasts,
naked, and below her navel the bulge
that leads beneath her panties, one arm poised
in the mostly nude self-portrait she takes
before her mirror in 1945.
All the truth you need to know and beauty see
is there, lovely and deep, behind and below
her dark eyes that will hold whatever is.

(In addition to Bosworth’s biography, see the Arbus "Self-portrait pregnant, N.Y.C. 1945," in Revelations, p. 15.)

(3 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mirror of War, May 1962

"I am more than ever convinced . . . that people are born old and . . . that disenchantment is more a beginning than an end in itself. I think life has absolutely to be lived backwards and there is no convenient shortcut like forwards" Diane Arbus (in Revelatons, p. 165).

Walk for Peace" seven hundred miles.
In the seventh week, the thirteen
crossing Woodbury, New Jersey,
look like hands linked across the hills
in a fourteenth-century plague allegory
from an image in Bergman’s Seventh Seal.
Home from Crusades, a knight plays chess
with the Black Death to win his life.
He can do no more than delay endgame.
A traveling troupe performs for the doomed.

Silhouettes of eight dark bodies
in flowing capes, hats and dresses
lead one another single file
across the long field. In the light
vanishing below the night sky
weeds rise close up as high as signs
against war shaped in triangles,
circles, squares in the hands of three
you see, one or two out of sight
where land sinks below horizon.

Diane Arbus shoots her photo
in a wan light. She’s on the other side
of war's mirror. If she were your sister
you would never have turned from her
or thought to abandon your native land.
Why else risk your life than fight against death
you can never see coming, whose image
shares nothing with nonviolence,
the only weapon in this world
where they who win will also die.

(2-3 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

This Side of the Land of the Dead

My brother Robert Rufus was buried
before my birth. When I can I’ll ask my cousin
Dale Roy Campbell if he knows him.

I’ll never know a thing until I die.
The other voice in my head says I will
go on the same before I knew Dale Roy
circumnavigated the ocean seas.

The sentry who first spies the ship
signals through a shell its imminent arrival,
whereupon eyes pour out of huts to see
the beginning of the latest chapter
of the history of the American earth.

Such dreams come to me only in fever.
Here I live by the head of a river.
I was born by the banks of another.
I grew up near a bridge over a third river.
Dreams stoke and drench my sleeping skin.
A body writhes like this. It’s worse than sin.

I know nothing. Or does nothing know me?
Those who die before birth are to be mourned.
They have no names. No use looking
for them in the Book of Souls Departed
with its absent index, its blank pages.
I can wait as long as it takes to do this work.
Another voice agrees, the one who speaks.

Explorer, conqueror, court recorder,
or poor-man-does-the-best-he-can-with-what-he-has
American: look upon the high grass
to imagine what passed from life to death,
where what bodies did remains. It is what
hovers in the immortal clouds that never rain.
When you see him, Bobby, tell Dale Roy the earth’s
still here. I don’t know what either of you can see.

(2 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

Mama's House

Next day he took Ruby home for as long
as she wanted to be with him. She stayed
a week at a time, then he’d drive her back.
They went back and forth like that. Mama’s house,
that he built for her, could be Ruby’s now
but Ruby had her own house, close to the city.

Back then Clyde would quit working in the room
he’d built by Drusilla's bed, drive to the city
Fort Smith. He told her in his smoky voice,
Mama, I’ve got to go there for supplies,
to buy a toilet assembly, a bath
with tub and shower–all for her old age
after almost eighty years of outhouse
through the pasture gate with its Monkey Ward
and Sears Roebuck wish-books to wipe off with.

While away he would look in on Ruby
in Van Buren, check on her and their son.
He would stay for dinner. They might make love
when the boy slept, and then Clyde would drive off,
be home by midnight so Mama could sleep.
This was the only highway now to Fort Smith.
He’d be nigh on eighty himself, Mama long gone,
by time the freeway was in. He married
the widow Juil rather than live alone.
She had her own family. Then she died.

Ruby’s son–Clyde called him his–had grown up,
gone off to New York, wrote for magazines
and papers, then taught college many years
until his heavy body’s heart killed him.
Ruby hugged Clyde close, they made up lost time
until she said, Honey, I’m too old now
to have another baby. He knew that,
he said, I just wish we could have lived together,
that Mama would’ve stopped her suspicions
and let me be with you like a man would.
When I told her once about you, she said
she knew I was fooling around with whores.
When you called she called you that on the phone,
remember? Ruby said, Clyde, hush your talk
and make me happy, I’m growing old fast.

(1-2 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Transvestite at Her Birthday Party, N.Y.C. 1969

(after Teresias, no longer ancient but now female to stay)

". . . a thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen . . ."

–underlined by Diane Arbus in her 1928 Modern Library Works of Plato, page 46

Who casts a shadow in New York City
but the rich, the bigots, racists, and cheats
who chase after the dollar like greyhounds?
In dark corridors of run-down hotels
disreputable outcasts assemble
for birthdays, laughter without shedding tears.
They room where no one else would rent or lie
down on a stained mattress with a lover
no one casting the shadow would let live
if money could, as it does, kill, but no
need to murder the freaks, the dykes, the male
whores no one pays but other whores. Let them
suffer and choke on the ills they deserve.
So say the unfortunate souls shriveled
to sleep in high-rise skyscrapers, cloud crypts.
Diane goes where she’s yet to meet the damned.
She looks for what she’s never seen before.
Tonight the transvestite with missing tooth
lolls, looks toward the door after Diane’s sat
a while, a good while, a good long while, long
as words relate biographies long shunned,
denigrated, relegated to shame-
shadows, until she asks Diane to shoot
a buncha pitchers of my pals and me.
Diane tells her, I was born out of sight
of all of you and not even Plato
knew all that could be visible if seen.
This woman born half a man and now whole
smiles up at lovers, sisters, kindred souls
off-frame. Her birthday cake rests on the bed,
a balloon next to the nude calendar,
one above that naked girl next to the closet,
two on the wall over the bed. She languishes
in her slip, shod with mules, clasping two hands
like sheltering a Communion wafer.

(1 November 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander