I was lunching with the tauntingly irresistible Irma Forader in the top-floor dining room
wondering what I might say to her to pique her sexual interest after she finished
with the things her boss had said about my work before I arrived in town.
I was writing on a napkin, when she was in the women’s room, about Frank O’Hara
who had been killed by a Fire Island dune buggy six years before, putting an end
to the prospect of more work like “The Day Lady Died,” the only one I liked
except the idea embodied in “In Memory of My Feelings,”
and when Irma returned I was already drinking like it was night in San Francisco,
not early afternoon in Amherst, and being from London she both understood my desire
and refused to offer herself up to me. I never recovered. I wanted her even though
I brought my own Black Irish beauty, who would be with me (save sabbaticals)
so many years to come they became, as it happened, the rest of my life.
I paid the bill, Irma left to return to work, but I stayed to keep drinking, switching
from Black Russians to Stolichnaya on the rocks, incorporating “The Twelve Days
of Christmas” with “The Death of Frank O’Hara,” the only New York poet I read
before my first trip there. After sampling the tap while indulging the Welsh ghost
haunting White Horse Tavern, I bought Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus,
and once home in our drafty loft, read it not once but twice, one after the other, the way
I played The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady in San Francisco or “Ball and Chain”
in Pullman, Washington, after an overdose of “Paperback Writer” in Mazatlan
and “Vamonos” in Mexico City, only to realize I was reading a novel by Mingus
in the guise of an autobiography–a clever way I thought to write about your life.
My friend Terry O’Hara, ex-marine captain, one eye left in Vietnam, found me there
after Irma left and said, Let’s get shit-faced. I relished such talk. I was lucky to be alive,
though I never got sucked into Vietnam. The California streets nearly did me in.
Terry’s friend, a black jewel known as Paula–not long before, there was a Paula
I called at a certain hour in the still-dark morning after I was drunk and lonely;
she was never home, only her cousin in Portland, Oregon, who said he’d heard of me,
Wasn’t I married once to Paula? he’d give her the message–and now
Terry’s Paula wrapped her onyx body around him, ordered a shot
with a beer back, then talked him into going off with her in tow.
When Irma said hello and goodbye later, I wanted to touch one hand with my hand.
When I met the cancer nurse Elizabeth in Manhattan one night in an East River bar,
dandling her on my knees while removing her bra tenderly as we kissed and fondled,
she was planning a trip home to London. Last time I called she was on her way to JFK.
She had taken Irma’s place, though naked in bed we found my flesh too thick for hers.
O’Hara and Paula drank in the Sir Francis Drake and then its scuzzy basement bar,
the Quicksilver down the street, and the Lord Jeffrey Inn up the way where you ate
if you drank, and for dessert your voice rose–Isn’t this the establishment named
for the British general who sent smallpox blankets among New England tribes?–
and they sent me staggering to the street, where there were no facts.
There were only words. And music, don’t forget. Always music . . .
(20 February 2013)
copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander