Tuesday, November 26, 2013

To the Gods of Marriage

Anna Karenina came after Emma Bovary.
Thank the gods of marriage,
for whom Anna carried through her suicide
with a certain elan
Emma could not equal–under a train
or via poison, what’s your pleasure?
If you’re Flaubert you won’t live long enough
to learn how a Levin and his family
could dispel the boredom of the doctor
and his bored wife.

Instead, you lay in bed listening to the river
as your mistress Louise Colet
told you the facts of marriage
you evaded all your life with whores.

(26 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Gods

The gods find us funny
and cackle and whoop
and slap their thighs
and roll on wet grass
across the croquet lawn
next to the private pool.

(25 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Bear in Winter

No visitors, we make do.
The snow piles high.
The cats sleep.
I think I’m thinking,
but I’m only writing
words as they occur,
boring, as usual.
(I said “banal” once
only recently,
too soon to be so
formal again.)
Each winter I grow
until I break skin,
cold creeping under
my nails, my tongue.
I start telling everyone
I should go south,
where I was born.
No one takes me up on it.
I guess
there will never be
enough money
to travel.
I think I would get lost
riding freights,
hitching rides,
sleeping in ditches,
hungry as ever,
dissolute, reproachful
I started off this way
with only a destination
and no dinero.
The jails are warm
along the way, at least.
And somehow I endure
six months of each year
here mimicking a bear
nourished only by sleep.

(24 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Drive, man! It’s Round Midnight, Thelonius
in the beginning and now in the end, 
man. I think–no, I feel . . . play! do it for us,
stroke one key against another, do right
the way you first heard it, before you knew
taking it out and into the clubs changed
the flats and sharps, do you still call them that?

I take the wheel. Guide me through Manhattan.
I turn up the other side of Harlem,
among them, the people who look like me,
I love to hear what I can do they can’t.
Mind you now, they see more than I can play.
I don’t know where to find rats on the keys.
Who knows why a body stays far from home?

Only Mama knows how you get up here.
The South’s a good country to be born in,
maybe, but don’t let anyone tell you
it gets better the more time you let pass.
There’s only one reason a man goes there
without her voice getting tangled in yours,
you can’t wait for the heat down there to rise.

(23 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 22, 2013

Poultry Science

A Friday, I’d just begun the job;
college most of my life so far,
and womanless now
Irene Castenada had vanished.
Love stripped like paint
from my youth.

I tried to read Flaubert.
It took me years,
L’Education sentimentale
and his letters
my only writing school,
albeit in translation.

I could speak Spanish
where I had to,
in orchards and fields,
but not when asked
for translation in the city
by those pointing at words.

So it was 
that when I was working
in the halls of Poultry Science,
among roosters and mostly hens
as we awaited a new building
where we’d all have offices,

I heard the news
JFK was shot and killed
in Dallas this Friday
in the Year of Our Lord 1963.
Then the long weekend,
the Mafia’s Ruby slaying Oswald.

When my teacher had died
five months before,
the radio obituary said he worked
in a pickle factory
before writing Pulitzer Prize
poetry. He got me the job.

Thanksgiving, the country
went on as before the murder.
I was on my way to Mexico
to look for Irene Castenada,
finding those who knew her
and hear she never appeared.

America always remembers
the young president mourned
by those who loathe
Nixon. Reagan.
The Bush family.
I too revere John Kennedy . . .

who thought on his feet
and loved all the women
who wished to love him.
He had a bad back, better
after the orgasm, superb
if she too was  happy.

I wrote in a Kennedy rocker
before the picture window
above the highway into town,
meditating on the grain elevator.
My luck, not my back, was bad:
saying Betty, sleeping with Paula.

Years later the scholars exposed
his need for women not his wife.
The nation was hungry to hear
what never required thought.
And those who took degrees
were anointed as intellectuals.

Fifty years and the intelligentsia
weary with conspiracy theory:
the single bullet, a second shot,
the inexplicable demise of those
on the Grassy Knoll . . . Believe
nothing under the spell of time.

(22 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 21, 2013


What is where? You know when you arrive.
In the beginning here was nowhere.
Time’s corners turn faster as you age.
The elements gold, silver, and bronze prove
nothing. Is that why time’s short?
Why not live as though death waits
for breath to stop in the pall of night,
and still alive be caught up eagerly
in the throb of life? Behind the mask
you breathe fresh air. Alchemists swear
a rainbow can swallow sunlight
and clouds eat the moon. The metal
urges, Teach me to melt you so you know
ecstasy’s feel, blood flowing together.

Went into the rain. Both of us barefoot
walking lightly across the grass soaking
the seed growing throughout the night.
We knew everything at birth, forgotten
when we knew too much, the soil soggy . . .
Took you, you took me deep into the dark.

(21 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where Are You Going

There are places to go you’ve never been to,
they'll still be there when the planet catches fire

I wasn't very happy being nowhere,
I’m packing to ride a freight train out of here

Don’t think you can run away from your old home
or you may find the other one in ashes

You always find cardboard and pointed objects
under the moon you can make shapes and words with

Scraps hurled out of supermarkets to dumpsters
are gathered mornings before spoilage sets in

If you were in Hawaii you would eat Spam
before going to drink to not be alone

I have nothing, but I bring with me ample
memory of more difficult times than these

There was always another freighter leaving,
let's go stowaway so we can ship out now

(20 November 2013: II)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Late Dark

Wind threads a needle through my skin.
Or is it your lips I kiss in a dream?
The day went too slow, the night came quickly.
There were piles of leaves: leftover autumn.
Why did I believe you were my lost love?
I wanted only you to melt my snow.

(20 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander


long walks are afoot, two feet,
crawl if you must,
coyotes do,
nothing to it
but grief’s

Oklahoma City
servers wear valentines
in November,
short shorts
the gawkers
would espy
what’s concealed.

Awake then,
he greets the cockroach
with a blow of the news
this world gives
its poor, its weak, its lost.
I wish
my love would wake in time
to love.

Des Moines, where
she carried him to sleep
before and now.
Come Minneapolis 
threading traffic
she makes him

(19 November 2013: II)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander


A certainty cuffs me, a hand guiding me behind my back.
Do not speak. Let them go. Words are nothing to me now. I close
this imitation of verse by sealing it shut with such prose
as will cushion the night and brighten the day with its soft knock.

(19 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 18, 2013

Up North

“Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?”
–Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

From the car I could see everything that saw me:
unsullied patches of snow through Connecticut;
driving freeways north from New York City
looking for my cousin’s husband’s pig farm
outside Portland, Maine, where she did desk work

for the insurance office I just got a letter from,
announcing her death, bequeathing to me 
a photo of Uncle Clyde on her vacation.
I would gather my love in Northampton.
I always got lost looking for the farm.

She used to take our only living uncle, who’s dead now,
to Branson, Missouri, every summer.
Clyde recognized his roots in the slovenly speech,
the tacky outfits, the Bob Wills music.
Clyde sure did like to love up those honeys.

I hate the very thought of Branson, Missouri.
That’s why I got lost looking for Chloe’s farm.
Now she’s planted beside her husband’s bones.
This summer I drive to Fayetteville, down
the switch-back Ozarks highway in the rain.

Hate the South? This ain’t even south. Shreveport,
same as Quentin’s friend’s name without the port,
is not the resting place of my friend James Harris,
for in Cross Cemetery, Greenwood, Arkansas,
his stone does not declare he died of AIDS.

And no, Quentin doesn’t hate the South, not
"in the iron New England dark."
I don’t hate it! I don't hate it!
Clyde telephoned to say he couldn’t understand

Clyde rides in the back seat of his car to Excelsior,
to the country compound-like residence
of Katy Freeman. No relation to
Vol Freeman, who killed Clyde’s daddy in Sallisaw.
Clyde dons his breathing apparatus with its tank.

Katy’s family, who lives around her,
visits. They come here to meet Clyde’s nephew
and his Black Irish gypsy wife.
The daughter who loves Loretta Lynn
talks matter-of-factly of her black son.

In Fort Smith, after Magazine Mountain
and Cross Cemetery, where Clyde said
he put up a new tombstone
for Bobby, my brother born and died
before me, but I can’t find it among the thorns,

I notice in Denny’s a white boy and a black girl
on one side of the table,
a black man and a white woman on the other.
Cathleen wants to see The Row,
where whores found a place to make a living.

The Row has been gone one full century.
The river arcs around through Van Buren,
where Ruby Campbell and Clyde made a son
he kept a secret until now.
It don’t matter, I say, we’ll all be dead someday.

We cross into Moffett, Oklahoma,
park and point down to the dirt earth’s
silvery glint of pull-tabs in the dark.
The bar was the town last time I came here.
Tonight full moon, headlights up bright, down south.

(18 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Some Music

There are songs that so sweetly hold us by the neck
to wring our eyes for their watery waste,
going nowhere new and returning home
with vibrato strings, anger in each stroke of sound.
Home is a pillaged field, the killdeer dead
when they did not heed the signs revealed first:
bob-white! vanished, its morning cry lifting the gloom
silenced, wings folded, sun high and no tracks
in the sky. What is there never appears,
skin stripped from the heart, mind gone, touch numb many years. 

I thought I might go look death in the eye,

let the wind carry traces of a past away.
I raised my voice. How long such sound roamed there
I did not know a minor key climbed scales of air.

(17 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In the Warm Country

The old wizards know more than the new ones,
of whom there are none.

The young man in his dotage strokes an owl’s
feathers in its tree.

At dawn the moon turns into the first light
of her sleek body.

You’re never too old to be done with love,
says the aging sage.

No man can fly unless he begins where
her legs lift him off.

There are no owls beyond her bay windows
until she’s alone.

Sun melts the snow. You can hear the river
but you can’t see it.

(16 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day and Night

I was seeing in my mind’s eye
the Marquis Alfonso de Portago
in better days, before the crash
–the kind no one, however angelic,
survives. He would rather die
like a lion than live like a mouse.

Naturally I thought of The Saloon
and of meeting its owner, Ray Fox,
who dined with us after hours
and a cabbie drove him home
where he lived with his widowed
mother, like a true Southern son.

Days watching the Mille Miglia.
Nights with Betty on Bourbon.

(14 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 14, 2013


My brother hugs close to the edge of life.
Bobby and I were born and Bobby died
and my only living brother calls me now
to tell me his prostate must be removed
or his body will live on the kidney
dialysis machine . . . or he may die.
I am ten years older than my brother.
Bobby was born and died two years before
I was born. World War Two was over then.
My brother, not me, was in Vietnam.
I did what I could to stop the war there;
worked full time in a university,
had a football knee that spared me the draft,
went South to immerse myself in the hell
anyone would suffer if he or she
were black, their home a little east of mine.
That way I followed the lead of fighters
whose tongues were loaded with endless supply
of talk or silence depending on death’s
proximity, helping each other through
and beyond to Berkeley, Columbia,
Kent State, Jackson State, following the turns
down the highway leading to the devil
frozen in the ice of the river Styx.
Keep a coin handy for the ferryman,
brother. One for each eye, so you don’t see
where you are going until you get there.

(14 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two Brief Poems of Two Different Years

Today the long shadows
stretched out to sleep
on the narrow road
between here & there

(24 October 2007)

In the fields by the woods, deer go hungry.
Hunters call killing harvesting, for deer
are everywhere eating more than their share.
What do we say to the fish in the sea?

(12 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Monday, November 11, 2013

May Cold and Heat Coexist? A Sonnet

Would you try to do what you cannot know? 
Open the door and close it the same way?
Is inside for you the same as outside?
Look out the window: Do you see the snow?
Don’t you wish it were the humidity
or even the heat that would stay outside?
Inside would be okay when I could sleep
with you. Rain falls, the child within me sleeps.
Would I be where you are if I'm not here?
Would I need to be sure I am nowhere?
There is a beauty beyond forbidding
the body to break into song.
Rain falls there, snow drifts here. Who is too cold
or warm where weather's neither good nor bad?

(11 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bobby's Troubles

She put me inside, milked me until I was dry.
She stayed with me months, we slept on the floor.
We made love first on waking, last before we slept.
She left one weekend all I did was read Hart Crane.
On Monday Roethke wanted to jump to Auden.
A shilling life will give you all the facts,
How father beat him, how he ran away,
I learned to say, aborting the line that followed:
how he became the greatest figure of his time,
taking all of Tuesday, much of Wednesday to learn
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day . . . ,
you have to hear how the rest reads to know why
when I recited “Who’s Who,” Vicki left to stay.
I would have followed Irene, Carole, Beverly,
Anna, Cathleen, as I did the first and last named,
but not Vicki. I was twenty-two, I could live
alone and did, wrote poems Roethke said were “good;
another year in school to learn forms, read Bogan
to see what she made of such knowledge, I’d write well” . . .
and maybe someday make him proud, he did not add.
And while the others left and stayed away, Cathleen
would not let me forget her though she traveled far,
gave herself to men for love or even money,
married three times. I married twice, then thrice
and she kept my father’s name after we divorced.
Our surname’s the same on the document
that followed my fourth marriage and divorce,
indicating we had married a second time, 
mutually assuring that if I would follow
her tracks we might realize our love was lifelong.
Then I, Robert Henry St. Clair, resumed reading
Nelson Algren, you know, the guy who wrote
The Man with the Golden Arm. I knew he had tips
concerning his Chicago home I might apply
to Seattle. Algren obeyed “three laws”
he learned from “a nice little old Negro lady”:
Never play cards with any man named ‘Doc.’
Never eat at any place called ‘Mom’s.’ And
never, ever, no matter what else you do in
your whole life, never sleep with anyone
whose troubles are worse than your own.
Quotations from “Who’s Who” are from The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945), p. 17. Algren is quoted from H. E. F. Donohue and Nelson Algren, Conversations with Nelson Algren (1964; Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. viii, ix.

(10 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Going Home

They hit him with a pool cue so he came at them with a gun.
They killed him with a knife driven into his skull.
Mick Jagger is watching it on tape as the speedway empties
and he must remember seeing it happening as well as here,
where  slow motion follows the knife descending,
the rewind puts the dead man back at the beginning
of his slant through the crowd toward the Hells Angels
the Stones hired to control the crowd. The girl in her trailer
said she wanted to go, I got dressed and she gave me a beer,
I thought about it and knew I was going to say no, and did.
His name was Meredith Hunter, a young black dude
with–what the word is now but was not then–attitude.
The girl twirled her blonde hair and fed her cat, I left
and never saw her again. When the year ended I left town
for San Francisco, traveled to New Mexico, then San Diego,
where the story was that Mike, the local chapter’s president
danced on the face of a young woman who said to his face
he was not a man but a beast with no brains, leave her alone
: so he made his mark on her face and bruised her body,
the lady who calls herself the Tabu she loves to smell
says, I didn’t see it but I know the girl, I’ll take you there.
She’s bandaged well, her voice is strong, her name’s Judy.
She says she was just drunk enough to tell Mike her mind
and look what happened to me and he gets to run around
free. I leave. I stay six weeks. I stash my bedroll behind
the bar and shoot pool with the band that leaves its bikes
outside, where I go when I’ve had enough and sleep
in the bag on the grass of the nearby park the cops
arrive at sunrise to prod me awake with their night sticks,
announcing I can’t sleep there. I beg to be forgiven.
Next night I’m back. Next morning I’m told once more
what they said before. I carry a knife. I am nowhere here.
I have a tooth rotting in my head, I go to the Free Clinic
on Labor Day, the Angels’ holiday: all to themselves,
they like to think. In the alley beyond the door I go through
they are drinking, and seeing me I am told by one that if
I want to fuck with people he will fuck with me. I say no
and walk away, the crowd howls, I still wake at night,
I’m far from San Diego, I see the guy take out his teeth
and hand them to another. He’s ready. I keep saying no
and walking away and there is the freeway, the convertible
full of no-goods like me, When the music’s over blaring
off the sunlight on the Pacific, going north, going home.

(9 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Friday, November 8, 2013


She came here to have a life
and who should she meet
but me. 
Her eyes sparkle, she talks
like me,
another westerner
like Robert Frost,
untimely ripped
from San Francisco
(in her case, Los Angeles)
and come to dine
at Lord Jeffrey Amherst Inn
long ago.
Before Vietnam. 
After the Lord’s smallpox
blankets divvied up
two per person,
take what you need
to keep warm, he said.
She married and moved
to Boston, I returned
to Seattle. 
What happened to Jim
and his heroin habit
in L.A., I’d never know.
She seemed surprised
I was still alive. I said,
So am I.

(8 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Man Revolted

I went out last night to kill myself
and as usual got drunk instead.
The men and women in the bars
across the river were drunk
enough to conduct conversations
on subjects New Englanders avoid
when sober.
I figured I was drunk enough to die.
For months I had read Camus,
L’homme revolte,*
alone in the large house downstairs
while Cathleen lived in Springfield
on R & R from her war with me,
her impossible task
of returning me to sanity,
but she had the luck others didn’t.
Or did she . . . Was it luck?
On my birthday, New Year’s Eve,
to celebrate my sobriety,
she invited friends for a party
and I stoked the fireplace,
adding wood along the way
across the river
after Rainbow drove Adam home
and Dave and Chris were kind
as always, and I’ve forgotten
who else was there, though I knew
who was at the door
when it opened.
Now it closed and Cathleen may
have gone looking for me,
checking all the bars in Amherst,
but I was in Northampton
at the bar where the mirror is
Bob Dylan dug, holding court
on the poet’s life,
like now. Dark falls.
I get off the stool. I remember
everything. It’s all banal.
* Acute accents appear over the two “e”s in “revolte.” The poem’s title is my translation.

(7 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I go to town to find it still there, the wide lake overflowing the boulevards in the long rain.
You walk ahead of me so I can size you up fifty-three, nearing fifty-four years later:
your close-cropped black hair, your olive skin that my fingertips bow with a smooth rosin.
The Ojibwe woman says in the wind it’s brisk. Rain doesn’t worry her so much as wind,
she confides now because I meet her in the winter sun when snow stops falling and the rain
returns and winter begins to end. She comes around the corner and says hello like women
do with men who seem friendly once the lake water recedes, spring's orange smile yawns.
Say I'm happy; why then's my long love's chin cradling Should I stay or should I go?

(6 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Future of the Soul

I enter the cage and free the one I came for, who looks askance and leaves, eyes holding
all that’s visible within a body’s orbs.

I know I am dying. I cannot walk without thinking, who once ran through the back country,
danced in a city’s cabarets; dying,

and only this one can save me. Alma! I cry and the moon replies. The one I freed says
nothing at first, holding out both arms.

Now the days are growing more precious, nights so quiet the stones may think, the river
churns and ripples and no one arrives

but Alma. I ask, Why do you stay? 
This is my home, she smiles, built to house your heart with mine, there is no other way.

I am what is left of the man I was.
Alma leaves to hunt and to gather, and deer follow the tracks Alma leaves behind, two feet

I unshod and kiss, and I am kissed
completely, so I may rest and work when the words occur, with ample time to say them.

Alma loves me, saying when I die her soul will go with mine through the corridors of Limbo.
She is my Alma, I am now hers.

(5 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Love's Bomb

He stroked the mane between her legs
until it grew wet, bathing his penis
entering, penetrating to her core.
They had already fucked in lone daydreams
under the spell of one hand or the other.
Now together, they hope to share
what lovers wish for from such frenzy.
They hurry to mesh precisely,
caught up in their slowly mounting fury
accelerating until both are one
delicate tempo building to power
seeking its apogee in orgasm,
one body igniting the other,
love’s bomb exploding within one dream.

(2 November 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander