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