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

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