like a thicket made hot
with cobras. The wrong step
or an erroneous beat
of the heart
and I could turn
into a tower bursting with death.
Legends tell the tourists
that spectres roam this city
but I’ve no need of tales
the red-eyed shadows
hopping like squirrels
through the greenless branches
of my immediate apprehension.
I remember when they died.
Stand amazed, now,
watching them haunt
reflections of their former lives.
The tourists hear one story
but let me tell you another:
like the one about WillieMae
who had 14 children, 9 they say
still living, just like she is
a blackwoman working split shifts
at what used to be the old
Desoto Hilton Hotel.
14 children, 9 still living
spanking, feeding, loving her brood
in-between preparing pastries
for people who’d rather not know.
But her story contains no irony
the husband died a death that was actual
and non-literary, her southern blackwoman's
life failed to reflect
the bohemian aesthetics of drag queens,
singers, and polka-dotted eccentrics
that made John Berendt’s garden party
glow so lusciously with decadence.
I could tell the story
of that scar, on WillieMae’s right leg
where police dogs
attacked like Klansmen
because she insisted that her children
laugh like anybody’s children
in the sun-caressed green of Forsyth Park.
But that history has not been preserved
like the architectural jewels
that adorn a shameless hypocrisy.
Nor has it been dramatized
at festivals or parades
stirring up the ghosts on River Street.
by a Ray Ellis watercolor
or a statue in the center of a square.
We could even flip this coin
of WillieMae’s tale
and recite the parable of how
she fed an entire neighborhood
with one fried chicken
and Jesus came back just to tell her
“WillieMae you did my recipe proud.
Hear what I say girl?
You did my recipe proud.”
Shall we speak of that woman’s biography
like a hidden chapter of this city’s life
or shall we simply point
at a stupid little Hitch Village boy
feet covered with red dirt
and blackberry stains,
snot flowing like panic and river water,
some curious doctor's fingers
lost between his thighs
his dreams containing just enough genius
to save his mystified ass
from everything except
the slow knowledge of why
certain days stink putrid with agony.
Memories: vicious like a thicket
burning hot with cobras.
The wrong step
or an erroneous beat of the heart
and a man like me
could turn into a tower stinking with death.
(from I Made My Boy Out of Poetry)