Today's poem is by Martin Pousson

Shirley DeLis

Skinny man like him, big woman like her,
he never even saw her skin, though it
thrilled her. His coffee, her cream. "Stir it up,

little darling, stir it up," like atomic
gumbo. Skinny, yes, but she found the only
muscle that mattered. Their au lait

kids grew up with creole tongues
little octoroons, quadroons, still black
on the forms, in people's eyes, under

the law. Wanted for crimes they didn't
commit 'til it no longer mattered if they did.
One blew the cornet like nobody's

business, her Lil' Satchmo. 4th of July,
his horn blew bullets. Like all those kids
in Storyville, he'd learned to make music

from mud: bottle caps for checkers, salt rock
for diamonds, gun shots for fireworks.
But when his bullet pierced the sky, he got

rained down by the law. Fifteen, he was.
One year more than his sister, Lahalia
voice like an unsatisfied woman,

a cry unheard, she sang from the streets,
garbled verbs like her daddy, danced with taps
on her feet, daughter of Amos & Andy.

Brought supper home more than once, syphilis
too. Blew men for a Lincoln, sometimes
in a Lincoln. Heard boys down the block ask,

what did she charge for a screw? Got run out
of school, didn't feed her anyway.
Headed to the no-book red-lit classrooms

of the 9th Ward, the Him-N-Her club
the Dew Drop Inn. Only her degree
was terminal. Shot by a john in the

head; she'd refused to swallow. Big like
her mama was and bloated, just a grounded
barge, a Mardi Gras float, she couldn't

stop the bullets. Couldn't stop the storm
either. By the time the wind and rain came,
Shirley D had already evacuated

given it all away. Brick for cinder block, suburb
for projects, white for black, both kids. See
they were ready, Master Eddie and her.

Beads were doled out, doubloons too. Nest
emptied so come the storm they could float out
like two flightless birds, like a couple

of blank boats on a toxic swamp, a dead sea.

Copyright © 2006 Martin Pousson All rights reserved
from Cimarron Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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