She had it trained on him
for two hundred years or more,
give or take a day.
She watched him stockpile women
unloaded from the cargo holds of ships
that ferried them so far from their homes.
He dressed them in linen and lace,
grew fat on the interest he earned
dealing their flesh. Roués docked
in the harbors, flooded the cobbled
streets wearing pastel-colored jackets
and deck shoes, hollering up at windows.
The women spoke a patched-up language,
a pentimento of nuance
stuffed in the cracks of their memory,
their past covered by layers of mixed pigment,
sealing miles and miles of flood walls erected
to keep out any sudden surge
found in a square, in the center of town
where they once danced.
But she was different. She had called ahead,
from the Bahamas, so he knew she was coming.
Others warned him. For years they told him
she’d strip him of comfort, make him leave
his name in the bushes, but pride had burned
him down like old roux stuck to cast iron,
rotting in his old southern charm.
The sea was calm.
Tufts of white hung in the sun-licked sky
streaked with ribbons of beryl, aquamarine.
He was rum high, a hint
of mint on his tongue.
He recalled what he’d heard
about her last visit up the coast.
My, how they say she flirted
panting through her pouty lips,
swirling her eye with intensity,
one hand on her narrow middle,
her other hand picking some man’s pocket.
A scarlet tanager’s slurred-whistle sound
curled in his ear right before she touched down.
Linda Susan Jackson
Poem, copyright © 2006 by Linda Susan Jackson
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse