Yellow Dog Café


In a cerulean ruckus
Of quilts, we played house
Off the big room where
They laughed & slowdragged
Weekends. The eagle flies
On Friday. The jukebox pulsed
A rainbow through the papery walls.
We were paid a dollar to guard
Each other. I was eight
& S. C. Mae fourteen,
As we experimented with
The devil. Mill workers
Changed money in the briny
Glow of bootleg, overpowered
By the smell of collards, catfish
& candied yams. Granddaddy Gabriel
Worked the cash register
Beside his second wife, Rosie
Belle. I heard my mother
& father laugh like swimmers
Underwater. A raw odor
Of lilies & sweat filled the room;
My cousin’s hands moved over me
Smooth & tough as a blues guitar.
Somebody swore they saw
A silhouette with a gasoline can
The night S. C. Mae ran away
With a woman’s husband.
For weeks they sifted ashes
But the gutted studs & braces
Only leaned against the wind,
Weak as a boy & girl entwined
On the floor. That June
Granddaddy drove a busload
Up north: the growers paid him
A dollar a day for each pair of hands.
He wanted to rebuild those nights,
Their circle of blurred cards.
The bus grunted between orchards,
& by late August I had enough
Fire-blackened nickels & dimes
To fill a sock, but only a few pickers
Came back after a season of wine-stained
Greenbacks sewn inside coats
& taped to the soles of their feet.

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