Fleshing-out the Season

By Yusef Komunyakaa
Sunday, January 18, 2009

They said he lived in both houses.

That the black woman

Once worked as a maid

For his wife. The women

Sometimes met in town & talked

Like old friends, would hug & kiss

Before parting. They said

The man's father was a big-time

Politician in Jackson, Mississippi,

& owned a cotton gin,

& the Klan didn't dare hassle

Him. The black woman's house

Was a scaled-down replica

Of the other: both yards

A jungle of bougainvillea,

Azalea, & birds of paradise.

They said there's a picture

Of the three at Mardi Gras

Dancing in a circle of flambeaus.

In summer he always ate

Cones of raspberry ice cream,

& carried a fat ledger

From house to house. Alyce

Clover grew over his pathway.

He sent his white son to Vanderbilt,

The black one to Columbia.

He had read Blake aloud to them;

Pointed out Orion & Venus.

They said both women waited

To divide him. One sprinkled him

Over the Gulf of Mexico,

& the other put him under roots

Of pigweed beside the black gate --

Purple, amaranthine petals,

She wore in her hair on Sundays.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company