Teresa: Elusive Couplings

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I. Grand Boulevard

My earliest memories have taproots deep
In Greenwood, Mississippi’s rich Delta soil,
My mother’s hometown where barns burst
With cotton ginned and carded in the year
Of my birth, 1951. Named for the Choctaw’s
Last great chieftain, Leflore County’s small
Abode teemed with buyers dealing in the cash
Crop, stud poker, bonded whisky, and onyx-
Eyed lovelies in the bustling red-light district
South of the Yazoo River bridge. Engineers
Guiding the Columbus and Greenville line
Diesels tugged on their brass-mounted horns
And waved to me; but I dreamed of old coal-
Burning locomotives freighting picked bolls
To all points of the compass, smoke batting
Their tall stacks. I often imagined fabulous
Throttlemen tapping at valves and meters,
Wrenches clinking, even as I tinker with
This faltering metric. Perhaps years later,
A weary girl fitfully sleeping beneath cool
Silk sheets, you sensed a train’s passing
By the tremor in cabinets filled with amethyst
And crystal. Then it seemed chuffing iron
Horses traveled more on wine glasses than
Steel rails burnished smooth by gliding tons.

II. Rayburn Street

My father’s parents opened the Rayburn St.
Corner grocery in Memphis five years later;
Derelict crossties shored the side yard’s steep
Embankment heaped with cinders. Shards
Of broken beer bottles shone like bright topaz
Scattered in some slag heap. Railroad tracks
Ran a quarter-mile to the south and grandma
Would fix lunch for hoboes—thick pork chops
And french fries—who knocked at her kitchen
Door. They would often chalk an angel curbside
As a signal to fellow bindlestiffs. A retired switch-
Man, Mr. Linten would lean on the red cooler
August nights and swig a chill quart of Falstaff.
Seersucker cap pushed back on his forehead,
He’d take his pocket watch from its trickling
Gold chain and let me examine it for hours.
Consumption carried him off one day
Holding fast to my grandfather’s hand. Once
I’d seen the change of ten summers I flattened
Minted coppers under the grinding wheels
Of the Illinois Central, but the black youths
I sorted with called me a fool because a penny
Redeemed two crème-filled cookies in the store.
I little understood the bleak necessities of want
Or those small pleasures that must attend them.

III. Our Own Couplings

No station or roundhouse came with the Lionel
Train set circa. 1961 I got for Christmas several
Months before. But I hearkened to the clack
Of what dawned on me were mattress springs
Bearing my parents away in the bedroom next
My own when I was an infant. Red lanterns
Swinging from the caboose receded as I drifted
Into slumber. Not a soul listened for our own
Lovemaking’s low commotion a decade later,
Teresa. We dined on chicken cordon bleu
In the evening and popped the cork on a bottle
Of excellent chardonnay before climbing stairs
To find our mutual appetites merely whetted
For elusive couplings forever about to connect.