WHEN PAPA WENT COURTING
For Dock Brooks Barlow
See, it was 1912 in Mobile
and he started seeing her everywhere:
pretty as ten speckled puppies!
Amelia Blossom—sweet Jesus!
one of the Nelson girls—
strolling past him everyday
in pink, yellow, and white
God-fearing dresses, strolling past,
eyeing him and the colors
he planted up and down Dauphin Street,
all over the neighborhood—
crape myrtles, orchids, rododendrons—
strolling and willing her way
into his dream of Sundays on her porch
and walks down the avenue
past flowering dogwoods and camellias.
Sundays and walks, a little house
and a nursery of his own,
and babies, babies.
Oh, and did he shine
when he went courting!
Dressed to the nines,
this Alabama man in his
pinstripes, high collar, and spats.
See, he was a clean man—dark, wirey—
a little piece of leather
but well put together.
He was a good man,
shining so much that God
came to him one day in May—told him,
shonuff, the sweet Amelia,
his Mobile dream, could be his
if he could outsit the other man
who was studying on her,
starching his collars, too,
slicking his hair down, too,
making with the glad eyes, too.
Papa spoke to the man,
good man to good man,
and told him to go away—
flashed the grim owl’s head pistol
he carried in them days
(for White folks and Black folks,
he used to say), and told the man
to get ready for the Judgment
or kindly go away.
The man, who believed in God
and lead, he went away.
See, it was 1912—springtime.
Papa was in love,
and love don’t play, and this woman
kept getting prettier, kept blooming
like the azaleas and roses
Papa saw everywhere.
My father had to love the sunlight & cool air
spreading the beige stain & carnations on those easy waves
that day just inside the Golden Gate, had to love the prayer,
the fat seals waiting for us back at the pier,
the toast for a sailor gone home, our clinking cocktails & puffy eyes,
had to love hanging with us in the bar, like always, full of it,
cracking us up—Barlow, his buddies called him, here here.